As a way of decreasing or completely ending reliance on Russian oil and gas, the European Commission has expressed that it needs to boost its output of the necessary raw material for the generation of sustainable power throughout the continent.
At the moment, the EC is contemplating the removal or easing of regulatory barriers for the mining and production of minerals like cobalt, graphite, and lithium – elements necessary for the production of rechargeable batteries as well as the operation of wind farms and solar facilities.
While Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine is one factor for this push, EC officials were already pointing out the dangers of being excessively reliant on imported materials for the generation of power. As a result, the European Union has actively been pursuing possible solutions to increase the use of renewables.
Increasing demands and necessary measures
According to experts, the overall demand for rare earth materials in Europe for wind farms is expected to rise five times higher than current rates by the end of the decade. Unfortunately, the total global supply of such materials is forecast to only double by 2030.
In a report issued by the EU Joint Research Center, the demand for lithium may be 60 times higher than current consumption levels by 2050. Likewise, the demand for both cobalt and graphite could go as far as fifteen times higher.
Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, says that the digital and green transition of society in the 21st century is what has driven up the demand for rare earth materials. However, while many nations have become overly reliant on imports, supply chains have become increasingly unstable due to numerous geopolitical factors.
At the moment, Breton notes that many EU nations would rather import from third countries because of the convenience, turning a blind eye to how the entwined acts of import and export will impact the environment and economy. But this is expected to lead to a more inclusive debate regarding mining, processing, refining, and recycling in Europe.
A possible source, a world of challenges
But the push to find local and more accessible sources of rare earth materials is not without its own challenges. This can be seen in the regulatory issues plaguing efforts to dig out a massive lithium reserve in northeastern Portugal.
The Barroso mine was supposed to start the production of lithium back in 2020. However, its owner had to move back the start date several times as environmental approval for it to start operations has remained pending for close to two years now.
Just last month, Portugal’s primary regulator added a phase to the approval process, forcing Savannah Resources, the owner of the mine, to push its launch further down the line to 2026.