Sustainability in the automotive industry
In our June newsletter, we previewed the REIA Annual Conference held this year in Barcelona. Among other highlights, our own Andrey Miroshnikov was present with an exhibition stand. The panel discussion focused on “Challenges to the automotive industry in securing rare earths for electric mobility.”
The discussion centered on the automotive industry's demand for rare earth elements (REE) and the vulnerability of global supply chains, as highlighted by events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine. A key point was the increasing interest of OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) in the production process of REE and its sustainability. It was suggested that carbon emissions and environmental impact should be calculated at every stage of REE production by suppliers. This approach would promote sustainability, foster accountability, ensure traceability, and facilitate optimal design practices. Additionally, it was emphasized that minimizing raw material consumption and maintaining high performance standards are crucial for future developments.
Also discussed was the idea of phasing out heavy rare-earth elements (HREE) as a step towards diversifying resources. HREEs require more complex processing involving a greater number of operational steps, leading to higher costs and a greater potential for environmental pollution. It was highlighted that the focus should be on improving circular economy practices to minimize waste and enhance resource efficiency. The challenge of meeting the rising demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is significantly straining the supply chain, particularly the demand for magnets and batteries, essential components for EVs. This could spur research into strategies for size reduction. It was clear, however, that a portion of the required resources would still need to come from outside the EU.
The discussion then shifted to changes in sustainable automotive production, like the significant global movement of countries wanting to reduce their dependency on China for REE. Japan was mentioned as an alternative to diversify production away from China. However, it was acknowledged that Japan’s production capacity is limited.