18 APR 2024

Evangelos Mytilineos’ Euroactiv article - A rallying call for European raw materials resilience

Our 2030 trajectory is clear: The Critical Raw Materials Act sets ambitious but vital goals for Europe to grow its metals resilience to supply the energy and digital transition. Now, the challenge is equally clear: delivering on this, and with speed.

We as a sector have a clear message. We can deliver for Europe, if Europe delivers too and unlocks our full potential. But the window for real action is fast closing, risking an energy transition built on unsustainable metals dependencies.

According to our new forecasts, meeting the EU’s 2030 raw material goals will require the opening of at least 10 new mines, 15 processing plants, and 15 recycling plants in Europe.

Europe also urgently needs to reopen its curtailed capacity, still impacting over 20 existing operations that represent around 50% of the EU’s total capacity in the aluminium, silicon, and zinc sectors.  We must start financing global mining projects, act to raise recycling rates and circularity, and address our raw materials skill gap.

First, the good news. In Europe, we currently have over 70 mining, processing, and recycling projects in planning. We’re committed to high environmental and social protections to differ. If a majority become operational by 2030, Europe could reach some or all its benchmarks for lithium, copper, aluminium, nickel, cobalt, and silicon.

For other raw materials, like platinum group metals, strengthening Europe’s existing base and trade links is the major priority. And we’ll still need new project announcements too, from rare earths to gallium to germanium.

But very few projects have resulted in final investment decisions to date, especially after a deterioration of EU business conditions in the last three years, primarily driven by high European energy costs, increasing regulatory load, and the subsidies available to investors in competing regions.

Take lithium: although Europe has almost 20 mining and processing projects in its pipeline, only two currently have a confirmed start date today.

In the same period, other regions have launched their own critical minerals support programmes, from the US Inflation Reduction Act to new funds from Canada, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. Global capacity is ramping-up in regions powered by coal. The US will open its first aluminium smelter in 45 years.

Here in Europe, today’s investors face 2-3 times higher capital costs to open a battery materials refinery than in the US or Asia, and 20-50% higher operating costs. Several companies have already shifted focus to the US market, while delaying investments here into strategic materials like cobalt and lithium.

That’s why we’re calling on the European Commission to act urgently and bridge our growing competitiveness gap.

2030 is only around 2000 days away, meaning our window for finalising investment will be closing imminently. Without a real business case, we’ll see more investments and capacity permanently leak abroad. This is bad for our economy and our climate.

The Critical Raw Materials Act’s adoption is the first important step to getting this ball rolling. Our companies will start applying for strategic project status and the accelerated permitting that brings.

But we need the next European Commission to go further and faster, delivering much strong policy incentives that rival other parts of the world, and with real urgency. We have readily available solutions – like our proposals for derisking renewables power purchase agreements for power intensive metals producers – which urgently need unblocking.

We need a dedicated EU raw materials bank, we need action for globally competitive and decarbonised energy, and we need an alignment of EU regulations towards the one common objective of industrial and economic growth.

Let me give you three reasons why going further and faster is so important.

First, the more metal we produce here, the more sustainable our energy transition. Take nickel for batteries: achieving the EU’s 40% processing benchmark will produce at least four times less greenhouse gas emissions than the coal powered Indonesian nickel dominating today’s market. This alone will save the equivalent of the annual emissions of 1 million petrol cars.

Second, the more metal we produce here, the more secure our energy transition. In the last two years, we’ve seen China restrict exports of germanium, gallium, graphite and rare earth equipment. We don’t know what’s next, but we’re confident there’s more to come.

And third, the more metal we produce here, the more jobs we’ll be maintaining and creating in the areas of Europe that need them – from Sweden’s arctic north to Germany’s industrial heartlands and the southern tips of Italy, Spain, and Greece.

That’s why we’re sending out a strong rallying call today for European raw materials resilience.

Our industry wants to commit to ‘cooking up’ real raw materials resilience in Europe and for Europe. And we have a clear and actionable recipe to make that happen.

Now we need the European Commission and national governments to act with urgency to make sure we have the same well-equipped ‘industrial kitchen’ as our rivals.

Let’s make it happen.

 

Source: https://www.euractiv.com/section/economy-jobs/opinion/a-rallying-call-for-european-raw-materials-resilience/

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