Amount lithium 35 times higher than today if we want to reach the target by 2050 carbon neutrality In line with the European Green Development Agenda. With regard to other rare metals, which are also important in the manufacture of a large number of batteries based on energy transfer, it is estimated that the European metals industry will have to produce seven to 26 times the production volume. current. These are the findings of a study published Monday by the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.
Achieving the targets set by the European Union will also require a much larger supply of aluminum, copper, silicon, nickel and cobalt. These metals are essential in the manufacture of instruments needed to significantly reduce urban gas emissions: batteries and electric vehicles, related technologies. renewable energy (wind, solar and hydrogen) and network infrastructure.
“Creating a value chain for lithium batteries in Europe would create a crude demand for this mineral: some 200-250 kt in 2030. Unless the European Union succeeds in extracting and refining its own lithium, we will depend on imports. With the optimistic assumption that Europe it could develop an equity ratio of 55% by 2030. In other words, it should continue to import 45%. [da matéria-prima]”Explained PÚBLICO Liesbet Grégoir, lead author and researcher at the Catholic University of Leuven.
The study, entitled “Metals for Clean Energy”, was commissioned by Eurometaux, an association representing the metals industry in Europe. This is the first document “sovereign“ which provides EU-specific information on clean energy metal mining, says a press release. In 2021, the International Energy Agency issued a clear warning: there are alarming restrictions on the supply of metals needed to end energy use. fossil fuels.
A study by Liesbet Grégoir suggests that if we really want to achieve the EU’s clean energy production targets by 2050, we need to be more ambitious in the mining sector. According to a Belgian study, 4.5 million tonnes of aluminum are needed (an increase of 33% on the current level), 1.5 million tonnes of copper (35% more), 800,000 lithium (3500% more) and 400 thousand tonnes. nickel (plus 100%), 300 thousand zinc (plus 10-15%), 200 thousand silicon (plus 45%), 60 thousand cobalt (plus 330%) and finally 3 000 rare metals such as neodymium and dysprosium (700 -2600% more).
“Although the European Union is committed to accelerating the transition to energy and producing most of its clean energy technology internally, it is still heavily dependent on imports of much of the metal needed for this purpose,” a study by the Catholic University of Leuven said. “And concerns about security of supply are growing [desses recursos minerais]”, reads a document presented at the conference” Metals for Clean Energy: Solving the European Challenge of Raw Materials “in Brussels on Monday 25 April.
The document emphasizes that as early as 2030, Europe may face major restrictions on the supply of five metals: lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and rare metals. The scarcity of these resources in European space is estimated to peak around 2040, and the increasing recycling of these raw materials from then on will pave the way for self-sufficiency. However, according to the authors, this favorable scenario assumes that significant investments have already been made by then, not only in heavy recycling infrastructure, but also in resolving regulatory deadlocks.
The good news is that according to the study, 40-70% of the demand for clean energy-related metals in 2050 can be met through recycling. But one condition is: we need to start investing heavily and already in local production. And we also need to break the deadlock in the industry. One of the biggest challenges today is the rise in energy prices, which is a barrier to the electricity-intensive metallurgical sector – this is the production of aluminum, silicon and zinc.
According to the author of the study, there are other obstacles. The lack of public support for new mining and permitting processes discourages investors in Europe. “Earning public confidence in the role of metals and mining can help create a more positive base of support. The next step is to gain the trust of investors. We need to change our paradigm and focus on the next question: if we don’t want to import minerals or clean technology, we need to produce them ourselves. So a new question arises: how do we do this in a sustainable way? ”Says Liesbet Grégoir to PÚBLICO and suggests that the energy transition requires us as a society to make both choices and compromises.
With a serious commitment to recycling, locally reused raw materials can guarantee the metals needed for up to 75% of the batteries in electric vehicles produced in Europe. The study argues that recycling offers Europe the best way to achieve sustainable self-sufficiency and permanently eliminate its current dependence on gas and oil. The various risks of energy insecurity that became apparent with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine could also be significantly reduced with the energy transition.
“It should be noted that the import volume of lithium is required [até 2050] is much smaller than the fossil fuels that Europe imports today, and in general we are already moving towards a more efficient system that is not dependent on fossil fuels. There is no longer any dependency, as the metals that go into the batteries are permanent materials that can be recycled indefinitely after the first use. We need to build this in store and then preserve it as a valuable and sustainable resource, ”says Liesbet Grégoir.
In conclusion, this is the message of a Belgian study: without a rapid and solid commitment to local mining and recycling of metals for clean energy, we may be in danger of moving to a new cycle of dependence, this time on imported raw materials. raw materials needed for clean energy storage.
“By 2050, recycling could play a leading role in supply [dos metais]. Up to three-quarters of Europe’s battery cathode needs could be met through end-of-life recycling [das baterias de viaturas eléctricas]. In other words, with the right measures, the lithium supply chain can be largely round in the long run, eliminating Europe’s dependence on non-renewable resources, “Liesbet Grégoir explained.
Belgian studies also suggest that mines in Europe theoretically have the potential to cover between 5% and 55% of the European Union’s needs in 2030. This estimate takes into account major European lithium and rare metal mining projects. However, many of these plans may have an uncertain future due to the permitting process, opposition from local communities, and ultimately the introduction of untested separation methods.
“The challenge is local resistance to new mining projects in several European countries, including Portugal. Transparency and trust are essential, as is a commitment to sustainable exploitation. All effects are unavoidable, but they must be managed responsibly. The need for clear communication [com a população] can never be underestimated. All environmental and social impacts must be well managed, ”warns the Belgian researcher.
Portugal may have a strategic position in the competition for metals important for energy transfer. The country has one of the largest lithium reserves in the world and is therefore well placed to build energy recovery, storage and use systems. However, this does not mean that obtaining a mineral is technically and socio-politically easy. In Portugal, lithium is often found in connection with rocks (pegmatites), which requires mining and subsequent industrial processing to convert it to metal. If the areas where the natural resources are located oppose mining – such as in Barroso (Montalegre), where the population opposes the project – this could also mean bureaucratic challenges, social tensions and political tensions.
“There are big challenges in managing impacts resistance such operations. Europe currently has relatively high standards and legislation for managing social and environmental impacts, but this is an area that needs continuous improvement, ”the Belgian researcher concludes.