THE CONFERENCE CALLER: The European Union is making space for Australian producers of Critical Raw Materials to enter its realm.
Turn on your wireless any morning of any day and you can be guaranteed the news bulletin will include a pseudo finance report that keeps you up to date with current iron ore and gold prices.
Although these commodities are at present important to the Australian economy, especially during the past year, these reports are not as ‘up to date’ as they possibly could be.
They may lead the pack; however, gold and iron ore are being dogged by a new batch of minerals that are becoming more and more important to daily life.
Although some of the political class like to claim otherwise, reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption are important to the survival of the planet – and some political careers.
Unfortunately, it is the latter of those lives that provide the impetus to do anything about carbon emissions and energy consumption, but at least it is on the agenda, albeit in perfunctory terms for now.
Modern technology is constantly shifting up a gear as it challenges old-time thinking to achieve the reduction in carbon emissions and energy consumption demanded by a growing demographic.
The technologies that are emerging and developing to help reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption rely, to a high degree, on Critical Raw Materials
Modern technology such as: wind generators – these use permanent magnets made from rare earths and boron; solar panels – their manufacture a reliability relies on indium, gallium, silicon, and boron; batteries for energy storage and electric mobility – the old energy market stalwart lithium, joined by cobalt, natural graphite, and silicon.
New technologies rely more on Critical Raw Materials than the technologies they replace and the use of specialty materials will only increase as material science advances.
Speaking via video at the New World Metals Conference in Perth, the Ambassador to the Delegation of the European Union to Australia, Dr Michael Pulch said the Critical Raw Materials that are used in modern-day technology are essential for our daily lives and for the economies of tomorrow.
“Rare Earth Elements being used in night vision goggles for our defence forces to the lithium in my plug-in hybrid car to the germanium in the smart phone on my desk,” Dr Pulch said.
“These materials – often taken for granted – are both economically important and vulnerable to supply disruptions.”
Dr Pulch informed the viewing audience that the European Commission had adopted and action-planned on Critical Raw Materials in September this year.
The actions of the Commission presented the EU a list of Critical Raw Materials, as well as ten actions to make Europe’s supply of raw materials more resilient and sustainable.
“The Critical Raw Materials list identified thirty materials with both the highest risk of supply, and economic importance for Europe,” Dr Pulch continued.
The Commission’s first action was to implement the creation of the European Raw Materials Alliance, charged with the objective to secure supply by diversifying the EU’s sources of raw materials from resource-rich countries, such as Australia.
The Alliance hopes to strengthen the resilience of the EU’s value chains, which are vital for many industrial ecosystems.
Its formation follows the model of previous industrial alliances – such as the European Battery Alliance by bringing together industrial actors, and EU Member States to get projects off the ground.
“The Alliance’s first mission will be to build an open, strategic economy for the rare earths and magnets value chain as they are essential for electric car and wind turbine manufacturing,” Dr Pulch explained.
The formation of the European Raw Materials Alliance provides the opening of a new market for Australian companies operating in the space.
Currently, the EU currently relies heavily on imports from third countries, and it would be no surprise to discover China being one of the major trade partners, in fact it is where the EU gets 98 per cent of its rare earth elements.
“The Alliance can help the EU forge new partnerships with third countries, such as Canada, and Australia, as well as better integrating interested African countries into European value chains,” Dr Pulch said.
“Initially, companies from third countries that agree with the aims of the Alliance will be able to join.”
That Australia is on the invite list to the EU alliance party was made evident recently when companies were invited to be part of a video conference of European Union and Australian leaders with the President of the European Commission.
The Eu recognises the need to establish more importation links with global markets for all raw materials, not only those identified as critical and to diversify supply in a sustainable way.
“Partnering with countries, such as Australia, which are committed to the same values of socially and environmentally sound sourcing, is one way of achieving this,” Dr Pulch continued.
“Developing partnerships requires a solid framework and a clear mandate.
“The EU and Australia have a common commitment to fair and undistorted trade investment in the raw materials sector.
“It is in the interest of both parties to explore our synergies.”
The EU has acknowledged Australian commitments to lead an ethical, secure and environmentally sustainable supply of critical minerals, including processed materials, which is good for all parties concerned as the EU has stated it will be looking to source Critical Raw Materials with the lowest possible greenhouse gas and environmental footprint.
“Equally, the extraction and production of these materials need to respect the surrounding communities and their culture,” Dr Pulch declared.
“The European Union’s action-planned on Critical Raw Materials includes research on more environmentally friendly methods of extraction and processing.
“Australia has already signalled interest in linking up on our research activities.”
Dr Pulch said the EU was committed to free trade with its global partners to build together stronger, sustainable and more resilient value chains, indicating that the free-trade agreement currently being negotiated with Australia will contain an energy and raw materials chapter.
“This will encourage EU investors and pave the way for cooperation,” he said.
“I think there is definitely scope for deepening EU/Australia collaboration in Critical Raw Materials and progress on the FDA (Free Trade Agreement) is a key element of this.”