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Raw materials

Raw materials are essential to our everyday lives. Millions of European jobs rely on the availability of raw materials. They feed the industrial sector and all the economic activities downstream. Ensuring the security and the sustainability of the supply of raw materials is essential. The EU’s raw materials policies aim to help raise industry's contribution to EU GDP to around 20% by 2020. These policies play an important role in meeting the objectives of the European Commission’s ‘Innovation Union’ and ‘Resource Efficient Europe’ flagship initiatives.

© EU, 2016

The European Commission (EC) has two overarching activities to facilitate the secure and sustainable supply of raw materials: the Raw Materials Initiative (RMI) and the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials. The focus is on non-food and non-fuel raw materials, both primary (from mining, forestry, etc) and secondary (from e.g. recycling).

The Raw Materials Initiative sets out a strategy with three pillars to facilitate:

  • Fair and sustainable supply of raw materials from global markets;
  • Sustainable supply of raw materials within the EU;
  • Resource efficiency and supply of "secondary raw materials" through recycling.

This initiative contributes to the identification of Critical Raw Materials; materials with a high security risk in terms of potential for supply disruptions that would have significant economic impacts. Several policies complement the Initiative’s three pillars. For example, as part of the trade focus, the Conflict Minerals policy links to the first pillar, and the third pillar has close links with the Circular Economy Action Plan.

The Raw Materials Initiative is interlinked with the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials. This Partnership is a major EU stakeholder platform that brings together Member States, companies, researchers, and NGOs to promote innovation in the raw materials sector.

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) works closely with several other Directorates-General of the Commission to provide in-house scientific support to European raw materials policies. The focus is on facilitating industrial growth, trade, security of supply, and sustainability in relation to the provision of non-food and non-fuel raw materials.

The Raw Materials Information System overarches the JRC’s activities, supporting the availability and coherence of information in the EU Raw Materials Knowledge Base. This is complemented by co-development of the Raw Materials Scoreboard and through active involvement in the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials’ High Level Steering Group.

Ensuring the security of supply of raw materials is fundamental to industry and trade. The JRC has a core role in developing methodologies that help identify critical raw materials - materials that have a high risk of supply disruption, and that are of great importance to the EU economy. The JRC equally supports analyses for specific sectors, such as for renewable energy. The focus is equally on resilience - reducing the magnitude and duration of consequences associated with a potential disruption.

The sustainable supply of raw materials is fundamental to competitiveness and growth, also taking into account social and environmental considerations. The JRC actively contributes to the development and implementation of the Conflict Minerals Policy to facilitate responsible sourcing in trade negotiations, as well as to the Kimberley Process - an international certification scheme that regulates trade in rough diamonds. Environmental performance of supply chains is assessed by taking a life cycle perspective through Product and Organisational Environmental Footprints, which are based on Life Cycle Assessments. Increasing its support to the third pillar of the Raw Materials Initiative - Resource efficiency and supply of secondary raw materials - as re-iterated in the Circular Economy Action Plan, JRC is developing material efficiency assessment methods and data applicable to products/processes/systems.

Raw Materials Information System (RMIS)

The availability and management of raw materials knowledge is essential to the EU, in particular to its industrial, trade, security-of-supply, and sustainability policies. The RMIS is intended to become the “one-stop” platform in support of the EC’s knowledge & policy needs, and will also meet stakeholders’ knowledge needs on non-energy, non-food material value chains from primary and secondary sources.

The RMIS will provide a core service in the EU Raw Materials Knowledge Base (EURMKB), facilitating the availability, coherence, and longevity of data and analyses in relation to identified priorities. The EURMKB is highlighted in Action area no. II.8 of the 2013 Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials, and the RMIS’ role is reinforced in the Circular Economy Action Plan. The RMIS is developed and maintained by the JRC.

Raw Materials Scoreboard

The Raw Materials Scoreboard provides insights through a set of indicators into the economic, environmental, and social challenges, and opportunities, associated with the provision and consumption of raw materials in the EU. These considerations are fundamental to the secure and sustainable supply of raw materials, hence to the EU’s competitiveness, growth and trade.

The scoreboard development is supported by the JRC, working closely with DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs as a part of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials’ Monitoring and Evaluation Scheme. This scoreboard complements the Resource Efficiency Scoreboard, and contributes to raw-materials-related considerations in the monitoring needs of the Circular Economy Action Plan.

Security of Supply of Raw Materials - Critical Raw Materials

The EU is reliant on certain raw materials that have a notable security risk in terms of the potential for supply disruptions (which could lead to significant economic consequences). These are referred to as Critical Raw Materials (CRMs). The EC has therefore developed a methodology to identify critical raw materials, both in the context of the overall EU economy as well as in relation to certain specific sectors, such as the energy sector.

The data, methodology and development of the list is facilitated by the JRC, working closely with DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs and the Raw Materials Supply Group. The JRC also supports activities to increase resilience, i.e. to reduce the magnitude and duration of consequences in the event of a disruption to supply.

More information

Identification of CRMs

Responsible sourcing of raw materials

Responsible sourcing of raw materials is essential for the sustainable supply of products, especially in some key sectors (such as the electronics sector) that use precious metals. This is reflected in EU policy through the proposal of a supply chain due diligence system for importers of tin, tantalum, and tungsten and gold originating in conflict-affected and high-risk areas, also called “conflict minerals” (COM 2014/111). The Kimberley Process, which is also supported by the JRC, addresses similar concerns related to the production and trade of diamonds.

Resource efficiency and supply of "secondary raw materials" through recycling

The Raw Materials Initiative highlights the need for the efficient use and recycling of raw materials. This includes recovery from mining and urban wastes, in both solid and liquid form. This is particularly the case for high value but low concentration materials, such as critical raw materials that are contained, for example, in electronic waste products.

The JRC's support includes the further development of the Raw Materials Information System in the context of secondary raw materials, further development of the Raw Materials Scoreboard to support the monitoring of the circular economy, and analyses on increasing the availability of secondary supplies of critical raw materials. These activities are explicitly reinforced in the Circular Economy Action Plan.

Supply chains for low-carbon technologies

As part of the European Green Deal, the EU has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. For that, it is necessary to shift the energy system from fossil fuels to renewable sources. As the rate of deployment of wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles and other low-carbon technologies increases, so will the demand of materials needed to build them. However, some of the materials needed for the production of these technologies are either scarce or concentrated outside Europe. To ensure a smooth transition to clean energy, it is thus important to avoid bottlenecks in supply chains of relevant materials.

The JRC is contributing to this by assessing future demands of materials, providing supply/demand balance assessments for key materials and components, and exploring vulnerabilities and supply risk along the supply chains. It analyses possible technical solutions for overcoming potential issues, including long-term access to resources, recycling and substitution of critical materials.

In this animation, the JRC addresses this issue in order to create awareness among citizens and policymakers: Critical Materials for Green Energy Technologies

Ensuring a secure and undistorted supply of materials is crucial to underpin a large deployment of low-carbon technologies and therefore meet the European targets for renewables, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction. Special concerns are related to the supply of certain materials, defined as "critical raw materials". These critical materials combine a high economic importance to the EU with a high risk associated with their supply.

As low-carbon technologies have also been identified as a key industrial value chain for the development of the European industry, the JRC works on mapping existing industrial infrastructures and networks, assessing potential bottlenecks and opportunities at different levels of the supply chain, from raw materials to final products.