Rare Earth Elements at the core of the EU green transition
Achieving Europe’s climate-neutral objectives will fundamentally depend on our ability to develop clean energy and mobility solutions in the most sustainable way. But this green transition will generate an exponential growth in demand for raw materials, such as Rare Earth Elements (REEs) – for the production of permanent magnets (PMs).
Each year, more than 100,000 tonnes of rare earth permanent magnets are consumed in renewable energy, mobility, robotics, aerospace, ICT, to name a few. The growth of these strategic sectors is expected to increase the demand of Neodymium (Nd) and Dysprosium (Dy) by ~4 and ~12 times, respectively. Recently the price of Nd reached a 9-year high in March 2021, rising by 42% since the beginning of the year – which generates tension and uncertainty among the world’s hi-tech markets and the EU green industries.
Currently the EU depends mainly on imports of PMs as well as the REEs found in their composition, and there are no market-ready substitutes. In this context, the EU has labelled REEs as critical raw material (CRM) and ranked them with the highest risk of supply. To increase Europe’s autonomy in rare earths, the block’s strategies address the entire value chain and aim to place EU in the position of world leader in the Circular Economy of REEs. In the given scenario, European Commission presented an advanced framework for the collection schemes and recycling of REEs.
Despite this opportunity, there is still no industrial recycling activity of REEs in Europe, mainly due to the following bottlenecks:
- Lack of mature and affordable technologies capable to identify, sort and extract the Nd-based PMs placed in different types of EoL products
- Absence of advanced technologies to purify and recover at high efficiency REEs from Nd-based PMs (especially with varying content of REEs and impurities)