Lithium, cobalt, nickel, rare earth elements – the global race for raw materials is at full speed. For Europe, the situation is particularly challenging: The EU is between 75 % and 100 % reliant on imports for critical raw materials.
Is there a way out?
Yes, said Heiko Arnold, COO Custom Smelting & Products Aurubis at today’s European Metallurgical Conference in Duesseldorf. “With a true circular economy in place, we can strengthen Europe’s independence and secure our raw materials supply. Keeping materials in the economic cycle also helps to protect the planet.”
Here are the main take aways from Arnold’s keynote ‘Sustainable metals for sustainable growth — The circular economy as a way to a better future’:
The climate factor
Re-using materials conserves finite resources, reduces energy, and avoids CO2 emissions. Recovering copper from recycling requires 80 to 85 percent less energy than primary production. For aluminum, recycling saves 90 percent of primary energy input.
The potential of urban mining
A discarded smartphone, an old car or a wind turbine that has reached the end of its life cycle – any type of metal scrap is a key source of raw materials for the future. ‘Urban mining’ amounts to more than 50 % of the current geological reserves and is a significant ‘resource on demand’.
The importance of metals
Metals and minerals are at the heart of the circular model. Because they are circular by nature: Unlike other materials, metals like copper can be recycled almost indefinitely – without any loss of quality. Metals are used, not consumed.
Arnold’s bottom line: Transitioning to a true #circulareconomy offers clear economic benefits.
Resilient supply chains: Circularity increases control of supplies; improves supply chains’ responsiveness to global disruptions – from pandemics to geopolitical conflicts – and helps address shortages.
Resource efficiency: Circularity enables new operating and business models, so that all materials can be easily reused, repaired, remanufactured, recovered and recycled.
Environmental sustainability: By limiting wasteful consumption and production practices, circularity reduces the climate footprint of economic activity and enables the delivery of net-zero emission goals.
Economic growth: Circular operating and business models encourage market products that are looped through the value chain multiple times, which can generate new sources of revenues and profits as well as better meeting consumer needs.
“The circular economy will not only be a central element of successful corporate management in the future”, Arnold said. “It will even be key for future economic success.”
“We must make use of what is available to us”, he said. “Not just once. But again, and again. And on principle. Let’s join forces to make the circular model work. For the benefit of our economies – and for the benefit of many future generations to come.”