The latest reports of the People’s Republic of China blocking the export of strategic metals to the European Union once again lead to the conclusion that only maintaining mining competencies in Europe will allow us to avoid the failure of the EU’s Green Transformation. Just a few days ago, Tomasz Rogala, the President of the Polish Mining Group and the President of Euracoal, publicly expressed such a view, warning against dependence on critical raw material supplies from China and calling for the use of domestic resources.
The technological trade war between China and Europe and the USA is escalating to a new level. On Tuesday, July 4th, Western media was alarmed by a Reuters dispatch about China’s blockade of the export of two metals (gallium and germanium), which are crucial for the semiconductor and fiber optics industry, as well as for defense, telecommunications, solar panels, electric vehicles, and infrared technology, starting from August 1st this year. “Export control aims to protect national security and China’s interests,” justified the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing. China is the world’s largest producer and supplier of both metals. The export blockade will contribute to price increases and may seriously disrupt global supply chains. According to analysts, China’s decisions are a political response to the intentions of the USA, Japan, and the Netherlands to restrict the supply of technologically advanced Western microchips and semiconductor technologies to China, due to concerns about their use by the Middle Kingdom for military purposes and the development of artificial intelligence.
Experts emphasize that China’s practical monopoly on gallium and germanium can be effectively overcome, unlike in the case of rare earth elements (REE).
“Gallium and germanium are metals that can be obtained in another way, as a by-product of coal mining,” said John Strand from the Danish consulting firm Strand Consult, in an interview with Reuters. Industrial technologies allow for the extraction of gallium and germanium in the process of coal mining and combustion, as well as in the mining of bauxite, zinc ores, or copper. However, their implementation in Europe would require political decisions from the EU that are contrary to those hindering the functioning of mining and leading to the decline of the mining sector on the continent.
It is worth recalling that on June 19th, Tomasz Rogala, the President of the European Association of Hard Coal and Lignite Euracoal, as well as the President of the Polish Mining Group S.A., drew public attention to this very problem at a meeting of the Euracoal Executive Committee in Warsaw. He emphasized that the EU’s green transformation requires an increasing amount of raw materials, as photovoltaic and land and sea wind energy require specific building materials such as steel, silicon, rare earth metals, lithium, cobalt, nickel, and many other strategic elements, including gallium and germanium. Over 90% of the raw materials necessary for the green transformation in Europe come from China and India, which makes the EU heavily dependent on supplies from politically uncertain directions.
The necessary volumes of raw materials are enormous: investments in the construction of new wind turbines will amount to $1.6 trillion and will need to accelerate fivefold. New photovoltaic installations will cost an additional $2 trillion by 2050. In terms of raw material supplies necessary for renewable energy sources (RES), we remain completely dependent on Asia. Currently, no rare earth metals are mined in Europe. Geological exploration work is ongoing, but even at a very early stage, they encounter stringent environmental regulations and opposition from local communities.
The EU authorities, as indicated by President Tomasz Rogala, have already recognized the threats, as evidenced by new draft legislation projects aimed at diversifying supply sources. It is proposed that by 2030, European mining companies should provide at least 10% of the annual demand for rare earth metals, and at least 40% of these resources should be processed in Europe.
“The goals set in the Green Transformation and in the new EU regulations on critical raw materials require strong and sustainable supply chains necessary for the operation of RES installations. The European Union must realize that these plans can only be achieved if we use the potential of mining skills and knowledge of countries that still exploit hard coal (Poland, the Czech Republic) and lignite coal (Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Romania). Without the participation of miners, there will be a shortage of critical raw materials and rare earth elements, which are essential for the Green Transformation. In Poland, the plan to phase out mining by 2049 coincides with the described goal. We will have an available workforce and competencies capable of supplying the necessary materials. However, we must hurry and not waste this opportunity!” said Tomasz Rogala at the Euracoal meeting in Warsaw.