Report forecasts shortages of 14 critical mineral raw materials


Raw materials are an essential part of both high tech products and every-day consumer products, such as mobile phones, thin layer photovoltaics, Lithium-ion batteries, fibre optic cable, synthetic fuels, among others. But their availability is increasingly under pressure according to a report published today by an expert group chaired by the European Commission. In this first ever overview on the state of access to raw materials in the EU, the experts label a selection of 14 raw materials as “critical” out of 41 minerals and metals analysed. The growing demand for raw materials is driven by the growth of developing economies and new emerging technologies. The list was established in the framework of the 2008 EU Raw Materials Initiative1 in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders. The results of the report will be used for the drafting of a forthcoming communication on strategies to ensure access to raw materials which the Commission will publish in autumn 2010.

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, in charge of Industry and Entrepreneurship, said: “Today’s report provides very valuable input for our efforts to ensure that access to raw materials for enterprises will not be hampered. We need fair play on external markets, a good framework to foster sustainable raw materials supply from EU sources as well as improved resource efficiency and more use of recycling. It is our aim to make sure that Europe’s industry will be able to continue to play a leading role in new technologies and innovation and we have to ensure that we have the necessary elements to do so.”

The expert group considers that 14 raw mineral materials are critical for the European Union: Antimony, Beryllium, Cobalt, Fluorspar, Gallium, Germanium, Graphite, Indium, Magnesium, Niobium, PGMs (Platinum Group Metals), Rare earths, Tantalum and Tungsten. Forecasts indicate that demand might more than triple for a series of critical raw materials by 2030 compared with the 2006 level.

For the critical raw materials, their high supply risk is mainly due to the fact that a high share of the worldwide production mainly comes from a handful of countries: China (antimony, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, rare earths, tungsten), Russia (PGM), the Democratic Republic of Congo (cobalt, tantalum) and Brazil (niobium and tantalum). This production concentration, in many cases, is compounded by low substitutability and low recycling rates.

Many emerging economies are pursuing industrial development strategies by means of trade, taxation and investment instruments aimed at reserving their resource base for their exclusive use.

One of the most powerful forces influencing the economic importance of raw materials in the future is technological change. It is to be expected that this can drastically increase the demand for certain raw materials (see forecasts in MEMO/10/263).

The main driving emerging technologies for the critical raw materials are antimony tin oxide and micro capacitors for Antimony, Lithium-ion batteries and synthetic fuels for Cobalt, thin layer photovoltaics, IC, WLED for Gallium, fibre optic cable for and IR optical technologies for Germanium, displays and thin layer photovoltaics for Indium, Fuel cells and catalysts for, Platinum (PGM), catalysts and seawater desalination for Palladium (PGM), micro capacitors and ferroalloys for Niobium, permanent magnets and laser technology for Neodymium (rare earth), and micro capacitors and medical technology for Tantalum.

To overcome the current problems, the Group recommends:

updating the list of EU critical raw materials every 5 years and enlarge the scope for criticality assessment
policy actions to improve access to primary resources
policy actions to make recycling of raw materials or raw material-containing products more efficient
encouraging substitution of certain raw materials, notably by promoting research on substitutes for critical raw materials
improving the overall material efficiency of critical raw materials.
For the full list of recommendations, see MEMO/10/263

Vice President Tajani has just returned from the Meeting between the European Commission and the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa on 8 June 2010. During this meeting it was agreed to develop a bilateral cooperation in the field of raw materials and work together, to the elaboration of further progress and initiatives, in particular on issues such as governance, infrastructure and investment and geological knowledge and skills.

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