EU low-carbon future at risk

12th December 2011


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IEMA

Supplies of five metals key to low-carbon energy technologies are at risk and could hinder the adoption of wind and photovoltaic energy generation in the EU, according to a study for the European Commission.

The research examined the use of 14 metals in the six low-carbon energy technologies in the 2007 EU strategic energy technology plan – bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, electricity grids, nuclear, solar and wind.

Demand for three metals classified as “at high risk” – gallium, indium and tellurium – is expected to soar, if, as projected, there is a greater shift towards CdTe (cadmium telluride) and CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) thin-film technologies in the photovoltaics industry.

The study estimates that such moves could considerably increase the annual demandto-supply for tellurium by 48%, for indium by 32% and for gallium by approximately 8%. The forecasted shift in wind technology from electromagnetic systems towards permanent magnetic-based direct-drive systems is expected to increase the EU demand for dysprosium and neodymium to around 4% of the current world supply of the metals, which are considered to be at high risk of shortage.

The analysis advises the commission to resist favouring one technology over another, for fear of being locked into a technology that may struggle to source sufficient materials.

Meanwhile, the environment commissioner Janez Potočnik has declared that the time for resource efficiency has come. “Increasing resource constraints are inevitable, so resource efficiency is a necessity,” he recently told MEPs on the European Parliament’s environment committee.


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