Limits of Europe’s drive for critical minerals autonomy

(25 Nov 2022) When it is introduced in the new year, the European Critical Raw Materials Act needs to avoid the temptation of autarky, writes J. Peter Pham. The European Union, like the United States, cannot achieve the strategic objective of more secure access to critical materials by trying to “go it alone”, he argues.

Ambassador J. Peter Pham is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC and previously served as the United States Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and Sahel Regions of Africa.

With the energy supply disruption and price rises from Russia’s war in Ukraine fresh in her mind, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced her 2022 State of the Union address a European Critical Raw Materials Act to ensure that Europe avoids “becoming dependent again, as we did with oil and gas”.

Two months later, at COP27, she announced the doubling of the continent’s renewable energy capacity. The two goals are fundamentally linked.

The entire REPowerEU initiative advanced by the Commission to speed up the transition to renewable energy and end dependence on Russian fossil fuels is predicated on securing prodigious quantities of critical minerals.

A single 3 Megawatt (MW) wind turbine, for example, requires approximately 335 megatons (mt) of steel, an iron alloy, 4.7 mt of copper, and 3 mt of aluminium, in addition to about a ton of the rare earths neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium.

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, 25 Nov 2022: Limits of Europe’s drive for critical minerals autonomy