Rare earth elements are a group of 17 specialty metals used in various high-tech applications including, smartphones, wind turbines, MRIs, hard disk drives, LEDs, electric motors and more. Whilst the EU is a global manufacturing leader for products like automotive traction motors and wind turbines, it does not produce any rare earth elements itself. Of its total rare earth magnet demand, 98% is met by Chinese imports.
With the EU’s efforts to decarbonise its economy to increase renewable energy generation and the uptake of e-mobility, demand for these materials is set to grow. Electric motors and generators driven by rare earth permanent magnets represent the most energy-efficient devices developed so far. They are vital components, for instance, in electric vehicle traction motors, wind turbines, domestic appliances, servo motors in robotic arms and are found in all portable communication technologies (speakers).
The EU aims to secure the supply of these materials to build resilience and strategic autonomy for Europe's rare earth and magnet value chains.
The European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA)
In 2020, the European Commission launched the European Raw Materials Alliance to address challenges in the critical raw materials supply.
The first value chain it addresses is rare earth magnets and motors. ERMA ran a stakeholder consultation process with more than 180 innovators from industry, academia, policymaking, and investment to better understand what needs to be done to revive a European rare earths industry. It led to four key recommendations and actions that would mobilise investment in an EU rare earths industry, which is of strategic importance for key EU industrial ecosystems and the green transition.
See the results of this process in its publication, Rare Earth Magnets and Motors: A European Call for Action
The European Rare Earths Competency Network (ERECON)
The European Rare Earths Competency Network (ERECON) was a precursor of this work. The three ERECON working groups focused on
- opportunities and roadblocks for primary supply of rare earths in Europe
- European rare earths resource efficiency and recycling
- European end-user industries and rare earths supply trends and challenges
See the findings in its 2014 report, Strengthening of the European Rare Earths Supply Chain - Challenges and policy options