In September 2022, the European President, Ursula von der Leyen, announced a European Critical Raw Materials Act to consider issues relating to the supply and sustainability of raw materials within a European Perspective. As part of that initiative, Adrian and the group have been involved in two activities related to the call:
- In October, he presented a symposium on Sustainability, jointly with the University of Bonn. The purpose of the talk was to discuss critical raw materials from the European perspective and its location at Scotland House in Brussels was chosen to complement to announcement by President von der Leyen of the Critical Raw Materials Act.
- The submission of a deposition as part of the evidence call associated with the act. Interested parties were invited to submit evidence and we were part of that call. This was submitted on the 24 Nov 2022.
The group would be very interested to hear comments about the submission and our activities related to the Critical Raw Materials Act.
The text of the deposition was reformatted by the EU submission process but its original form is given here:
I specialise in the geology of European sources of critical raw materials and the challenges facing the extraction of critical resources. I am commenting on sources for rare earths, niobium and tantalum used in many green technologies and access to which is implicit in any zero-carbon future. I make these comments:
- Europe currently produces almost none of its own critical metal needs even though it is one of the world’s greatest consumers. There is an ethical dimension to Europe committing itself to zero-carbon futures that will only accelerate that demand and then doing nothing to actually produce these resources.
- Europe has several potential sources of critical raw materials including rare earths, niobium and tantalum. However because the rare earths constitute a series of metals and not a single entity, different rock types are more abundant in the light rare earths (which include Neodymium for wind turbines and EVs) and others are more abundant in the high value middle and heavy rare earths (such as dysprosium, gadolinium and ytterbium) also used in magnets and specialist alloys. Therefore the EU will have to resource its metals from a number of different mines and no one mine will meet all of these needs.
- The types of rock required for such metals come from old (‘cratonic’) crust which (in a European context) is only found exposed in Scandinavia. Of EU members, only Sweden and Finland has the right rock type but significant resources lie in Norway and Greenland, both of which are friendly to the European cause if not EU member states. I doubt that all critical metal resources the EU needs can be sourced within member states and the EU must take a wider political view. Potential sites that might be used to source critical metals include Norra Karr (Sweden, heavy rare earths), Sokli (Finland, Nd), Fen (Norway, Nd), Motzfeldt (Greenland, Ta, Nb), Sarfartoq (Greenland, Nb), Kringlerne (Greenland, heavy rare earths).
- Most of the best potential mines in Europe are stalled by local concerns about the environmental impact of mining. Europeans need to move away from the Not-In-My-Back-Yard mentality to recognise that their commitment to zero-carbon futures has an environmental cost. Furthermore, by ensuring that mining takes place in Europe, we minimise the carbon and environmental impact of mining instead of outsourcing it to parts of the world over which we have no control.
- Mining for metals used in green technology is essential to replace our dependence on oil and gas. Mining is sometimes portrayed as a villain, but the green zero-carbon future is entirely dependent on responsible mining for new metals. We are leaving behind the age of carbon and entering the age of metals. Europe needs to be at the heart of that change, driving it, not just dependent on other countries for the success or otherwise of its zero-carbon strategies.
- Europe (sensu lato, including EU, Norway and the UK) has some of the world’s best academic expertise on critical metals and how to exploit them. I do not believe it makes full use of that expertise.