European automakers seek protection from Chinese domination of rare earths
Latent tensions that previously made elements – also important for defense applications – a political pawn are stimulating efforts to source from outside China.
Last year, the US Department of Defense pledged to fund Australian producer Lynas to set up a processing plant in Texas that will initially cost around $ 30 million. Other companies advancing projects include Hastings Technology Metals and Peak Resources.
While automakers including BMW, GM and Toyota have sought to reduce the amount of rare earths – an average vehicle uses 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) – switching to alternatives tends to make engines less efficient. . Tesla initially used induction motors that didn’t need magnets to power their electric cars, but shifted gears with the Model 3.
Renault’s electric vehicle engines have the particularity of not using rare earths.
“To have future security of supply, you have to create your own,” said Joanne Jia, vice president of China’s Hangzhou Permanent Magnet Group, which has developed magnets that can switch between two types of rare earths based. price. “The material is critical, but in very small quantities.”
A new law in Germany on supply chain responsibility has also sparked interest, said Sherrington of Arafura. From 2023, companies will be held accountable for social standards across their entire supplier network, including waste, or face fines.
Sourcing efforts are also underway in Europe, which is now the leading region for electric vehicles and is poised to become the biggest consumer of elements. The European Union set up the European Raw Materials Alliance last year to help secure the supply of critical raw materials fueling the world’s most ambitious plan to tackle climate change. In rare earths, the alliance has identified 14 projects in Europe for an investment of 1.7 billion euros ($ 2 billion).
“There has always been awareness of addiction, but the availability, at a price, was good,” said Bernd Schaefer, CEO of ERMA. “It is now changing to a mindset of the huge cost of not having the material.”