“Substitutionability” of the Critical Raw Materials in Energy Applications: A Short Review and Perspectives

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Abstract

Among other turbulences in economic life, the availability and price of certain important raw materials have, in recent years, been subject to increasing uncertainty. The issues around these so-called critical raw materials (CRM) include strong and growing demand from industry as well as limited and volatile supply. Uncertainty surrounding the supply of raw materials potentially constrains economic growth as rising prices make key industries less profitable. This study broadly relates to the EU2020 Strategy and in particular to its sustainable growth objective, as well as to the EU Raw Materials Initiative, both of which aim to support sustainable growth in the EU. The objective of this study is to analyze current research, development and innovation policies in this area, which aim to substitute CRM with alternative materials or other solutions.
As the global economy continues to grow, there is an ever-increasing pressure on the Earth’s resources. The European Union (EU) has the largest economy in the world, but it lacks the mineral wealth needed to sustain the growth. This is why the EU depends on imports of many critical raw materials [1]. The EU’s supply of critical raw materials is further threatened by the fact that some emerging economies, in particular China, are limiting raw materials supply by means of export restrictions [2]. The potential supply difficulties with regard to industrial raw materials are also emphasized in the European Commission Communication on “Tackling the challenges in commodity markets and on raw materials” [3]. The ability to substitute raw materials may provide four advantages: Flexibility, which can insulate industry from the risk of sudden supply disruptions. Cost savings, which can allow industry to find more cost-efficient raw materials. Weaken monopoly power, in cases where a single supplier country controls the market for a given raw material. Environmental benefits, if the new substitute materials require less resource inputs to the production process and/or reduce emissions or resource consumption over the life-cycle of the product [4].
This particular study is one effort to understand the state of the art in the EU and Member States in their efforts to address the issues of critical raw materials. The aim of this study is to survey the policies and instrument that support substitution of CRM on the levels of EU and the Member States. The main research question of the study is: Which (policy) measures could foster the substitution of critical raw materials (as defined by the European Commission) as well as other metals that are mined as by-products of other metals, including in particular rare earths? The study focuses on the existing and foreseeable technical solutions as well as the policies and strategies to substitute the CRM in the value chain. The particular focus is on the policies that can support substitution.
Analysis on the Substitution
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages8
JournalMaterial Science and Engineering with Advanced Research
Volume1
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2015

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