Discovery of rare earths in Sweden: Good news for Europen economic transformation
by David Fleschen
The discovery of the largest known deposit of rare earths in Europe to date in the north of Sweden comes at the right time and is very good news for the transformation of the European economy into a sustainable future. After all, the climate targets set in the European Green Deal and the technical challenges for the energy transition require in particular a significantly increased use of rare earths.
The EU has so far classified 30 raw materials as critical in terms of their economic importance and security of supply and estimates that demand for lithium, for example, will increase 20-fold by 2050 and for rare earths 5-fold by 2030. Rare earths are a component of all key green technologies such as generators, solar panels, electric motors. In addition, there are many other applications such as smartphones or laptops. Even if the quantitative share in the products is comparatively small, there is still a dependency because without these metals nothing works and the EU has to cover its needs from imports.
Currently, about 45 percent of German imports of rare earths come from China. And that is also where the largest reserves are stored. To reduce its dependence on China, the EU must diversify its sourcing of critical raw materials, extract more from its own deposits, obtain more secondary metals through recycling or find alternatives to the metals through materials development, says Christian Hopmann, chairman of the VDI Society for Materials Engineering. Currently, the EU does not have the mining capacity for rare earths. With the REEsilience project, the EU therefore wants to reduce dependence on non-European economies through sustainable supply chains. Here, all value-added flows of primary metals and secondary metals are included, knows Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Hopmann of the Institute for Plastics Processing in Industry and Trade at RWTH Aachen University.
Current crises such as pandemics and wars, but also economic dependencies, show us the lack of adaptability of companies and society to changes in product availability and logistics chains. With its Strategic Foresight Report (2021), the EU has called on member states to continuously record their level of resilience by means of sectoral "dashboards". Suitable indicators are lacking and need to be defined. That is why the VDI launched a project at the beginning of this year to shed light on the problems in detail and to work out solution strategies.
Resilience is not simply about stability, but about finding a good balance again in the event of instability. The focus is to be shifted from individual corporate supply targets to a systemic view of the overall flexibility and responsiveness of the economy. The roles of state and private actors are to be carefully balanced.
The VDI has already positioned itself very successfully on issues relating to Germany as a production location in the past - above all with proposed solutions for successful implementation of location development, infrastructure and the energy transition. The VDI project "Resilienz am Standort Deutschland" (Resilience in Germany as a Production Location) is now intended to use examples to show which strategies are already being applied and how they can be further developed. In particular, the link between the topic and the topics of digitalisation and Industry 4.0 should be worked out, says Hopmann.
Source: VDI, Photo: Fotolia