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Meeting Critical Raw Materials Act targets: Challenges and Opportunities for rare earths and lithium in Europe

Achieving the targets set by the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) presents both challenges and opportunities for rare earths and lithium in Europe.

Rare Earths: Europe’s lack of existing mines and lengthy permitting and development processes make meeting CRMA targets for domestic rare earth mining a significant challenge. While advanced projects like Norra Kärr in Sweden and Sokli in Finland hold promise, it can take up to a decade to complete necessary studies and obtain permits without substantial government support.

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However, with government backing, single mines rich in heavy rare earth elements (HREEs) or light rare earth elements (LREEs) could potentially meet a substantial portion of the EU’s projected demand for specific elements by 2030. Additionally, the EU has promising prospects for processing rare earth oxides, with the potential to handle up to 50% of its domestic consumption by 2030. Nonetheless, addressing the lack of rare earth metal and alloy production capacity within the region remains a critical hurdle.

Expanding the scope of eligible suppliers to include countries within the European Economic Area and EU territories could enhance the EU’s supply options and improve its chances of meeting CRMA targets.

Lithium: In contrast to rare earths, the outlook for lithium under the CRMA appears positive. Europe boasts a robust pipeline of emerging lithium producers and prospects, suggesting a high likelihood of meeting domestic mining targets. Similarly, the region’s growing number of lithium chemical and downstream processors indicates a promising trajectory towards achieving processing targets.

Moreover, Europe’s existing and emerging battery recyclers provide ample capacity to handle end-of-life supplies and manufacturing scrap, aligning well with CRMA guidelines for lithium recycling.

Comparison: Overall, while the outlook for lithium in meeting CRMA targets is favorable, the situation for rare earths is more challenging. Without accelerated support from government and industry, Europe may struggle to meet extraction and processing targets for rare earths. Furthermore, addressing the lack of end-to-end processing capacity poses a significant obstacle to rare earths’ recovery from magnet production swarf and end-of-life devices.

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