Electric cars, automakers’ hunt for metals

To make electric vehicles, you need lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper, so many metals that are mostly found elsewhere than in Europe. The issue 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, meanwhile, are expected to agree to set a deadline, with some countries advocating a postponement of the ban to 2040..

Be that as it may, automakers engaged in a forced march on electrifying their range are readying their weapons. Objective: to ensure as much as possible its supply of essential metals 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 seen as the company that first understood this issue, becoming the owner of operating sites around the world.

On the French side, initiatives are multiplying. On Friday, June 24, Stellantis announced that it has become the second shareholder in Vulcan Energy, a German-Australian mining company with which it was already bound 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, considered less polluting than current production in Australia and South America.

A mine in France

The geothermal source that will supply the lithium from the German mine could also be used to open a mine in Alsace… archive, mine installation and acceptance by the population.

Renault, meanwhile, announced on June 1 that it had concluded a supply contract with Moroccan mining group Managem. The value of the agreement was not disclosed, but it concerns the delivery of 5,000 tons of cobalt per year for seven years from 2025. Last October, the diamond brand had already informed a nickel supply contract with the Finnish group Terrafame and with Vulcan Energia for lithium.

The Renault and PSA groups, now Stellantis, have been working on the matter for about seven years. “At the time I presided over the PSA (until 2013, editor’s note)raw materials were not a subject for manufacturers, who did not talk about themrecalls Philippe Varin, author of a report on guaranteeing the supply of mineral raw materials. The habit was simply to pressure 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 towards having more control of the entire chain, whether manufacturing certain elements of the finished product yourself – especially batteries – or participating in upstream companies, including mining companies. “Manufacturers’ purchasing departments are called upon to receive specialists in these mining markets, that are very specific comments Philippe Varin.

He defends the creation of an investment fund, bringing together the private and public, which could assume stakes in mines considered “responsible”, mainly 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 as to the period after which the sale of new internal combustion vehicles should be banned. As part of its climate plan, the European Commission mentioned 2035, a proposal endorsed in early June by the European Parliament.

On 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, is asking for a five-year postponement of the calendar to avoid “Disproportionate and unnecessary costs for the automotive sector and consumers”. In case of disagreement, it will be up to the Czech Republic, which will assume the rotating European presidency at the beginning of July, to negotiate a new compromise.

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