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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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Most commonly used metals in photovoltaics

Cadmium (Cd). The most common use of Cadmium is in NiCd batteries (85%) and in pigments (10%). Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is used in solar thin films. The largest producers of Cadmium are Asian: China, Kazakhstan, Japan and South Korea. However, cadmium production is not very concentrated and these countries account for less than half of the refinery production in 2010. China and India hold around a third of all cadmium reserves worldwide. The demand of cadmium has exhibited a decline over the past years as it is being phased out in several applications such as pigments due to its health and environmental concerns. In addition, the use of cadmium in batteries, the major application for cadmium, is declining as alternative technologies such as NiMH and Li-Ion batteries are providing increasing competition. Cadmium is a by-product of zinc refining. Cadmium recycling, and therefore overall cadmium supply, is increasing due to environmental legislation. Possibly primary production of cadmium from zinc refining may decline due to lower commercial incentives.

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