Securing a stable supply of magnesium from sources outside China is an important priority for Europe if it is to meet the targets set out in the EU's proposed Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA). Verde Magnesium is developing a production site in Romania that would be the EU's sole primary supply source for the metal, and which could meet 45-50pc of the continent's demand. Argus spoke with Verde Magnesium's chief executive Alexandru Rosu about the CRMA and Verde's route to meeting its targets.
Could you provide an update on Verde Magnesium's operation?
Verde Magnesium reached important milestones over the last few years. We pre-contracted an environmentally friendly technology for metallic magnesium production, signed a memorandum of understanding for the location of the first smelter in central Romania, realised the pre-feasibility study for electricity production from renewable sources. And we received interest from many EU industrial consumers of magnesium, and we also signed memorandums of understanding with some of them.
We are working now on the pre-feasibility study for the first module of the magnesium smelter to be developed in Romania, whose capacity will be 15,000-20,000 t/yr. We expect to commission it and produce the first metric ton of magnesium over the course of 2026.
What is Verde Magnesium's process for magnesium production, with regard to raw materials and processing method?
After we analysed various technologies, we selected the aluminothermic reduction process as it is able to deliver a sustainable product, a green or a very low CO2 footprint magnesium.
This process supposes the reduction of magnesium from magnesium oxide in the presence of aluminium.
Magnesium oxide can be produced from a variety of ores… we are looking to serpentinite, to dolomite and a mix of calcite and brucite, which is the main perimeter we're targeting in western Romania. But we are also under discussions with a few companies that intend to extract magnesium oxide from tailings and chemical waste.
Aluminium can come from primary and secondary sources. This will allow us to use the scrap generated by industrial users of magnesium.
As Verde Magnesium is redeveloping a project that was previously fully permitted, what are the barriers to starting production?
We are still waiting for the National Agency for Mineral Resources of Romania to restart its public tender process in order to access the resources in the perimeters we are targeting.
This process is still blocked since 2019 without any reasonable explanation, but following the CRMA and the new strategy for the sector that was developed by the Romanian economy ministry, we hope this this constraint will soon be lifted.
In parallel, we were invited by various EU mining companies and development agencies to investigate other solutions for feedstock and a few interesting partnerships are under investigation in this respect.
How achievable do you think the CRMA targets are?
EU consumption of magnesium will soon exceed 200,000 t/yr (from 180,000-200,000 t/yr now) and we remain optimistic that the targets of the CRMA are achievable subject to implementing the type of measures we mentioned previously.
You really need to support the development of projects like ours because the increased rate of magnesium demand in China is higher compared with the rest of the world, leaving less for export.
It will really be an issue in the future to continue to count on the volumes left for export in China. From this perspective, this will add extra pressure to magnesium supply for EU industry.
The CRMA set out to streamline the permitting process for new mines and processing facilities. What is your view on the permitting system?
The development of magnesium and other CRM projects in Europe is challenging due to mainly two factors — regulatory bottlenecks with permitting, especially in terms of environmental permitting, and the cost structure gap between EU-manufactured products versus imports.
Permitting regimes remain somewhat opaque on the one hand because in respect to the new tenders being issued there is a need of bigger clarity. On the other hand, the permitting is very restrictive when it comes to environmental authorisations and social licence to operate.
Ukraine has a very good electronic system for tendering its perimeters for natural resources exploration and exploitation. Something like this should be implemented in order to put on the market the resources the EU has and attract investors.
What is your view on the EU's carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM)?
Production of low-carbon or green products involves significant research and development, the implementation of the most modern technologies, renewable energy sources, a highly qualified workforce, investment in environmental protection and remediation measures, along with the support of local communities in the area of the project.
These are inherently responsible for a higher cost compared with imports that are produced under lighter regulations using polluting technologies and fossil fuel-based energy while neglecting environmental protection. But somehow European products should pay back over time with lower transport costs, more robust supply and local investments, local employment, the development of local research and development and a lower environmental cost for society.
And the big question not only for us but for the entire industry is how the market and the entire system in Europe will be able to pay back the extra cost needed to achieve these sustainability targets.
We believe that alongside member state authorities, the envisaged CRM board which is defined in the CRMA needs to be empowered and be able to… identify and propose to [the] European Commission the implementation of the best measures to level the playing field and safeguard EU producers against unfair competition of imports.
Here the carbon border adjustment mechanism may have an important role. But some other solutions should be investigated as well, because there may be the risk that the exporting countries find solutions to overpass the restrictions of the CBAM and still introduce their products in the EU