EU Foresees Shortages of 14 Critical Minerals

CHICAGO - The European Commission has identified 14 mineral raw materials, including several metals and metal groups, which have high supply risks and could face shortages resulting from limited production sources and high demand.

An expert group assembled by the Brussels-based commission studied 41 minerals and metals groups to compile the "critical" supply list. Minerals on the critical list are antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, niobium (also known as columbium), platinum group metals (PGMs), rare earths, tantalum and tungsten.

The experts concluded that demand might more than triple for some of the minerals between 2006 and 2030 and released forecasts of demand growth from emerging technologies for nine of the minerals as well as silver and copper. They said the growing demand for raw materials is driven both by the growth of developing economies and new emerging technologies.

The high supply risk was described as mainly due to the fact that a high share of the worldwide production mainly comes from a handful of countries including China for antimony, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, rare earths and tungsten; Russia for PGMs; the Democratic Republic of Congo for cobalt and tantalum; and Brazil for niobium and tantalum.

The production concentration is, in many cases, compounded by low substitutability and low recycling rates, the experts said. Many emerging economies are pursuing industrial development strategies by means of trade, taxation and investment instruments aimed at reservation of their resource base for their exclusive use, they said.

Technological change is also influencing the importance of raw materials and is expected to drastically increase demand for certain raw materials, the experts concluded. The main emerging technologies driving critical raw materials supplies are antimony tin oxide and micro capacitors for antimony; lithium-ion batteries and synthetic fuels for cobalt; thin layer photovoltaics, integrated circuits and white light emitting diodes for gallium; fiber optic cable for and infrared optical technologies for germanium; displays and thin layer photovoltaics for indium; fuel cells and catalysts for platinum PGMs; catalysts and seawater desalination for palladium PGMs; micro capacitors and ferroalloys for niobium; permanent magnets and laser technology for neodymium (rare earths); and micro capacitors and medical technology for tantalum.

The experts recommended a series of policy actions to improve access to primary resources and make recycling more efficient as well as encouraging substitution of raw materials and improving overall material efficiency. An update of the list every five years and enlargement of criticality assessment was also recommended.

The list was established in a 2008 European Union raw materials initiative and is to be used by the commission to draft a forthcoming statement on strategies to ensure access to raw material which is scheduled for publication this fall.

"Today's report provides very valuable input for our efforts to ensure that access to raw materials for enterprises will not be hampered," Antonio Tajani, the commission's vice president for industry and entrepreneurship, said in presenting the results at a conference in Madrid.

"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," Tajani added. "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.''

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