Availability of critical raw materials for PV under pressure

In their first ever overview on the state of access to raw materials in the European Union (EU), a group of experts have labeled a selection of 14 raw materials as “critical” out of 41 minerals and metals analyzed.

The Commission says forecasts indicate demand might more than triple for these critical raw materials by 2030 compared with the 2006 level.

The “high supply risk” has been particularly attributed to the fact that a high share of the worldwide production comes from a small handful of countries, including China, Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil. This production concentration, in many cases says the Commission, is compounded by low substitutability and low recycling rates.

In the report, the Commission states: “One of the most powerful forces influencing the economic importance of raw materials in the future is technological change. It is to be expected that this can drastically increase the demand for certain raw materials." It went on to say that "many emerging economies are pursuing industrial development strategies by means of trade, taxation and investment instruments aimed at reserving their resource base for their exclusive use”.

European Commission vice-president Antonio Tajani, in charge of Industry and Entrepreneurship, comments: "Today’s report provides very valuable input for our efforts to ensure that access to raw materials for enterprises will not be hampered. We need fair play on external markets, a good framework to foster sustainable raw materials supply from EU sources as well as improved resource efficiency and more use of recycling. It is our aim to make sure that Europe’s industry will be able to continue to play a leading role in new technologies and innovation and we have to ensure that we have the necessary elements to do so.”

To overcome the current problems, the Group recommends:

  • Updating the list of EU critical raw materials every five years and enlarge the scope for criticality assessment
  • Policy actions to improve access to primary resources
  • Policy actions to make recycling of raw materials or raw material-containing products more efficient
  • Encouraging substitution of certain raw materials, notably by promoting research on substitutes for critical raw materials
  • Improving the overall material efficiency of critical raw materials.

The 14 raw mineral materials deemed critical for the European Union are: Antimony, Beryllium, Cobalt, Fluorspar, Gallium, Germanium, Graphite, Indium, Magnesium, Niobium, PGMs (Platinum Group Metals), Rare earths, Tantalum and Tungsten.