There are more than 40 non-ferrous metals and their alloys produced in the EU which are used in a wide range of applications. Non-ferrous metals industries, considered as basic industries, are essential in the value added chain of many investment and consumer goods producers such as mechanical engineering, transport, aerospace, construction, packaging, electricity and energy, consumer electronics, medical devices, etc.
The non-ferrous metals sector accounts for 1,25% (EUR 19,91bn) of EU manufacturing value added at factor cost; and its share in employment was 0,98% (302 400 people). Turnover of the sector was EUR 116,09bn (1,8%) in 2010.
The EU is one of the biggest consumers of non-ferrous metals worldwide and has a large non-ferrous metals refining capacity for processing ores and concentrates as well as for melting recycled metals (scrap). In the manufacture of basic precious and non-ferrous metals in the EU27, aluminium represented the largest activity with EUR 7,27bn of value added at factor cost in 2010, ahead of copper and zinc.
The production volume of the non-ferrous metal industries was growing slightly over a decade (1999-2008), followed by a drop due to the economic and financial crises in 2009. A modest recovery began in 2010, but overall, the EU, is losing its share of the world market. Its dependence on imported raw materials for metal production and metals is growing rapidly.
The production of non-ferrous metals from natural mineral ores is, in general, highly energy-intensive. The steadily increasing share in production originating from scrap, results in significant energy savings. The recyclability of metals, without loss of their intrinsic properties, adds to their competitiveness and environmental benefits.
The important issues influencing the competitiveness of the EU non-ferrous metals industries are climate change and other environmental challenges, cost of energy, access to raw materials, research, innovation and trade.