Electric cars, car manufacturers’ hunt for metals

To manufacture electric vehicles, you need lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper, just as many metals, which are mainly found elsewhere than in Europe. The issue of supply becomes all the more crucial as the cessation of the sale of new thermal vehicles is being adopted at European level. The European Parliament planned it in early June for 2035, thus approving the Commission’s original proposal. European environment ministers, in turn, must agree to set a deadline in which some countries argue for a postponement of the ban until 2040.

Either way, car manufacturers engaged in a forced march in the electrification of their range are preparing their weapons. Purpose: to ensure, as far as possible, their supply of the metals necessary for the manufacture of batteries currently concentrated in China. In this global chess game, the world leader in electric cars, Tesla, is seen as the company that understood this issue at the earliest, by becoming the owner of operating locations around the world.

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

A mine in France

The geothermal source to supply the lithium of the German mine could also be used to open a mine in Alsace … but the exploitation of lithium on national land would take years to see the light of day as the delays are long to examine the application file installation of a mine and get it accepted by the people.

Renault, for its part, announced on June 1 that it had entered into a supply contract with the Moroccan mining group Managem. The size of the agreement has not been announced, but it concerns the supply of 5,000 tonnes of cobalt per year for seven years from 2025. By October last year, the diamond brand had already announced a nickel supply contract with the Finnish group Terrafame and with Vulcan Energi for lithium.

The Renault and PSA groups, now Stellantis, have been working on the subject for about seven years. “Back then I was chairman of the PSA (until 2013, editor’s note)the raw materials were a non-issue for the producers who did not talk about themremembers Philippe Varin, author of a report on securing the supply of mineral resources. The habit was simply to put pressure on suppliers to deliver at lower cost. »

Very specific markets

The automotive industry has long worked with a chain of subcontractors, with manufacturers mainly acting as collectors. The transition to electricity is changing things a bit. The tendency is to take more control of the entire chain, either by manufacturing certain parts of the finished product – especially the batteries – or by taking shares in upstream companies, including mining companies. . “Manufacturers’ purchasing departments are encouraged to welcome specialists in these mining markets, which are very specific notes Philippe Varin.

He is in favor of setting up an investment fund that brings together private and public companies that can take part in mines that are considered “responsible”, especially 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 disagree on the deadline for banning the sale of new combustion vehicles. As part of its climate plan, the European Commission has mentioned 2035, a proposal approved by the European Parliament in early June.

On Tuesday 28 June, the environment ministers of the 27 must decide by a qualified majority. However, Italy, followed by Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia, calls for a five-year postponement of the calendar to avoid “disproportionate and unnecessary costs for the car industry and for consumers”. In case of disagreement, it will be up to the Czech Republic, which takes over the rotating European Presidency in early July, to negotiate a new compromise.

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