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EU names six new critical materials, warns of industry challenges

May 26th, 2014

by Greg Klein | May 26, 2014

Six new critical raw materials bring the European Commission’s list up to 20, posing a “major challenge for EU industry,” the EC announced May 26. An update to the original 2011 collection, the set now includes borates, chromium, coking coal, magnesite, phosphate rock and silicon metal. No longer included is tantalum, now considered to have a lower supply risk. The division of rare earths into two categories, light and heavy, brings the total to 20 materials:

Raw materials are everywhere—just consider your smartphone. It might contain up to 50 different metals, all of which help to give it its light weight and user-friendly small size. Key economic sectors in Europe—such as automotive, aerospace and renewable energy—are highly dependent on raw materials. These raw materials represent the lifeblood of today’s industry and are fundamental for the development of environmental technologies and the digital agenda.—EC Enterprise and Industry

  • antimony
  • beryllium
  • borates
  • chromium
  • cobalt
  • coking coal
  • fluorspar
  • gallium
  • germanium
  • graphite (natural)
  • indium
  • magnesite
  • magnesium
  • niobium
  • phosphate rock
  • platinum group metals
  • rare earths (heavy)
  • rare earths (light)
  • silicon metal
  • tungsten

With 54 candidates considered, materials were evaluated largely on two criteria, economic importance and supply risk. Economic importance was determined by “assessing the proportion of each material associated with industrial megasectors” and their importance to the EU’s GDP.

Supply risk was assessed through the World Governance Indicator, which considers factors “such as voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law or control of corruption.”

Not surprisingly, the report names China as the biggest global supplier of the 20. “Several other countries have dominant supplies of specific raw materials, such as Brazil (niobium). Supply of other materials, for example platinum group metals and borates, is more diverse but is still concentrated. The risks associated with this concentration of production are in many cases compounded by low substitutability and low recycling rates.” About 90% of the critical materials’ primary supply comes from outside the EU.

The commission hopes its list will encourage European production of the materials. The list will also be considered when negotiating trade agreements and promoting R&D, as well as by companies evaluating their own supplies.

As for the future, the EC sees growing demand for all 20 critical raw materials, “with niobium, gallium and heavy rare earth elements forecast to have the strongest rates of demand growth, exceeding 8% per year for the rest of the decade.”

The commission adds that “all raw materials, even when not critical, are important for the European economy” and therefore should not be neglected.

The EC intends to update its list at least every three years.

Download the EU report on critical raw materials.