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23rd June 2014

EU and US need uniform list of critical materials

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Consultant, Heleen Vollers, spoke at the Metal Pages Noble Alloys conference.

Heleen Vollers, spoke at the Noble Alloys conference.

A joint EU-US critical materials policy is vital for maintaining transatlantic leadership in development and manufacturing of high-tech products and long-term economic growth, according to Heleen Vollers of Brussels-based consultancy firm Ridens.

Vollers was quoted in an article on metal news website, Metal-Pages, after she spoke at the Metal-Pages Noble Alloys conference in New York.

The consultant said that the EU, via its Raw Materials Initiative in 2010, identified 14 critical raw materials: antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, niobium, platinum group metals (PGM), rare earths, tantalum and tungsten.

The criticality of these materials was not determined by geological scarcity, but rather by geopolitical factors impacting supply and demand.

The bulk of global production comes from China (antimony, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, rare earths, and tungsten), Russia (PGM), the Democratic Republic of Congo (cobalt, tantalum) and Brazil (niobium and tantalum). Additionally, many emerging economies have industrial development strategies, including export taxes, quotas and subsidies aimed at giving each country exclusive use of its natural resources.

Increasing demand

Technological change is rapidly increasing the demand for many critical materials. For example, the German Federal Ministry of Information and Technology estimates that global demand for gallium from emerging technologies will increase from 28 tonnes in 2006 to 603 tonnes in 2030.

The main driving technologies for gallium are thin-layer photovoltaics, integrated circuits (IC), and white light-emitting diodes (WLED); displays and thin-layer photovoltaics for indium; and permanent magnets and laser technology for neodymium.

In May 2014, the EU’s critical materials list was updated to comprise: antimony, beryllium, borates, chromium, coking coal, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, indium, magnesite, magnesium, natural graphite, niobium, phosphate rock, PGM, heavy REE, light REE, silicon metal, and tungsten.

Rare earths were split into light and heavy, and tantalum was removed from the list.

Vollers, added that defence and national security are of particular concern to the EU, as highlighted in the European Commission Action plan of July 2013.

The plan identified rare earth elements as vitally important to the defence sector. At the moment, the European Commission is working on a list of materials critical to European defence and national security.

Vollers said that producers of critical materials are sceptical about the EU’s commitment to finding substitutes for critical materials. Producers prefer policy aimed at securing reliable supply of the listed materials.

Although the EU has valuable deposits and many underexplored and unexplored deposits, exploration and extraction have to take place in a highly regulated market, where it can take eight to ten years between discovery and extraction.

According to Vollers, it is vital for the EU and US to agree on a uniform list of critical materials and a regulatory framework to ensure continued supply of critical materials in the US and the EU.

The full article is on the Metal Pages website (for subscribers only)