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18 June 2010

EU warns of clean tech raw material supply crunch

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European Commission forecasts shortages for 14 raw materials used in the production of solar panels, fuel cells and electric vehicle batteries

European clean tech firms could face severe shortages of raw materials that are crucial to a wide range of low-carbon technologies, according to a major new report from the European Commission.

A European Commission working group set up to analyse access to raw materials in the EU today labelled 14 raw materials as facing "critical" risk of shortages, warning that demand for the materials could more than triple within 20 years.

Many of the minerals at risk are commonly used by solar panel, fuel cell and battery manufacturers, as well as developers of desalination plants and fibre optic cables.

For example, gallium, which is widely used in the manufacture of thin-film solar photovoltaic cells, was deemed to face a "critical" risk of shortages within the next few years.

Other raw mineral materials facing critical shortages within the EU include germanium, which is used for fibre optic cables; platinum, which is found in some fuel cells; and palladium, a catalyst used in seawater desalination plants.

According to the report, many of the raw materials on the list come from just a handful of countries outside the EU. For example, gallium is mainly produced in China and cobalt – which is used to make Lithium-ion batteries – is mainly imported from Canada and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The shortages are likely to be exacerbated as rising global demand encourages producer countries such as China to cut back on the quantity of raw materials they export.

The report said that low recycling rates were also likely to contribute to the supply crunch.

The EU working group has set out a number of recommendations to overcome the problem, including proposals designed to boost mineral recycling rates and identify alternative materials.


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