A Mining Problem Looms Over Europe's Clean Energy Plan


Europe’s plan to slash Russian fossil fuel imports and accelerate renewable energy production will test its ability to find the minerals, metals and other components that are needed for a dramatic shift to clean power.


FREMONT, CA: Europe's ambition to reduce Russian fossil fuel imports while increasing renewable energy output will challenge the continent's capacity to acquire the minerals, metals, and other components needed for a rapid transition to clean energy to the test. The European Commission's plan would hasten the continent's historic transition to wind and solar energy while diversifying natural gas sources and increasing energy efficiency. However, it may come at a hefty price. The ability of Europe to mine or import the resources required for clean energy technology, such as copper, lithium, and cobalt, will be critical to a quick transition to renewables. It also comes at a time when worldwide demand for renewable energy is increasing, exerting pressure on supply systems. The managing director of ClearView Energy Partners LLC explained the transitioning from variable cost volatility in hydrocarbons to fixed-cost volatility in transition metals and minerals, and from limitations on European domestic capacity to produce hydrocarbons to limitations on European domestic capacity to manufacture and deploy full value-chain renewables. There are a variety of factors that will matter in these risk-shifting decisions.

The strategy is based on a legislative package that will minimize Europe's greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. Renewable energy is expected to account for 45 per cent of the EU's energy mix by 2030, up from 40 per cent presently. Within eight years, overall renewable energy generation would have surpassed 1,200 gigawatts. The European Commission forecasts that if the EU meets its near-term goals, it will eliminate two-thirds of its current gas imports by the end of this year, to eliminate them by the end of the decade. Some experts remark that more information is necessary to establish whether those ideas are feasible. According to a recent assessment commissioned by the metals industry group Eurometaux and produced by the Belgian research university KU Leuven, Europe could confront shortages of the materials essential for its clean energy transition, or risk establishing new reliance on unsustainable sources. It was discovered that the European Union's goal of zero emissions by 2050 would necessitate 35 per cent more copper and aluminium than it currently consumes, as well as 45 per cent more silicon — a vital component in solar panels. In the same period, lithium demand might increase by 35 times, reaching over 800,000 tonnes, while rare earth elements consumption could increase by 26 times. The demand for cobalt and nickel might increase by 330 per cent and 100 per cent, respectively. These minerals are required for the production of electric vehicles, batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels, all of which are critical in reaching Europe's high emissions reduction goals. These supply chain vulnerabilities were also highlighted in an international energy strategy.

The European Union's strategy comes as the world approaches temperature boundaries that scientists warn could result in irreversible climate change. According to the World Meteorological Organization's annual report, rising oceans, greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat, and acidity all hit new highs the previous year. The EU's energy plan recommends supporting new mining and refining within Europe, as well as recycling scrap metals and garbage, to reduce future trade dependence. It also discusses the possibility of strategic raw material alliances and trade agreements with African and Latin American countries.