This press release is available in German.
There is no future without scarce metals! This was the very clear message with which Peter Hofer, a member of Empa's Board of Directors, greeted guests at the recent Technology Briefing on scarce metals held at the Empa Academy. After all, it is scarce metals in batteries and motors that keep electric vehicles rolling and which, in automobile catalytic converters, clean up the exhaust gases. Hofer again: Materials with special properties are essential if we are to find solutions to the problems caused by our ever-increasing mobility requirements. The term scarce metals includes gallium, indium, cobalt and the platinum metals, in addition to the rare earth metals which are used (together with iron and boron), for example, to make the very strong magnets needed in wind turbines. And manufacturers like to use tantalum for the capacitors on mobile telephone printed circuit boards (PCBs) because this transition metal, when used in these tiny components, enables them to store and release large amounts of electrical energy. The demand is high, with more than 60 per cent of the tantalum mined being used for this application.
The darker side
But, as Patrick Wger, the initiator of this Technology Briefing and an expert on scarce metals, explained, everything has a darker side to it. Raw materials which can only be mined and refined in a few countries, for which alternatives are not easy to find and which have a low rate of recycling must are considered to be critical. China, for example, almost completely controls the supply of rare earth metals from which high-performance permanent magnets are manufactured. Wger, who is a staff member of Empa's Technology and Society laboratory, added that by imposing export restrictions the Chinese government has forced prices to rise, leading to delivery bottleneck
|Contact: Dr. Patrick Wger|
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)