22 Apr 2022

Low-carbon technologies and Russian imports

How far can recycling reduce the EU's raw materials dependency?

Vasileios Rizos / Edoardo Righetti

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The term ‘strategic autonomy’ denotes the political goal of building a self-reliant EU economy with limited exposure to supply disruptions, like those stemming from the Covid-19 crisis. Securing access to the non-energy minerals required for building a new industrial ecosystem consistent with the EU’s decarbonisation objectives is important to achieving this goal. Rising demand for these materials has created an arena for geopolitical competition. Moreover, the war in Ukraine has brought forward the need to take a closer look at the external supply of minerals, including from Russia, and potential risks involved.

This Policy Insight first provides a brief overview of EU import dependency on raw materials and Russia’s share among EU sources of key supplies for low-carbon technologies. It then looks at prospects for meeting future material demands though circularity for three technologies, namely lithium-ion batteries, wind turbines and fuel cell electric vehicles. The analysis is based on two scenarios with different levels of ambition. They aim to give an indication of the scale of potential benefits that can be achieved through circularity and recycling approaches for components and materials used in these technologies. The estimates suggest that establishing collection and recycling facilities in the EU, through the appropriate policy frameworks in place, can contribute to meeting future EU material demands for them and reduce import dependency.

Still, recycling alone will not suffice to cover the increasing material requirements. Other options will therefore need to be considered, including developing strategic partnerships and joint projects with resource-rich countries (also in light of efforts to cut economic ties with Russia). The EU will further need to source from its own mining reserves, seek improvements in material efficiency and foster material substitution options where possible.