Critical mineral raw materials

Since 2011, the European Commission assesses a 3-year list of Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) for the EU economy within its Raw Materials Initiative. To date, 14 CRMs were identified in 2011, 20 in 2014 and 27 in 2017.

These materials are mainly used in energy transition and digital technologies.

European lists of Critical Raw Materials

2011 2014 2017
Antimony Antimony Antimony
. . Baryte
Beryllium Beryllium Beryllium
. . Bismuth
. Borate Borate
. Chromium .
Cobalt Cobalt Cobalt
. Coking coal Coking coal
Fluorine Fluorine Fluorine
Gallium Gallium Gallium
. . Natural rubber
Germanium Germanium Germanium
Graphite Graphite Graphite
. . Hafnium
. . Helium
Indium Indium Indium
. Magnesite .
Magnesium Magnesium Magnesium
Niobium Niobium Niobium
Platinum group metals Platinum group metals Platinum group metals
. Phosphate rock Phosphate rock
. . Phosphorus
. . Scandium
. Silicon Silicon
Tantalum . Tantalum
Rare earth Light rare earth Light rare earth
Heavy rare earth Heavy rare earth
Tungsten Tungsten Tungsten
. . Vanadium


Critical materials have been defined as "raw materials for which there are no viable substitutes with current technologies, which most consumer countries are dependent on importing, and whose supply is dominated by one or a few producers".[1]

Several factors may combine together to make a raw material (mineral or not) a critical resource. These may include the following:

  • A ceiling on production: when the raw material reaches its Hubbert peak
  • A drop in known deposits
  • A decline in the ratio of production from the biggest deposits to production from smaller deposits, since the largest deposits supply most of a raw material's production
  • Inefficient price system: when the increase in the price of a raw material does not result in a proportional resulting increase in its production
  • Costs of extraction (money or effort) increase over time, as extraction becomes more difficult.

List of relevant minerals and other commodities


There are many issues about these resources and they concern a large number of people and human activities. It is possible to distinguish:

  • Economic: the price of metals increases when their scarcity or inaccessibility increases, and not only according to demand for them. As part of transition management, the circular economy invites citizens to recycle these resources as well as to save them and/or to replace them with alternatives when it is possible; that could be greatly facilitated with the generalization of ecotax and eco-design.[2]
  • Geostrategic: These rare products are necessary for computer and other communications equipment and can themselves be the subject of armed conflict or simply provide armed conflict with a source of funding. Both coltan and blood diamonds have been examples of the resource curse that plagues some parts of Africa.
  • Social: Increasing globalization and mobility of people, means that telecoms and social networks depend more and more on the availability of these resources.
  • Health: Several critical metals or minerals are toxic or reprotoxic. Paradoxically, some cytotoxins are used in cancer therapy (and then also improperly discarded although really dangerous for the environment; the average cost of the treatment of a lung cancer varies between 20,000 and 27,000 euros[3][4][5]). Thus, toxic and cancer-causing platinum is also widely used in cancer chemotherapy in the form of carboplatin and cisplatin, both cytotoxins combined with other molecules, including for example gemcitabine (GEM), vinorelbine (VIN), docetaxel (DOC), and paclitaxel (PAC).
  • Energy: Production of these metals and their compounds requires a significant and increasing amount of energy, and when they become rarer, it is necessary to search deeper for them, and the further mineral recovered is sometimes less condensed than previous production had been. In 2012, from 7 to 8% of all the energy used in the world was used to extract these minerals.[6]
  • Environmental: The mines degrade the environment. The dispersion of minerals and toxic non-recycled metals degrades it too. Furthermore, the magnets in electrical motors, or wind and water turbines, as well as some components of solar panels also need many of these same minerals or rare metals.[7][8]


According to the United Nations (2011,[9] and ien 2013), as the demand for rare metals will quickly exceed the consumed tonnage in 2013,[6] it is urgent and priority should be placed on recycling rare metals with a worldwide production lower than 100 000 t/year, in order to conserve natural resources and energy. [6] However, this measure will not be enough. Planned obsolescence of products which contain these metals should be limited, and all elements inside computers, mobile phones or other electronic objects found in electronic waste should be recycled. This involves looking for eco-designed alternatives, and changes in consumer behavior in favor of selective sorting aimed at an almost total recycling of these metals.

