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Frequently asked questions and answers

How to reduce consumption of primary raw materials and decrease import dependence?

Apart from promoting greater resource efficiency in the consumption and production process, efforts are also needed in the area of recycling. Secondary raw materials, such as scrap, are increasingly important for the European industries and have the advantage of being environmentally friendly. However, many end-of-life products do not yet enter into sound recycling channels. The Commission announced actions that aim to promote recycling and facilitate the use of secondary raw materials.

The EU will also promote skills and research that focus on resource-efficient products and production. Research can play a particularly key role in developing substitutes to current minerals.

Is there a risk of imminent physical shortage of non energy raw materials in the world?

The main issue is not about physical scarcity. The reason is that technological innovation has been, and is expected to be able to:

  • improve our ability to find, mine and process new mineral resources,
  • to lessen the environmental impact of these activities, and:
  • to develop new resource efficient and recycling technologies and promote materials substitution.

However, we could imagine temporary situations where bottlenecks in the supply of some critical raw materials may cause serious problems for production in Europe and this will be reflected also in prices of the final products.

What type of funding is available for EU extractive companies in the area of research, innovation and business support?

The EU funding programmes are of a horizontal nature which means that they do not target a specific industrial sector such as the extractive industries. However, the Commission offers multiple support schemes for craft enterprises, either through its SME policy or other European programmes. The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) provides information on all EU support measures for small enterprises. Detailed information on Commission support measures for SMEs is available at the European Portal for SMEs.

The Commission will also promote research projects that focus on extraction and processing of raw materials in its 7th Framework Programme (FP7). The European Technology Platform on Sustainable Mineral Resources focuses on new exploration and extraction technologies.

Furthermore, cohesion policy funding, in particular under the European Regional Development Fund, is available to support a range of research, innovation and business measures for raw material exploitation.

Why do innovative "green technologies" need raw materials?

High tech materials fulfil a crucial role in the development of innovative "green technologies", associated with renewable energy as well as minimising greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, platinum and palladium are used for catalysts for hydrogen-fuel based cars, lithium batteries for electric-hybrid and future fuel cell cars, titanium and rhenium and ruthenium super alloys for the production of modern energy-efficient aircraft. It is also expected that new Light Emitting Diodes making use of gallium will consume 50% less than incandescent light bulbs using tungsten wire which would allow for a global reduction of electricity consumption by 2025.

Why is the situation serious for Europe? And for other countries?

The situation is serious for Europe because we are very dependent on imported raw materials, notably metallic minerals but also many industrial minerals, which are increasingly affected by market distortions. On the other hand, the exploration and extraction in Europe is facing increased competition for land uses and a highly regulated environment.

This situation varies for other countries. While Japan is also very dependent on imported raw materials, other countries like Australia and Canada have abundant natural resources. However, some emerging economies pursue policies which on the one hand aim to secure privileged access to resources, and on the other hand resort to export restrictions in relation to their domestic raw materials.

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