June 16, 2010

Peak Minerals

Europe Sounds Alarm on Minerals Shortage

The European Union is facing shortages of 14 “critical” raw materials needed for mobile phones and emerging technologies like solar panels and synthetic fuels, according to a study by the European Commission to be released on Thursday.

The commission is ringing the alarm bell on raw materials as China again plans to tighten its control over its rare earth minerals by allowing just a handful of state companies to oversee the mining of the scarce elements that are vital to some of the world’s greenest technologies.

Of 41 minerals and metals it analyzed, the commission identified these 14 as short in supply: antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, indium, germanium, graphite, magnesium, niobium, platinum group metals, rare earths, tantalum and tungsten.

The study found that a crucial factor behind the shortages was that production of the materials was concentrated in just four countries: China, Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil.

The study emphasized that the markets for such materials could be highly volatile because “rapid diffusion of new technologies can drastically change the demand” for critical raw materials.

Demand for gallium for use in emerging technologies could be 603 tons by 2030 compared with total current production of 152 tons, the study said. Demand for neodymium, a rare earth found in China, could be 27,900 tons by 2030 compared with current production of 16,800 tons.

To tackle the problem, the commission proposed that the European Union improve its recycling policies, develop products that require fewer raw materials and encourage research on finding substitutes.
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