Critical Raw Materials

Critical Raw Materials

Raw materials are crucial to Europe’s economy and essential to maintaining and improving our quality of life. Securing reliable and unhindered access to certain raw materials is a growing concern within the EU and across the globe. To address this challenge, the European Commission has created a list of Critical Raw Materials (CRMs). CRMs combine a high economic importance to the EU with a high risk associated with their supply. Examples of CRMs include rare earth elements, cobalt and niobium.

Why critical raw materials are important

  • Link to industry - non-energy raw materials are linked to all industries across all supply chain stages.
  • Modern technology - technological progress and quality of life are reliant on access to a growing number of raw materials. For example, a smartphone might contain up to 50 different kinds of metals, all of which help to give it its light weight and user-friendly small size.
  • Environment – improving the environment is closely linked to raw materials. They are irreplaceable in solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and energy efficient lighting.

What the Commission does

The list of CRMs should help:

  • implement the EU’s industrial policy and strengthen industrial competitiveness;
  • stimulate the production of CRMs and the launch of new mining activities in the EU;
  • prioritise actions, negotiate trade agreements, challenge trade distortion measures, and promote research and innovation.

The methodology to identify CRMs

The Commission carries out a criticality assessment at EU level on a wide range of raw materials (in 2010, 41 raw materials were assessed, in 2013, 54 raw materials were assessed). The indicators are:

  • Economic importance - the proportion of each material associated with industrial megasectors such as construction, combined with its gross value added to EU GDP. This total is scaled according to total EU GDP to define the overall economic importance of a material.
  • Supply risk - the World Governance Indicator (WGI) is used to measure the supply risks of raw materials. This indicator takes into account accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and rule of law.

Supply risk and economic importance of raw materials

Criticality assessment

The criticality assessment was carried out in 2013. 20 raw materials were identified as critical from the list of 54 candidate materials. The extended list of CRMs includes 7 new abiotic materials and 3 biotic materials. In addition, greater detail is provided for rare earth elements by splitting them into heavy rare earth elements, light rare earth elements, and scandium.

AntimonyBerylliumBoratesChromiumCobaltCooking coalFluorspar
GalliumGermaniumIndiumMagnesiteMagnesiumNatural GraphiteNiobium
PGMsPhosphate RockREEs (Heavy)REEs (Light)Silicon MetalTungsten 

This 2013 list includes 13 of the 14 materials identified in the previous report, with only tantalum being removed from 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 assessed were classified as critical. All raw materials, even when not critical, are important for the EU economy.

Main producers of CRM

China is the biggest producer of the 20 EU critical raw materials. Several other countries have dominant supplies of specific raw materials, such as the USA (beryllium), and Brazil (niobium). EU primary supply across all candidate materials is estimated at around 9%. In the case of critical raw materials, supplies from EU sources are even more limited.

World primary supply of the 54 candidate raw materials

World primary supply of the 54 candidate raw materials

World primary supply of the 20 critical raw materials

World primary supply of the 20 critical raw materials

World map showing sources of critical raw materials

Supporting information