Western Australia’s material role in Europe’s green new deal

As Europe gears up for a greater uptake of electric vehicles, its attention is on the ability to source the critical components of the car’s battery in a diverse and sustainable way.

This was the central theme of last week’s EU Critical Raw Materials Week, of which Australia was involved to further awareness of its expertise and position itself as a partner of choice to meet Europe’s ambitions.

As the major source of critical raw materials in Australia, such as lithium, nickel and cobalt, Western Australia will be a focal point for the relationship. Yet supply is only half the story. The EU, national governments and increasingly companies, are demanding that the materials are ethically sourced, have a low carbon footprint, and that supply is not concentrated too heavily from a single jurisdiction or supplier. 

Speaking during the EU Critical Raw Materials Week, Chief Operating Officer of the Australian Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) Jacques Eksteen provided insight into how Australia is well positioned to meet European objectives.

The first is in domestic development of European reserves. Western Australia is home to a world-leading cohort of mining companies that export their expertise and technology around the world. A number of these companies are already operating in Europe to develop local reserves that may have previously been left undeveloped or inefficiently mined. Domestic development of reserves provides an element of supply diversification and security, while helping meet circular economy objectives of cradle-to-grave manufacturing.

Yet, demand is too great for any one country or bloc to do things alone. Importing critical raw materials will continue to grow along with the delivery of domestic projects. As Mr. Eksteen made clear, Australia is well recognised as a transparent jurisdiction where it’s clear what the carbon, water and waste footprint of every project can be understood. It is a jurisdiction of ethical labour practices with well-established and ethical trading practices. The next step, which is something the FBICRC is working on, is for a consistent approach to lifecycle analysis at a project level to be developed. This will go a long way to meeting EU objectives of ensuring materials have a low carbon footprint.

Australia’s ambition is to move further up the value trade and be a source of battery and rare earth chemicals. This reflects the expertise of advanced manufacturing in Australia, meets diversity of supply objectives, and avoids the carbon footprint of shipping less processed materials.

As suggested by Mr Gwenole Cozigou, from the European Commission, there is a lot of goodwill in Europe for Australia, and an increasing number of European companies are actively considering expanding their Australian footprint.

With the Australian-EU Free Trade Agreement in negotiation and a global shortage of critical raw materials anticipated from 2022, it is anticipated that this relationship will continue to grow and strengthen.

About the Government of Western Australia’s London Office:

The Western Australian Government Office is based in London with responsibility across all of Europe and Israel. If you’re a Western Australian organisation interested in the European market, or vice-versa, we are here to assist. Please get in touch!