In the same time, the demand for these materials "has to be optimized or reduced", insist Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Ashok Khosla, co-presidents of the International Resource Panel created in 2007 by the United States, and hosted by the UNEP) to analyse the impact of resource use on the environment in 2013.

Europe alone produced about 12 million tons of metallic wastes in 2012, and this amount tended to grow more than 4% a year (faster than municipal waste). However, fewer than 20 metals, of the 60 studied by experts of the UNEP, were recycled to more than 50% in the world. 34 compounds were recycled at lower than 1% of the total discarded as trash.

According to the UNEP, even without new technologies, that rate could be greatly increased. The energy efficiency of the production and recycling methods has also to be developed.[6]

Information about the location of deposits of rare metals is scarce. The US DOE created the Critical Materials Institute in 2013, intended to focus on finding and commercializing ways to reduce reliance on the critical materials essential for American competitiveness in the clean energy technologies.[10]

A counter-perspective is represented by Professor Indra Overland, who has heavily criticised analyses that posit critical materials for renewable energy as a bottleneck for transition to renewable energy and/or as a source of geopolitical tension.[1] Such analyses ignore the fact that unlike fossil fuels, most critical minerals can be recycled and technological innovation will enable better exploration, extraction, and processing. Especially the importance of rare earth elements for renewable energy applications has been exaggerated, according to Overland.[1] Neodymium magnets are only needed for a rare type of wind turbine that uses permanent magnets. Even for offshore wind developments it is not clear whether permanent magnets will be much needed.

Detail of critical mineral raw materials


  • Use: electronics, jewelry
  • Proven resources: 630 million tons
  • Annual production: 16 million tons
  • Reserves: 38 years
  • The "red metal", very malleable and a very good conductor of electricity; it allowed humankind to leave the Stone Age behind.
  • Copper has not naturally existed in a pure state since prehistory. Essential to our modern societies, mankind has already extracted 600 million tons of copper, 98% of this after the year 1900.

Europium, terbium, and yttrium

  • Use: electronic
  • Annual production: 10,000 tons total.
  • These metals are essential in the production of LEDs and color screens.


  • Use: fireproofing
  • Proven resources: 1.8 million tons
  • Annual production: 169,000 tons
  • Reserves: 11 years


  • Use: agricultural fertilizer
  • The fertilizer industry used about 85% of U.S. potash sales, and the remainder was used for chemical and industrial applications. About 75% of the potash produced was SOPM and SOP, which are required by certain crops and soils. MOP accounted for the remaining 25% of production and was used for agricultural and chemical applications.
  • Interior Seeks Public Comment on Draft List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy[11]


  • Use: agricultural fertilizer
  • Proven resources: 71 billion tons in 2012 according to the USGS
  • Annual production: 191 million ton (0.19 billions according to the USGS) were extracted in 2011[12]
  • Reserves: 340 years according to the Australian Institute for Sustainable Futures
  • The cellular metabolism of all life requires phosphorus; humans need between 700 and 1250 milligrams (mg) a day.[13] Traditional farming practices used human and animal excrement as fertiliser for plants, but today most of this excrement is not collected and ends up in watercourses and in the sea. This forces the use of phosphorus from fossil excrements (old guano) or from minerals. It seems that 6,056 kg of phosphorus are introduced every second (191 millions of tons every year); this could lead to a peak production by 2030, and then to a phosphate shortage, or worse, a large-scale famine.[14][15]


  • Use: scientific research
  • Proven resources: 4.2 billion m3
  • Annual production: 180 million m3
  • Reserves: 23 years
  • So light that part of it escapes into space, this element is needed for scientific research and large-scale aerospace programs.

Dysprosium and neodymium

  • Use: high performance magnets
  • Annual production: 20,000 tons in total.
  • Transforms mechanical into electrical energy; either in a power station (nuclear or fossil fuel) or in a wind turbine. The need for these metals is enormous.


  • Use: aerospace, fighter aircraft, airliners
  • Proven resources: 2.5 million tons
  • Annual production: 50 tons
  • Reserves: 50 years
  • The most difficult metal to obtain in the world. It is essential because it allows turbojets to resist the highest temperatures.


  • Use: energy production
  • Proven resources: 2.5 million tons
  • Annual production: 54,000 tons
  • Reserves: 46 years
  • Used in the nuclear industry, it has a global geopolitical role. It is not renewable and will no longer be available one day.

