Critical raw materials
Today´s society demands large amounts of metals and minerals. In Europe, we consume about a quarter of the world's raw materials but produce only three percent. We are therefore largely dependent on imports.
The European Commission has classified 30 raw materials as critical for our society and industry. These critical materials are defined according to two main criteria for each individual raw material: its economic importance for the European industry and its supply risk, that is, the risk of interruptions in the supply to Europe.
The EC highlights four crucial areas with regards to raw materials:
- robust value chains for EU industry
- reduced dependence on primary raw materials, through enhanced circular economy
- increased production and processing of raw materials within the EU
- diversified supply through sustainable international trade
An example is cobalt, which has great economic significance but no major production in the EU. Import dependence is thus high and with uncertain access due to, among other things, political uncertainties, cobalt is considered critical.
The materials that are presently considered as critical are: antimony, baryte, bauxite, beryllium, bismuth, borate, cobalt, coking coal, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, hafnium, heavy rare earth elements (HREE), indium, light rare earth elements (LREE), lithium, magnesium, natural graphite, natural rubber, niobium, phosphate rock, phosphorus, platinum group metals (PGM), scandium, silicon metal, strontium, tantalum, titanium, tungsten and vanadium.
A large part of the production of the critical materials takes place outside the EU. On the other hand, there are a significant number of known deposits of critical materials within the EU, including in Sweden. Here, we have known deposits of, among others, antimony, fluorspar, phosphate rock, graphite, cobalt, PGE, REE, and tungsten.
The map below shows the global distribution of the production of various critical raw materials. Click on the map to open it in a larger window. It can also be downloaded in pdf format.
How to read the map
Each circle shows each country's total production of various critical minerals and metals, calculated as a percentage by weight. The percentages show the share of world production for a certain substance (the total areas of the pie charts for a certain substance together make up 100 percent, still based on weight). For example, Brazil accounts for 92 percent of the world's niobium production. The map shows that China completely dominates the total production even if they do not produce all the critical materials. Note that this map applies only to critical metals and minerals. Therefore, for example, Sweden is not included, otherwise a major producer within the EU of iron ore, precious metals and base metals.
The availability of raw materials is crucial for the European industry. Therefore, it is also a priority issue for the EU, and the Commission is currently implementing a range of measures to ensure a secure, sustainable and economically reasonable supply of raw materials.
The work takes place within the framework of the EU raw materials initiative. A central part of the initiative is about identifying which metals and minerals are critical.
China the largest producer
China is the largest producer of most of the critical raw materials, among others the rare earth elements, magnesium, tungsten, antimony, gallium and germanium.
Several other countries have a leading position in the production of specific raw materials, such as Brazil (niobium) and the United States (beryllium and helium). Platinum group metals production is concentrated in Russia (palladium) and South Africa (iridium, platinum, rhodium and ruthenium).
Reasons why the supply of several materials is considered critical is that the production of the substance in question is geographically concentrated in one or a few countries, often with governance issues, while the degree of recycling and substitution for the same substance is low.
There are clear global trends and tendencies showing that the demand for many of the critical materials will increase dramatically in the near future. Several new “green” energy technologies such as those found in solar cells, electricity networks and biofuels will require large amounts of, for example, rare earth elements (REE), cobalt and ruthenium.
In order to produce high-capacity permanent magnets, which are used in large amounts in wind turbines and electric vehicles, neodymium (Nd) and praseodymium (Pr) are needed; both examples of rare earth elements. The demand for these is estimated to increase by approximately 250 percent over the next ten-year period due to the broad introduction of such technologies. Several of the rare earth elements are, as noted above, also needed for the production of electric vehicles. The fact that demand is already increasing can be seen in the price development.
In 2017, approximately 4 million electric vehicles were sold. By 2030, sales will, according to forecasts, be up to 50 million per year. This means that in order to be able to obtain sufficient neodymium and praseodymium, among other metals and minerals, increasingly large amounts of rare earth elements need to be extracted. The same trend also applies to several other critical metals, including lithium and cobalt.
Increased mining in Europe
It is projected that it will take until 2100 before recycling can account for at least half of the amount of rare earth elements that we expect Europe and the world will need. Alternatives are needed. One that the Commission considers to be the most secure, from a supply point of view, is increased mining and production in Europe. European mining can gradually secure the supply of certain critical minerals and metals while limiting the present unethical and illegal extraction, especially in Africa.
Last reviewed 2021-06-09