Home Business Electric cars, car manufacturers’ hunt for metals

Electric cars, car manufacturers’ hunt for metals

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To manufacture electric vehicles, you need lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper, as many metals which are mainly found elsewhere than in Europe. The question of supply becomes all the more crucial as the end of sales of new thermal vehicles is in the process of being adopted at European level. The European Parliament scheduled it in early June for 2035, thus endorsing the Commission’s initial proposal. European environment ministers must in turn agree to set a deadline, with some countries arguing for a postponement of the ban to 2040.

Be that as it may, car manufacturers engaged in a forced march in the electrification of their range are preparing their weapons. Objective: to secure as far as possible their supply for the metals essential for the manufacture of batteries, which remain for the moment concentrated in China. In this global chess game, the world leader in electric cars, Tesla, is perceived as the company that understood this issue the earliest, by becoming the owner of operating sites all over the world.

On the French side, initiatives are multiplying. On Friday June 24, Stellantis announced that it had become the second shareholder of Vulcan Energy, a German-Australian mining company with which it was already linked by a lithium supply agreement. Vulcan Energy’s mine and refinery project in Germany’s Upper Rhine Valley is one of Europe’s leading lithium mining projects, thought to be less polluting than current production in Australia and South America.

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A mine in France

The geothermal source that will supply the German mine’s lithium could also be used to open a mine in Alsace… but the exploitation of lithium on national soil would take years to see the light of day, as the delays are long to examine the application file. installation of a mine and have it accepted by the population.

Renault, for its part, announced on June 1 that it had concluded a supply contract with the Moroccan mining group Managem. The amount of the agreement has not been made public, but it concerns the delivery of 5,000 tonnes of cobalt per year for seven years from 2025. Last October, the diamond brand had already reported a nickel supply contract with the Finnish group Terrafame and with Vulcan Energy for lithium.

The Renault and PSA groups, now Stellantis, have been working on the subject for about seven years. “At the time when I chaired PSA (until 2013, editor’s note)the raw materials were a non-subject for the manufacturers, who did not talk about themrecalls Philippe Varin, author of a report on securing the supply of mineral raw materials. The habit was simply to put pressure on suppliers to deliver at lower costs. »

Very specific markets

The automotive industry has long worked with a chain of subcontractors, with manufacturers essentially acting as assemblers. The conversion to electricity changes things a bit. The trend is to take more control of the entire chain, either by manufacturing certain elements of the finished product yourself – in particular the batteries – or by taking stakes in upstream companies, including mining companies. . “Manufacturers’ purchasing departments are called upon to welcome specialists in these mining markets, which are very specific remarks Philippe Varin.

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He advocates the creation of an investment fund, bringing together private and public, which could take stakes in mines deemed “responsible”, particularly from an environmental point of view.

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Disagreement over the end of thermal vehicles

2035 or 2040? The Member States of the European Union are in disagreement on the deadline from which the sale of new internal combustion vehicles should be prohibited. As part of its climate plan, the European Commission has mentioned 2035, a proposal endorsed in early June by the European Parliament.

Tuesday, June 28, the environment ministers of the 27 will have to decide by qualified majority. However, Italy, followed by Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia, pleads for a five-year postponement of the calendar in order to avoid “disproportionate and unnecessary costs for the automotive sector and for consumers”. In the event of disagreement, it will be up to the Czech Republic, which will take over the rotating European presidency in early July, to negotiate a new compromise.

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