Rhodium and platinum

  • Use: catalysis, jewelry
  • Proven resources: 3,000 and 30,000 tons respectively
  • Annual production: 30 and 200 tons respectively
  • Reserves: in the range of 100 years
  • Essential to the transport sector, these metals allow lower vehicle carbon emissions and are also used as catalysts for hydrogen-powered vehicles.


  • Use: electronics, jewelry
  • Proven resources: 51,000 tons
  • Annual production: 2,500 tons
  • Reserves: 20 years
  • The most desired metal in the world, it has more symbolic value than utility.


  • Use: electronics, energy
  • Proven resources: 640 tons
  • Annual production: 11 tons
  • Reserves: 17 years
  • Used in touch screens and solar photovoltaic panels.
  • Combined with tin and oxygen, becomes transparent and electrically conductive (see indium tin oxide)
  • Combined with selenium, it is an opaque material and a good light collector.


  • Use: alloys
  • Proven resources: 250 million tons
  • Annual production: 12 million tons
  • Reserves: 20 years
  • prevents steel from corroding

Technetium-99 and helium-3

  • Use: medical imaging, scientific research, defense
  • Proven resources: none
  • Annual production: artificially produced
  • Reserves: -
  • Technetium-99 is used in cancer diagnostics and against cardiovascular diseases. Only produced in five reactors in the world which are all in an end-of-life status. Concerning helium-3, the planet Earth only contains 3.5 kilograms (7.7 lb) in total. It is used in thermonuclear weapons


  • Use: electronics, jewelry
  • Proven resources: 300,000 tons
  • Annual production average: 21,000 tons
  • Reserves: 13 years (in 2015).[16]






  • Use: increases the efficiency of solar panels but is hard to recycle


  • Use: metal with a high chemical resistance and used for heat protection


  • Use: improves the resistance of steel used in oil pipelines

See also


  1. Overland, Indra (2019-03-01). "The geopolitics of renewable energy: Debunking four emerging myths". Energy Research & Social Science. 49: 36–40. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2018.10.018. ISSN 2214-6296.
  2. The French Economic, Social and Environmental Council ((CESE)) is backing éco-conception and recycling to economize mineral resources Steering the French economy towards economical use of raw materials in the inductrial sector is a priority that should be written into the framework for national strategy got ecological transition, according to CESE, which has proposed a series of measures towards this end], actu-environnement 2014-01-14
  3. Comella P, Frasci, Panza N, Manzione L, De Cataldis G, Cioffi R, Maiorino L, Micillo E, Lorusso V, Di Rienzo G, Filippelli G, Lamberti A, Natale M, Bilancia D, Nicolella G, Di Nota A, Comella G (2000 ), Randomized trial comparing cisplatin, gemcitabine, and vinorelbine with either cisplatin and gemcitabine or cisplatin and vinorelbine in advanced non-small-cell lung cancer: interim analysis of a phase III trial of the Southern Italy; Cooperative Oncology Group.
  4. Schiller JH, Harrington D, Belani CP, Langer C, Sandler A, Krook J, Zhu J, Johnson DH (2002 ) Comparison of four chemotherapy regimens for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (; Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group).
  5. Schiller, D Tilden, M Aristides, M Lees, A Kielhorn, N Maniadakis, S Bhalla (2004) In France as in other countries of Europe, le cost of traitement d'un cancer bronchique non à petites cellules par cisplatine-gemzar est inférieur à celui des associations cisplatine-vinorebine, cisplatine-paclitaxel ou cisplatine-docétaxel (Retrospective cost analysis of gemcitabine in combination with cisplatin in non-small cell lung cancer compared to other combination therapies in Europe Lung Cancer); Revue des Maladies Respiratoires Vol 22, N° spécial juin 2005 pp. 185-198 Doi:RMR-06-2005-22-6-0761-8425-101019-200505465 J; 43: 101-12.
  6. Rapport du Panel international des ressources du Programme des Nations unies pour l'environnement (Pnue) du 24 avril 2013
  9. Rapport PNUE de mai 2011
  10. Turner, Roger (21 June 2019). "A Strategic Approach to Rare-Earth Elements as Global Trade Tensions Flare".
  11. "Interior Seeks Public Comment on Draft List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy".
  12. USGS, "Phosphate Rock", received 2012-05-13.
  14. Planétoscope Combien de phosphore dans le monde ?, consulté 2013-04-27
  15. Vaccari D (2010), Phosphore : une crise imminente Archived 2013-05-09 at the Wayback Machine, Pour la Science, janvier 2010, p36-41
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