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Critical Raw Materials

Critical Raw Materials

Raw materials are crucial to Europe’s economy. They form a strong industrial base, producing a broad range of goods and applications used in everyday life and modern technologies. 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) for the EU, which is subject to a regular review and update. CRMs combine raw materials of high importance to the EU economy and of high risk associated with their supply. 

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 rely 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 contribute to its small size, light weight and functionality.
  • Environment – raw materials are closely linked to clean technologies. They are irreplaceable in solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting.

What the Commission does

  • First list of CRMs – in 2011, a list of 14 CRMs was published in the communication on raw materials. The list of CRMs was established as a priority action of the EU ‘raw materials initiative’ of 2008. The Commission is committed to updating the list at least every 3 years to reflect production, market and technological developments.
  • Second list of CRMs – in 2014, a first revised list of 20 CRMs was published in the communication on the list of critical raw materials 2014.
  • Third list of CRMs – in 2017, a third list of 27 CRMs was published in the communication on the list of critical raw materials 2017, based on a refined methodology.
  • Methodology on CRMs – in July 2017, the Commission published a revised methodology for establishing the EU list of critical raw materials. The synthesised guidelines build on the methodology used for the lists of CRMs in 2011 and 2014. They also integrate the methodological improvements identified by the Commission in the project ‘Assessment of the methodology on the list of critical raw materials’, in areas such as manufacturing applications, trade, substitution, recycling. Additional information regarding the methodology can be found in the background report published in August 2017. 

The list of CRMs should help:

  • strengthen the competitiveness of European industry in line with the renewed industrial strategy for Europe
  • stimulate the production of CRMs by enhancing new mining and recycling activities in the EU
  • foster efficient use and recycling of critical raw materials, a priority area in the EU circular economy action plan 
  • increase awareness of potential raw material supply risks and related opportunities among EU countries, companies and investors
  • negotiate trade agreements, challenge trade distortion measures, develop research and innovation actions and implement the 2030 ‘Agenda on sustainable development and its sustainable development goals’

The methodology to identify CRMs

The Commission carries out a criticality assessment at EU level on a wide range of non-energy and non-agricultural raw materials. The 2017 criticality assessment was carried out for 61 candidate materials (58 individual materials and 3 material groups: heavy rare earth elements, light rare earth elements, platinum group metals, amounting to 78 materials in total). In 2011, 41 materials were assessed, while 54 materials were assessed in 2014.

The main parameters used to determine the criticality of the material for the EU are:

  • Economic importance - aims at providing insight into the importance of a material for the EU economy in terms of end-use applications and the value added (VA) of corresponding EU manufacturing sectors at the NACE Rev.2 (2-digit level). The economic importance is corrected by the substitution index (SIEI) related to technical and cost performance of the substitutes for individual applications. 
  • Supply risk - reflects the risk of a disruption in the EU supply of the material. It is based on the concentration of primary supply from raw materials producing countries, considering their governance performance and trade aspects. Depending on the EU import reliance (IR), proportionally the 2 sets of the producing countries are taken into account — the global suppliers and the countries from which the EU is sourcing the raw materials. SR is measured at the ‘bottleneck’ stage of the material (extraction or processing), which presents the highest supply risk for the EU. Substitution and recycling are considered risk-reducing measures. 

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Supply risk and economic importance of raw materials

Third list of critical raw materials for the EU of 2017

The new list includes 9 more new materials than the 2014 list: baryte, bismuth, hafnium, helium, natural rubber, phosphorus, scandium, tantalum, vanadium. This brings the number up to 27 raw materials which are now considered critical by the Commission. 3 of these are entirely new to the list: bismuth, helium, phosphorus. The other 17 critical raw materials are included in the CRM table below. For the first time, individual assessment results are available for the 3 grouped metals: HREEs (heavy rare earth elements), LREEs (light rare earth elements), and PGMs (platinum group metals).

All raw materials, even when not classed as critical, are important for the EU economy.

2017 CRMs (27)
AntimonyFluorsparLREEsPhosphorus
BaryteGalliumMagnesiumScandium
BerylliumGermaniumNatural graphiteSilicon metal
BismuthHafniumNatural rubberTantalum
BorateHeliumNiobiumTungsten
CobaltHREEsPGMsVanadium
Coking coalIndiumPhosphate rock 

*HREEs=heavy rare earth elements, LREEs=light rare earth elements, PGMs=platinum group metals

Main global and domestic producers of CRMs

The EU’s industry and economy are reliant on international markets to provide access to many important raw materials since they are produced and supplied by third countries. Although the domestic production of certain critical raw materials exists in the EU, notably hafnium, in most cases the EU is dependent on imports from non-EU countries.

China is the major supplier of critical raw materials, accounting for 70% of their global supply and 62% of their supply to the EU (e.g. rare earth elements, magnesium, antimony, natural graphite, etc.). Brazil (niobium), USA (beryllium and helium), Russia (palladium) and South Africa (iridium, platinum, rhodium and ruthenium) are also important producers of critical raw materials. The risks associated with the concentration of production are in many cases compounded by low substitution and low recycling rates.

Countries accounting for largest share of global supply of CRMs

World primary supply of critical raw materials

Countries accounting for largest share of EU supply of CRMs

EU primary supply of critical raw materials

Supporting information

Contact

GROW-C2@ec.europa.eu

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