'Upping its game': EU proposes new law to secure critical raw material access

'Upping its game': EU proposes new law to secure critical raw material access
A lithium mine in Clayton Valley, Nevada. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The European Commission has proposed new legislation aimed at securing the EU's access to critical raw materials and reducing its dependence on "quasi-monopolistic third country suppliers".

The Critical Raw Materials Act, the details of which were published on Thursday, identifies a list of so-called "strategic raw materials" which are deemed "crucial to technologies important to Europe's green and digital ambitions and for defence and space applications". The Act sets clear lower limits on the bloc's domestic capacity for such materials' extraction, processing, and recycling by 2030.

Crucially, the legislation also mandates that by the same year no more than 65% of the bloc's annual consumption of each strategic raw material should be provided by a single third country. Currently, 98% of the EU's supply of rare earth elements comes from China, while 78% of its lithium — a key element for making batteries — comes from Chile.

"Demand for these precious and scarce resources is increasing sharply, which has led to a global race for the new gas and oil at the heart of our economy," said Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton. "With this Act, the EU is upping its game in terms of extracting, refining, recycling and diversifying to ensure secure and sustainable access to critical raw materials."

His words were echoed by Tahmid Chowdhury, Programme Manager at CLG Europe’s Materials and Products Taskforce, at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

"This new act goes some way towards addressing the limited supply of raw materials around the world, such as lithium — a key material used in electric vehicles," he told The Brussels Times. "We welcome the suggestion that the EU should be more self-sufficient along the entire value chain."

However, Chowdhury also criticised the legislation for failing to take "a more systemic approach to circularity", and in particular the issue of "how we can better use, reuse and repurpose materials to reduce the demand for new materials in the first place".

"This is a missed opportunity to address a wider issue of tackling ever-growing consumption and increasing waste," he concluded.


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