Jul 05

5th of July 2017

STRADE publishes draft concepts for a data and konwledge information system

Draft concepts for a data and knowledge information system on mineral mining and trade and related environmental and socio-economic issues were published in three parts: Part I introduces the concept, Part II presents the concept for raw materials profiles; Part III shares the concept for country-specific profiles.

May 17

17th of May 2017

ElmoReL Final Report published with LCA

The ElmoReL final project report, including a life cycle analysis, is now available in German.

Feb 28

28th of February 2017

ElmoReL Final Report published

The ElmoReL final project report is now available in German.

Jan 26

Technologies of the future and resources – rare earths a sticking point?

26th of January 2012 by Stefanie Degreif

The rapid growth of new technologies in the energy and transport sectors will drive up demand for special resources. The need for rare earths, in particular, is likely to rise disproportionately by 2030. It is therefore vital to develop alternative technology strategies that are not dependent on these valuable resources and to find efficient methods of recycling them. These are among the key findings of a research project that has investigated the resource-policy aspects of electric mobility. The work was carried out by the Öko-Institut in cooperation with Daimler AG, Umicore and TU Clausthal supported by the German Environment Ministry (BMU).

The partners first identified 12 metals that are particularly important in the manufacture of electric vehicles. These are copper for all components, rare earths such as neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium for electric motors, and indium, gallium, germanium, gold, silver, platinum and palladium for other components such as power electronics. The project team then calculated the possible future requirement for these priority metals in the context of electric

“We anticipate that demand for some of the metals studied will increase – in some cases sharply – by 2030. One of the reasons for this is electric mobility, if its market penetration develops as outlined in global strategies or within the national electro-mobility platform,” explains Dr. Matthias Buchert, project manager at the Öko-Institut, as he describes the findings of the scenario analyses. “The increase is greatest for dysprosium.”

The scarce supply of dysprosium, most of which is currently produced in China, contrasts with the constantly rising demand for it – partly for electric mobility but also for other applications, such as the manufacture of neodymium iron boron magnets, which are needed for the rapidly growing production of wind turbines. The findings also identify other clear trends: relative to the total primary production of the 12 metals in the base year of 2010, the rare earths such as neodymium, praseodymium, terbium and gallium were found to be particularly likely to grow in importance. Gallium, for example, is used not only in electric mobility but also in photovoltaic systems and LEDs.

Start seeking solutions now 

The Öko-Institut identifies two key strategies for avoiding supply bottlenecks in the medium and long term. Firstly, resources need to be used more efficiently and where possible replaced by other technologies. Secondly, recycling strategies for rare earths and other critical metals must be developed and brought to market now to avoid shortages in the long term.  

“Even now, recycling important precious metals – for example from the catalytic converters of end-of-life vehicles – can do a lot to ease the pressure on demand and the impact on the environment,” Buchert continues. “Prices of rare earths on the world markets have risen sharply in the past year: this highlights the potential for a new approach to the conservation of finite resources.”

In addition, new reserves – especially of rare earths – must be explored and tapped to avoid critical situations such as can arise if production is limited almost exclusively to one country. Prof. Dr. Daniel Goldmann concludes that “more environmentally sound mining, recycling, substitution, and efficient production and use of critical metals will be an ongoing issue for German research and technology. That is the only way in which we can reap the ecological benefits
that the spread of electric mobility is designed to achieve.”

Details of the research methodology

The calculations according to various scenarios – innovation scenario, recycling scenario, substitution scenario – were based on the global market scenarios of McKinsey 2009 for the development of electric mobility.

These scenarios were combined with detailed data on the quantities of the priority metals needed for the main components of the different types of electric propulsion system (hybrid, plug-in, range-extender, battery electric, fuel cell). The data for the specific resource requirements of the relevant components was discussed with external experts in special workshops.

Further information:

The study “Resource efficiency and resource-policy aspects of the electromobility system”, produced by the OPTUM project on optimising the environmental benefit of electric vehicles, which is funded by the German Environment Ministry (BMU)

The presentation “Resource efficiency and resource-policy aspects of the electromobility system” with selected findings of the Öko-Institut study

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