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EU confronts hurdles in reaching rare earths targets under new mineral legislation

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The EU faces significant challenges in meeting its ambitious goals to boost domestic output of critical minerals and reduce dependence on China, as outlined in the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA). By 2030, the EU aims to mine 10% of its strategic mineral needs, process 40%, and fulfill 25% of its demand from recycling. However, achieving these targets may prove difficult due to various hurdles in the rare earths sector. Below is an overview of key companies involved in rare earths, including their production figures in metric tons per year, highlighting efforts across Europe, including Norway, which, although not an EU member, is part of the European Economic Area.

Key companies in the rare earths sector

Mining companies

  1. Leading Edge Materials (Sweden)
    • Project: Norra Kärr
    • Annual Output: 5,340 tons of mixed rare earth oxides
    • Challenges: Opposition due to potential pollution; a redesigned mine plan will be submitted next year.
  2. LKAB (Sweden)
    • Project: Extraction of rare earths from waste material and Per Geijer deposit
    • Annual Output: 2,000 tons of rare earth oxides, including 200 tons of NdPr
    • Timeline: Production between 2028 and 2030; Per Geijer development may take 10-15 years.
  3. Finnish Minerals Group (Finland)
    • Project: Sokli
    • Annual Output: 10% of EU needs in light rare earths
    • Challenges: Requires environmental assessment and permitting; targets production by 2035.
  4. Quantum Mineria (Spain)
    • Projects: Matamulas and Pl Neodymium
    • Annual Output: Up to 1,500 tons of NdPr oxides
    • Challenges: Previous permit rejection; seeking a reversal and exploration permit for a new project.
  5. Rare Earths Norway (Norway)
    • Project: Fen
    • Annual Output: 2,000 tons of NdPr by 2031
    • Claim: Largest rare earth deposit in Europe.

Processing and magnet production

  1. Solvay (Belgium/France)
    • Facility: 76-year-old plant in France
    • Annual Output: 4,000 tons of rare earth oxides; NdPr production starting 2025
    • Goals: Meet 20%-30% of European demand for magnet materials by 2030.
  2. Carester (France)
    • Facility: Plant in partnership with Solvay
    • Annual Output: Over 1,000 tons of rare earth oxides by 2026
    • Focus: Processing recycled magnets and mining concentrates.
  3. Neo Performance Materials (Canada/Estonia)
    • Facility: Processing plant in Estonia
    • Annual Output: 3,000 tons of rare earth oxides, including NdPr
    • Expansion: Building a magnet plant with a future capacity of 5,000 tons.
  4. Vacuumschmelze (Germany)
    • Focus: Magnet production
    • Goals: Expand in Europe with long-term commitments from automakers.
  5. GKN Powder Metallurgy (Germany)
    • Project: Pilot plant for permanent magnets
    • Annual Output: 4,000 tons by 2030.
  6. Mkango Resources (UK/Poland/Germany)
    • Projects: Separation plant in Poland, magnet recycling plant in Germany
    • Annual Output: 2,000 tons of NdPr oxides, 50 tons of heavy rare earths; 500 tons of magnets by 2030.
  7. Orano (France)
    • Project: Magnolia Project for recycling and manufacturing EV magnets
    • Timeline: Pilot line by end of 2024; no commercial production timeline yet.
  8. Magneti Ljubljana (Slovenia)
    • Facility: Permanent magnet production
    • Annual Output: 30 tons, expanding to 2,000 tons
    • Source: Raw material from U.S. company Phoenix Tailings.
  9. MagREEsource (France)
    • Facility: Plant for manufacturing magnets from recycled materials
    • Annual Output: Ramp up to 1,000 tons by 2030.
  10. Heraeus Remloy (Germany)
    • Facility: Plant for recycling electronic devices into magnetic alloy powders
    • Annual Output: 600 tons, with potential expansion.
  11. REEtec (Norway)
    • Facility: Commercial plant for rare earths separation
    • Annual Output: 720 tons of NdPr by 2025.

Conclusion

Despite the efforts by numerous companies across Europe to enhance rare earths mining, processing, and recycling, the EU’s ambitious targets under the CRMA face significant obstacles. Environmental concerns, lengthy permitting processes, and the scale of infrastructure needed present formidable challenges that may hinder the bloc’s ability to reduce its dependency on external sources, particularly China.

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