Swedish mining industry

Critical Raw Materials

Metals and minerals are crucial for modern society and not least for meeting the climate goals

Our society has a great need for metals and minerals. In addition, the need is constantly increasing. The issue has been further brought to the fore with the ongoing corona pandemic when supply chains have been rapidly broken and borders closed. In Europe, we consume about a quarter of the world’s raw materials, but produce only three percent. We are largely dependent on imports.

The EU has taken action to ensure the availability of crucial metals and minerals. In the autumn of 2020, the latest list was published, which indicates which metals and minerals are critical for the EU, together with several concrete measures to increase the EU’s degree of self-sufficiency. Increasing the number of mines in the EU is one of the measures pointed out by the European Commission.

The critical raw materials are selected according to two important criteria: economic significance and asset risk.

The EU points to four crucial areas:

  • robust value chains for EU industry
  • reduced dependence on primary commodities through strengthened circular economy
  • increased production and processing of raw materials within the EU
  • diversified supply through sustainable international trade

The need is growing rapidly

There are clear global trends and tendencies that show that the needs and demand for the critical raw materials will increase drastically in the future. There are many indications that the new energy technologies in solar cells, electricity networks and biofuels will require large amounts of, for example, rare earth metals, cobalt and ruthenium.

In order to be able to manufacture permanent magnets, which are used primarily for wind turbines and electric vehicles, neodymium (Nd), dysprosium (Dy) and praseodymium (Pr) are needed – all three are examples of rare earth metals. The need for these is estimated to increase by approximately 250 percent during the period 2020–2030. Several of the rare earth metals are also needed for the production of electric vehicles; it consumes 1-2 kg more than in the production of conventional cars. The fact that demand is increasing can also be seen in the price development, for example the price of neodymium and praseodymium increased by about 60 percent during the period July to September 2017.

In 2017, approximately 4 million electric vehicles were sold. By 2030, sales will, according to forecasts, be up to 50 million per year. This means that in order to be able to produce enough neodymium and praseodymium, among other things, significantly larger amounts of rare earth metals need to be extracted. The same trend also applies to lithium and cobalt. For electric car batteries and energy storage alone, the EU will need 18 times more lithium in 2030 than today; and up to 60 times more by 2050.

Increased mining in Europe is necessary

It will take until 2100 before recycling can account for half of the amount of rare earth metals that we expect Europe and the world will need then. Alternatives are needed. The option that the EU Commission considers to be safest and most realistic, from a supply point of view, is increased mining in Europe. European mining can gradually secure the supply of certain critical minerals and metals while limiting the unethical and illegal extraction, especially in Africa.

The number of critical raw materials (CRM) is constantly increasing

In 2011, the first so-called critical list was presented and then contained 14 CRM. In 2014 came the second version, then with 20 CRM. The third version was presented in 2017 and the number of CRMs had then increased to 27. The latest list, which was presented in the autumn of 2020, contains 30 CRM. The number of materials has thus constantly increased on the EU’s list.

The 2020 critical list includes: antimony, barite, bauxite, beryllium, borates, fluorspar, phosphate mineral, phosphorus, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, indium, light rare earth elements (LREE), heavy rare earth elements (HREE), silicon, cobalt, coking coal, lithium, magnesium, natural rubber, niobium, platinum group metals (PGE), scandium, strontium, tantalum, titanium, vanadium, bismuth and tungsten.

About half of all CRMs on the latest list are in the Swedish bedrock. > Read more about the CRMs here.

In parallel with the updated list, the EU-Commission also presented an action plan and a future study that addresses the raw materials that are crucial to the transition to a green and digital economy, while strengthening the EU’s degree of self-sufficiency.

The Action Plan looks at current and future challenges and proposes measures to reduce Europe’s dependence on third countries, diversify supply from both primary and secondary sources and improve resource efficiency and circularity while promoting responsible purchasing worldwide. The ten measures in total will promote the transition to a green and digital economy.

Sweden is already today the EU’s most mining nation and will thus play an important role in ensuring the EU’s security of supply of metals and minerals. All indications are that this significance will increase.

Sources: SGU, EU Commission

Further reading

> Report – Study on the EU’s list of Critical Raw Materials (2020) Final Report

> Action Plan – Critical Raw Materials Resilience: Charting a Path towards greater Security and Sustainability

> Foresight Study – Critical Raw Materials for Strategic Technologies and Sectors in the EU – A Foresight Study

> List of CRM – Fourth list of critical raw materials for the EU of 2020

> Press release – Commission announces actions to make Europe’s raw materials supply more secure and sustainable