T&E study: Europe’s growing use of animal fats in fuels is becoming increasingly unsustainable; 8,800 dead pigs for Paris-NY flight
Rio Tinto to invest US$395M in Pilbara desalination plant

Study finds shortage of critical metals could put the brakes on electrification in Europe

The growing adoption of electric cars in Europe is leading to an increase in the use of the critical metals required for components such as electric motors and electronics. With the current raw material production levels there will not be enough of these metals in future—not even if recycling increases, according to the findings of a major survey led by Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, on behalf of the European Commission.

Electrification and digitalization are leading to a steady increase in the need for critical metals in the EU’s vehicle fleet. Only a small proportion of the metals are currently recycled from end-of-life vehicles. The metals that are highly sought after—such as dysprosium, neodymium, manganese and niobium—are of great economic importance to the EU, while their supply is limited and it takes time to scale up raw material production. The increasing dependence on them is thus problematic for several reasons.

The EU is heavily dependent on imports of these metals because extraction is concentrated in a few countries such as China, South Africa and Brazil. The lack of availability is both an economic and an environmental problem for the EU, and risks delaying the transition to electric cars and environmentally sustainable technologies. In addition, since many of these metals are scarce, we also risk making access to them difficult for future generations if we are unable to use what is already in circulation.

—Maria Ljunggren, Associate Professor in Sustainable Materials Management at Chalmers University of Technology

Ljunggren points out that the serious situation affecting Europe’s critical and strategic raw materials is underlined in the Critical Raw Materials Act recently put forward by the European Commission. The Act emphasises the need to enhance cooperation with reliable external trading partners and for member states to improve the recycling of both critical and strategic raw materials. It also stresses the importance of European countries exploring their own geological resources.

In Sweden the state-owned mining company LKAB reported on significant deposits of rare earth metals in Kiruna at the start of the year. (Earlier post.) Successful exploration enabled the company to identify mineral resources of more than a million tonnes of oxides, which they now describe as the largest known deposit of its kind in Europe.

This is extremely interesting, especially the discovery of neodymium which, among other things, is used in magnets in electric motors. The hope is that it will help make us less dependent on imports in the long run.

—Maria Ljunggren

Together with the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, EMPA, Ljunggren has surveyed the metals that are currently in use in Europe’s vehicle fleet. The assignment comes from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), and has resulted in an extensive database that shows the presence over time of metals in new vehicles, vehicles in use and vehicles that are recycled.

The survey, which goes back as far as 2006, shows that the proportion of critical metals has increased significantly in vehicles, a development which the researchers believe will continue. Several of the rare earth elements are among the metals that have increased the most.

Neodymium and dysprosium usage has increased by around 400 and 1,700 percent respectively in new cars over the period, and this is even before electrification had taken off. Gold and silver, which are not listed as critical metals but have great economic value, have increased by around 80 percent.

—Maria Ljunggren

The idea behind the survey and the database is to provide decision-makers, companies and organisations with an evidence base to support a more sustainable use of the EU’s critical metals. A major challenge is that these materials, which are found in very small concentrations in each car, are economically difficult to recycle.

If recycling is to increase, cars need to be designed to enable these metals to be recovered, while incentives and flexible processes for more recycling need to be put in place. But that’s not the current reality.

It is important to increase recycling. At the same time, it is clear that an increase in recycling alone cannot meet requirements in the foreseeable future, just because the need for critical metals in new cars is increasing so much. Therefore there needs to be a greater focus on how we can substitute other materials for these metals. But in the short term it will be necessary to increase extraction in mines if electrification is not to be held back.

—Maria Ljunggren

The results of the survey are set out in the Raw Materials in Vehicles database which covers 60 vehicle types under 3.5 tonnes from all the EU member states. The survey covers eleven different metals in new vehicles, vehicles in use and vehicles that are recycled. It covers the period from 2006 to 2023, with the last three years being a forecast.

Maria Ljunggren is also involved in an ongoing EU project on critical raw materials, FutuRaM, (Future availability of raw materials), which will enhance knowledge about the potential supply of recycled critical raw materials by the year 2050.


  • European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Mathieux, F., Ljunggren, M., Huisman, J. et al., Material composition trends in vehicles – Critical raw materials and other relevant metals : preparing a dataset on secondary raw materials for the raw materials information system, Publications Office, 2021, doi: 10.2760/351825



'There is more than just one way to skin a cat.'
Li-ion and rare elements is just one method of many possible configurations. Instead of sticking to a 'bad' example why not resort to something far more effective, cheaper, safer, faster charging, more energy dense, high cycle life, and far more abundant.

Roger Pham

Make PHEV instead of BEV, each needing only 70 kW motor, instead of a 300-kW motor like in a typical Tesla. Better yet, use AC induction motor instead of PM motor, and use Sodium ion battery, or LiFe battery instead of those ternary battery containing Nickel and Cobalt.


Hi Roger.

Check out progress in LMFP batteries:


Better than LFP for energy density, good cost, no rare materials, and high power as well as energy density and long cycle life meaning that it should be fine in hybrids and FCEVs as well as BEVs.


The elephant in the room is the NIMBYism, over-regulation, pre-'restrictions' on ocean floor and green-field access, etc. Cultural advancement (and stability) requires technology, which requires industrialization, which requires resource extraction. Hiding behind environmentalism and governance means nothing gets done and chaotic extraction processes continue elsewhere. We are far from being a mature sector that can indulge in little side dalliances such as battery-type and recyclability.

The comments to this entry are closed.