Improving supply security of critical metals: Current developments and research in the EU

Elsevier, Sustainable Materials and Technologies Volume 15, April 2018, Pages 9-18
Amund N.Løvik, Christian Hagelüken, Patrick Wäger


According to the reports on critical raw materials for the EU, a raw material is considered critical if it has a high economic importance to the EU combined with high supply risk. Supply risk is considered to arise from a combination of several factors, namely a high concentration of production in countries with poor governance, limited material substitutability, and poor end-of-life recycling rates. A number of industry activities, policy initiatives and research projects have recently been initiated in Europe with the aim to secure an adequate supply of raw materials. In this article, we review such ongoing developments with a focus on publicly funded research projects on critical metals in Europe, and discuss their contribution to reaching the objectives of the Raw Materials Initiative as well as the more general goals of sustainability. We found that current research puts a strong emphasis on rare earth elements, being addressed in almost half of the identified projects. Other frequently studied metals include cobalt, indium and platinum group metals. The efforts are roughly evenly distributed between the three main domains of supply security measures: primary supply, secondary supply, and material efficiency and substitution, with a somewhat larger budget allocated to secondary supply. Current research is coherent with the aims of the Raw Materials Initiative in that it addresses primary production, recycling, and substitution as means to secure the supply of critical metals. However, the prioritization of certain metals, especially rare earth elements, is stronger than what seems justified by differences in economic risk (as a quantitative interpretation of criticality), and should perhaps be replaced by a more balanced distribution of funds. For example, more product-centric research considering a larger part of the materials cycle may facilitate recycling of a wider spectrum of metals. Particularly neglected metals and topics include beryllium, magnesium, recycling from end-of-life vehicles, design for recycling, and waste collection.