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Tracking environmental impacts in global product chains

Rare Earth Metals and other critical metals used in the cleantech industry

image of Tracking environmental impacts in global product chains

Tracking environmental impacts in global product chains – Rare Earth Metals and other critical metals used in the cleantech industry Metals form a central part of the global economy, but their extraction and supply are linked to several environmental and social concerns. This study aims to create a picture of the supply chain of Rare Earth Metals (REMs) and other critical metals used in the clean technology (cleantech) sectors of electric vehicles and solar panels. The study examines how Nordic cleantech companies are aware and acting on the challenges related to the lifecycle of these metals and what are the potentials to minimise environmental and social impacts. Recommendations of the study can be summarised as three initiatives: establishment of an awareness platform and roundtable initiative (short-term), research and information gathering (mid-term), and development of closed-loop solutions (long-term).

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Analysis

Cleantech companies try, by definition, to provide more sustainable alternatives to traditional products and services. However, the new technologies and materials needed to produce them can create conflicting objectives for the cleantech industry as some materials may have negative environmental impacts. An example of this from the automotive sector is the use of Rare Earth Metals (REMs) in electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are one of the most energy efficient solutions to reduce carbon emissions of transportation. However, electric motors and limited battery capabilities in current electric vehicles have increased the need for low weight materials. This in turn has increased the demand for suitable REMs and potentially critical metals.

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