A new report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) highlights the threat to successful deployment of low-carbon energy technologies due to a potential shortage of five elemental raw materials. The report recommends a set of actions to prevent shortages and allow a smooth implementation of the Commission's Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan.
Scientists from the JRC’s Institute for Energy and Transport (IET) have 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, these materials 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% of the supply of indium. At the same time, the envisaged deployment of wind energy technology in Europe will require large amounts of neodymium and dysprosium, (about 4% of the current global supply each) for permanent magnet generators, which could only be eased if the supply of such metals in the future is increased, which may not be simple. Virtually the whole European supply of these metals comes from China.
The report considers possible strategies to avoid or mitigate shortage of these metals, including promoting recycling and reuse and looking into substitution by other less critical materials. Further measures could be the development of alternative technologies. These are all issues that are addressed in the proposed European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials for a Modern Society being developed with significant SusChem involvement.