The availibilty of raw materials that are an essential part of both high tech products and every-day consumer products, such as mobile phones, thin layer photovoltaics, Lithium-ion batteries, fibre optic cable, synthetic fuels, among others is increasingly under pressure according to a report, published on June 17, by an expert group chaired by the European Commission. In this first ever overview on the state of access to raw materials in the EU, the experts label a selection of 14 raw materials as “critical” out of 41 minerals and metals analysed. The growing demand for raw materials is driven by the growth of developing economies and new emerging technologies. The list was established in the framework of the 2008 EU Raw Materials Initiative1 in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders. The results of the report will be used for the drafting of a forthcoming communication on strategies to ensure access to raw materials which the Commission will publish in autumn 2010.

The expert group considers that 14 raw mineral materials are critical for the European Union: Antimony, Beryllium, Cobalt, Fluorspar, Gallium, Germanium, Graphite, Indium, Magnesium, Niobium, PGMs (Platinum Group Metals), Rare earths, Tantalum and Tungsten. Forecasts indicate that demand might more than triple for a series of critical raw materials by 2030 compared with the 2006 level.

For the critical raw materials, their high supply risk is mainly due to the fact that a high share of the worldwide production mainly comes from a handful of countries: China (antimony, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, rare earths, tungsten), Russia (PGM), the Democratic Republic of Congo (cobalt, tantalum) and Brazil (niobium and tantalum). This production concentration, in many cases, is compounded by low substitutability and low recycling rates.
The main driving emerging technologies for the critical raw materials are antimony tin oxide and micro capacitors for Antimony, Lithium-ion batteries and synthetic fuels for Cobalt, thin layer photovoltaics, IC, WLED for Gallium, fibre optic cable for and IR optical technologies for Germanium, displays and thin layer photovoltaics for Indium, Fuel cells and catalysts for, Platinum (PGM), catalysts and seawater desalination for Palladium (PGM), micro capacitors and ferroalloys for Niobium, permanent magnets and laser technology for Neodymium (rare earth), and micro capacitors and medical technology for Tantalum.