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European Union looks to Canada and others for critical minerals supply

by Greg Klein | September 4, 2020

The EU’s newly released 10-point critical raw materials action plan calls for development of European supplies and supply chains, as well as further re-use and recycling. But for those materials not found on the continent, the European Commission says, “pilot partnerships with Canada, interested countries in Africa and the EU’s neighbourhood will start as of 2021. In these and other fora of international co-operation, the commission will promote sustainable and responsible mining practices and transparency.”

European Union looks to Canada and others for critical minerals supply

The commission made the proclamation September 3 as part of its Green Deal, a program to achieve a climate-neutral, digital economy and “stronger Europe.” As has been the case in the U.S. over the last four years, the continent has been expressing increasing concern about security of supply for necessary resources. The EU also released an updated list of critical raw materials, the first since 2017.

Using the same methodology that emphasizes economic importance and supply challenges, the new list numbers 30, compared with 27 in 2017. Added for the first time are lithium, bauxite, titanium and strontium. Helium was dropped due to a decline in economic importance.

Heavy rare earths, light rare earths and scandium rate three separate categories. Also included are critical standbys like niobium, tantalum, fluorspar, cobalt and platinum group metals. Not exclusive to minerals, the list includes natural rubber.

Coking coal, phosphorus and silicon metal ranked among EU choices that didn’t make the most recent (from 2018) U.S. list of 35 critical minerals. Some other American exclusives not listed by the EU are helium, manganese, potash and chromium.

The commission referenced World Bank data showing “demand for metals and minerals increases rapidly with climate ambition. The most significant example of this is electric storage batteries, where the rise in demand for relevant metals aluminium, cobalt, iron, lead, lithium, manganese and nickel would grow by more than 1,000% by 2050 under a 2°C scenario, compared to a business-as-usual scenario.”

The commission’s Maroš Šefčovič added, “For e-car batteries and energy storage alone, Europe will for instance need up to 18 times more lithium by 2030 and up to 60 times more by 2050.”

Supply security can be jeopardized by reliance on a single country or company, the commission warned. “China provides 98% of the EU’s supply of rare earth elements, Turkey provides 98% of the EU’s supply of borate, and South Africa provides 71% of the EU’s needs for platinum and an even higher share of the platinum group metals iridium, rhodium and ruthenium. The EU relies on single EU companies for its supply of hafnium and strontium.”

The commission’s specific mention of Canada as a preferred supply source follows the Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration that the U.S. and Canada announced in January and reaffirmed last June.

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