Report urges action to prevent rare earth metal shortages

A new report claims that a potential shortage of rare earth metals could hinder the deployment of low-carbon technologies.

The report recommends actions to prevent shortages and allow a smooth implementation of the European Commission’s (EC) Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan, aimed at accelerating the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies.

EC vice-president Antonio Tajani, commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, said: ‘European companies need to have a secure, affordable and undistorted access to raw materials. This is essential for industrial competitiveness, innovation and jobs in Europe.’

Following the commission’s report on critical raw materials at EU level last year, the Joint Research Commission (JRC) has now carried out an in-depth analysis of the use of raw materials — especially metals — in the six priority low-carbon energy technologies of the commission’s SET-Plan: nuclear, solar, wind, bio-energy, carbon capture and storage and electricity grids.

The study — Critical metals in strategic energy technologies — reveals that five metals commonly used in these technologies (neodymium, dysprosium, indium, tellurium and gallium) show a high risk of shortage.

Europe depends on imports for many of these, for which there is rapidly increasing global demand and limited supply, often concentrated in a few countries with associated political risks. Furthermore, they are not easily recyclable or substitutable.

A large-scale deployment of solar-energy technologies, for example, will require half the current world supply of tellurium and 25 per cent of the supply of indium.

The report considers possible strategies to avoid or mitigate a shortage of these metals, including promoting recycling and reuse, and looking into substitution by other, less critical materials. Further measures could be alternative technologies and even increasing Europe’s primary production, for example, by opening new or dormant mines.

Similar studies will be made by the JRC in the near future on other energy technologies that also use strategic metals, such as electric vehicles, electricity storage, lighting and fuel cells.