Moving towards a metallic age: building industry resilience through a strategic storage mechanism for Rare Earth Metals Ifri Notes, May 2022
The decarbonisation of our economies, along with the challenges of strengthening the resilience of industrial value chains, reindustrialisation, notably through low-carbon and digital technologies, and the end of a period of cheap oil and gas, are accelerating the advent of an era of increased dependence on metals in a context of new and growing competition for access to resources.
The low-carbon transformation of the electricity system is gradually replacing a variable cost proportional to the fossil energy produced (oil, gas or coal), with a fixed cost in metals and materials per installed generation capacity. In other words, the world will move from high carbon, fossil fuel consuming kilowatt-hours (kWh) to high "metalized" kWh. In addition, all advanced technologies and high value-added steels use an increasing quantity of Rare Earth Metals. This is especially the case in the aeronautics and defence industry.
The European Union (EU) and its Member States are no longer a mining power and the European Commission has no competence in the field of mining policy. Dependence on imports is increasing. France intends to assert, together with its European partners, an industrial and technological sovereignty that is incompatible with this situation of increasing dependence and vulnerability.
The three axes outlined by France for securing the supply of critical metals (mining renewal, recycling and agreements with producing countries, all supported by an investment fund) mark a wake-up call which, although late in coming, is of great significance provided that a real process and a strategic culture of minerals and metals are established to further strengthen these first milestones.
These proposals do not ensure short-term resilience in the event of supply chain disruption. While very large groups have the means to carry out an autonomous strategy to secure their supplies, most companies in the energy or defence sectors are unable to do so. The re-creation of a strategic stock of Rare Earth Metals in Le Havre is a condition for the resilience and sovereignty of French industries.
This paper is only available in French.