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Raw materials

Defining 'critical' raw materials

Raw materials are fundamental to Europe’s economy, and they are essential for maintaining and improving our quality of life. Recent years have seen a rapid growth in the number of materials used across products. Securing reliable and undistorted access of certain raw materials is of growing concern within the EU and across the globe. As a consequence of these circumstances, the Raw Materials Initiative was instigated to manage responses to raw materials issues at an EU level. Critical raw materials have a high economic importance to the EU combined with a high risk associated with their supply.

The first criticality analysis for raw materials was published in 2010 by the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Defining Critical Raw Materials, a subgroup to the Raw Materials Supply Group, which is an expert group of the European Commission. 14 critical raw materials were identified from a candidate list of 41 non-energy, non-food materials. In the 2011 Communication on raw materials (COM (2011)25 of 2 February 2011), the Commission formally adopted this list and stated that it would continue to monitor the issue of critical raw materials in order to identify priority actions. It also committed to undertake a regular review and update of this list at least every 3 years.

The current review has used the same methodology, indicators and thresholds as the original 2010 (54 raw materials instead of 41) criticality assessment at EU level, but with updated data and a wider range of materials.  This enables a side-by-side comparison of both assessments (2010 and 2013) to understand how the criticality of materials has changed during this time.  In the 2013 exercise 54 non-energy, non-agricultural materials were analysed. The same quantitative methodology as in the previous 2010 exercise is applying two criteria - the economic importance and the supply risk of the selected raw materials. Like in 2010, the following assessment components have been used:

  • Economic importance: this analysis is achieved by assessing the proportion of each material associated with industrial megasectors at an EU level.  These proportions are then combined with the megasectors’ gross value added (GVA) to the EU’s GDP.  This total is then scaled according to the total EU GDP to define an overall economic importance for a material.
  • Supply risk: in order to measure the supply risk of raw materials, the World Governance Indicator (WGI) was used. This indicator takes a variety of influences into account such as voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law or control of corruption.

The criticality zone is defined by the same thresholds as in 2010 to ensure comparability of the results. This extended candidate list includes 7 new abiotic materials and 3 biotic materials. In addition, greater detail is provided for the rare earth elements by splitting them into ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ categories. The overall results of the 2013 criticality assessment are shown below; the critical raw materials are highlighted in the red shaded criticality zone of the graph.

 

Twenty critical raw materials were identified as critical from the list of fifty-four candidate materials:

 

 

This 2013 list includes thirteen of the fourteen materials identified in the previous report, with only tantalum moving out of the EU critical material list. Six new materials enter the list: borates, chromium, coking coal, magnesite, phosphate rock and silicon metal. Three of these are entirely new to the assessment. None of the biotic materials were classified as critical. Whilst this analysis highlights the criticality of certain materials from the EU perspective, limitations and uncertainties with data, and the scope of the assessment should be taken into consideration when discussing this list. It is worth recalling that all raw materials, even when not critical, are important for the European economy and therefore not being critical does not imply that a given raw material and its availability to the European economy should be neglected. Moreover, the availability of new data may affect the list in the future; therefore the policy actions should not be limited to critical raw materials exclusively. In addition, information for each of the candidate materials is provided by individual material profiles. Further analysis is provided for the critical raw materials within these profiles.

Analysis of the global primary supply of the 54 candidate materials identifies around 90% of global supply originated from extra-EU sources; this included most of the base, speciality and precious metals, and rubber. China is the major supplier when these materials are considered, however many other countries are important suppliers of specific materials. EU primary supply across all candidate materials is estimated at around 9%. In the case of the critical raw materials, supply from the EU sources is even more limited.

A comparison between supply of the candidate materials and the critical materials is shown below, showing that supply becomes more concentrated for the critical materials, particularly in China.

 

The major producers of the twenty EU critical raw materials are shown below, with China clearly being the most influential in terms of global supply. Several other countries have dominant supplies of specific raw materials, such as the USA (beryllium) and Brazil (niobium). Supply of other materials, for example the platinum group metals and borates, is more diverse but is still relatively concentrated.

 

 

Relevant documents:

Communication on the review of the list of critical raw materials for the EU and the implementation of the Raw Materials Initiative pdf - 129 KB [129 KB]

Report on Critical Raw Materials for the EU pdf - 2 MB [2 MB]

Annex to the Report on Critical Raw Materials for the EU pdf - 577 KB [577 KB]

Critical Materials Profiles pdf - 5 MB [5 MB]

Non-Critical Materials Profiles

Study on Critical Raw Materials at EU Level

Report on Critical Raw Materials 2010

US-Japan-EU trilateral workshop on Critical Raw Materials 2 December 2013: workshop report

 

 

 

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