Lead’s essential role in the EU’s drive for raw material security
Author: Lisa Allen, Senior Regulatory Affairs Manager
A new report from the International Energy Agency describes the current global energy crisis as: “a pivotal moment for clean energy transitions worldwide, driving a wave of investment that is set to flow into a range of industries over the coming years.”
In a year of transition following the pandemic, economic insecurity and war in Europe, the European Union is seeking to deliver energy and environmental policies to keep up with the global race for clean energy technology leadership and the objectives associated with the Green Deal, Circular Economy and supporting EU industries.
Currently China dominates the manufacturing and trade of most clean energy technologies worldwide. Only three countries (none of them European) account for 70% of the manufacturing capacity for technologies including wind, batteries, electrolysis, solar panels and heat pumps.
Now, more than ever, thanks to its unique properties, lead is an essential raw material supporting directly a wide range of low-carbon technologies which are vital to delivering the European Green Deal’s net zero objectives.
However, the European Chemicals Agency recommendation to include lead metal in the EU’s REACH chemical authorization list creates significant business uncertainty, restricts investment and potentially inhibits the EU’s transition to clean energy. Many key sectors are impacted, including but not limited to wind and solar power, as well as non-ferrous metals recovery & recycling, and critical materials producers, such as steel, among others.
ILA, working with a taskforce of EU industries from the cable sector to aerospace, is calling on policymakers to maintain a more proportionate approach to regulating lead, one that reduces risks to human health and the environment but also protects security of supply and delivers wider sustainability objectives.
As of today, only 15% of the energy that Europe consumes comes from green energy. By 2030, the target set is that 43% of all electricity should come from renewable energy. This means that every year the EU would see a huge increase in demand for renewably sourced energy.
Raw materials key to the wind and renewables sector include steel, nickel, copper, chromium, manganese, copper and lead. Lead is an essential component of undersea cables linking windfarms to the grid and industrial lead batteries play a role with other technologies in storing the green energy produced.
The use of lead is not only unavoidable but essential because many critical raw materials and products rely on it either directly or indirectly. Lead still plays a key role in transportation and clean mobility, electrification and in critical safety systems in aviation and aerospace. It is essential in healthcare protecting medical staff and patients using medical imaging equipment that has revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of numerous medical conditions from broken bones to cancer treatment. And its properties are irreplaceable in enable recycling and recovery of other critical raw materials from Europe’s waste. Lead itself is sourced predominantly from the recycling of EU waste products, meaning that it is one of the few strategically autonomous raw materials that Europe possesses, reducing the need to source it from other regions, virtually eliminating any supply chain risks.
As the EU prepares to introduce its Critical Raw Materials act later this year, it is important to also recognize, support and invest in industries that produce key materials in which the EU is already self-sufficient. We cannot afford to take these industries for granted and Europe’s chemical policies must not inhibit the long-term investments that are needed to make them competitive in a global marketplace.