A new raw materials strategy, proposed Thursday by the EU Commission, would reduce Europe’s dependency on third countries, diversify supply and promote responsible sourcing worldwide.

The EU executive set out an Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, the 2020 List of Critical Raw Materials and a foresight study on critical raw materials for strategic technologies and sectors from the 2030 and 2050 perspectives.

The List of Critical Raw Materials has been updated to reflect the changed economic importance and supply challenges based on their industrial application. It contains 30 critical raw materials. Lithium, seen as essential for a shift to e-mobility, has been added to the list for the first time.

“A secure and sustainable supply of raw materials is a prerequisite for a resilient economy,” said EC vice-president Maros Sefcovic.: “For e-car batteries and energy storage alone, Europe will for instance need up to 18 times more lithium by 2030 and up to 60 times more by 2050.”

He added that Europe could not allow the replacement of current reliance on fossil fuels with dependency on critical raw materials. Europe would “build a strong alliance to collectively shift from high dependency to diversified, sustainable and socially-responsible sourcing, circularity and innovation,” he said.

The Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials is aimed at:

  • developing resilient value chains for EU industrial ecosystems;
  • reducing dependency on primary critical raw materials through circular use of re-sources, sustainable products and innovation;
  • strengthening domestic sourcing of raw materials in the EU;
  • diversifying sourcing from third countries and remove distortions to international trade, while respecting the EU’s international obligations.

To achieve these objectives, the new Communication outlines ten concrete actions. First, the Commission will in the coming weeks establish a European Raw Materials Alliance. By bringing together all relevant stakeholders, the alliance will primarily focus on the most pressing needs, namely to increase EU resilience in the rare earth and magnet value chains, as this is vital to most of EU industrial ecosystems, such as renewable energy, defence and space. Later, the alliance could expand to address other critical raw material and base metal needs over time.

To make better use of domestic resources, the Commission says it will work with Member States and regions to identify mining and processing projects in the EU that can be operational by 2025. A special focus will be on coal-mining regions and other regions in transition, with special attention to expertise and skills relevant for mining, extraction and processing of raw materials.

The Commission will promote the use of its earth-observation programme Copernicus to improve resource exploration, operations and post-closure environmental management. At the same time, Horizon Europe will support research and innovation, especially on new mining and processing technologies, substitution and recycling.

The Commission will also develop sustainable financing criteria for the mining and extractive sectors by the end of 2021. It will also map the potential of secondary critical raw materials from EU stocks and wastes to identify viable recovery projects by 2022.

The Commission will develop strategic international partnerships to secure the supply of critical raw materials not found in Europe. Pilot partnerships with Canada, interested countries in Africa and the EU’s neighbourhood will start as of 2021. In these and other fora of international cooperation, the Commission will promote sustainable and responsible mining practices and transparency.