Addressing Europe’s EV Impact on Critical Metals

by | Jun 1, 2023


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A study was conducted by Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden on behalf of the European Commission to determine how the increase of electric cars in Europe is impacting the required critical metals needed for production. To learn more about critical metals, a collaboration between Chalmers University of Technology and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology surveyed the metals present in Europe’s vehicle fleet. 

The extensive database, commissioned by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), reveals a significant increase in the proportion of critical metals in vehicles over time.

Europe’s pursuit of electrification and digitalization has led to a growing demand for critical metals in the region’s vehicle fleet. However, the limited supply and concentration of these metals in a few countries pose significant economic and environmental challenges for the European Union (EU). 

To overcome these hurdles and ensure a smooth transition to electric cars and sustainable technologies, a comprehensive approach to Europe’s critical metals dependence has been addressed, encompassing recycling and domestic extraction of critical metals.

Understanding the Critical Metals Dependence

The EU heavily relies on imports of critical metals due to their extraction being concentrated in countries such as China, South Africa, and Brazil. This overdependence on imports poses economic risks and environmental concerns, impeding the EU’s transition to sustainable technologies. 

Moreover, the scarcity of these metals raises concerns about future accessibility. The Critical Raw Materials Act, recently proposed by the European Commission, underscores the need for improved cooperation with trading partners and enhanced recycling efforts within member states.

However, in Sweden, exploration efforts have unveiled mineral resources surpassing a million metric tons of oxides, making it the largest known deposit of its kind in Europe. Neodymium, a key metal used in electric motor magnets, holds particular promise in reducing Europe’s dependence on imports.

Even before the onset of widespread electrification, metals like neodymium and dysprosium witnessed usage growth of around 400% and 1,700%, respectively, in new cars. Furthermore, metals like gold and silver, which hold significant economic value, saw an increase of approximately 80%.

The Necessity of Sustainable Solutions

To promote recycling, vehicles must be designed to facilitate metal recovery, while simultaneously implementing incentives and flexible processes. However, recycling alone may not suffice to meet the escalating demand for critical metals in the near future. Therefore, a dual approach that emphasizes increased recycling and explores material substitutions becomes crucial.

While recycling efforts should be intensified, focusing solely on recycling will not meet the rising demand for critical metals. In the short term, a greater emphasis on domestic extraction from mines is essential to avoid impeding the progress of electrification. 

By embracing these measures, Europe can mitigate economic and environmental risks while ensuring a seamless transition to electrification and sustainable technologies.

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