Raw materials are fundamental for many sectors of the economy, including the automotive, electronic, and manufacturing industries.
In the EU, over 24.6 million jobs currently depend on the secure supply of raw materials.
Population growth, urbanisation and decarbonisation drive raw materials consumption.
They are expected to lead to a significant increase in global demand in the coming decades.
While international competition for raw materials is becoming more intense and production is moving towards other world regions, the EU is looking for ways to implement more responsible and sustainable sourcing strategies.
The freshly published Raw Materials Scoreboard 2018, jointly produced by the JRC and DG GROW, the European Commission Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs points to some positive signs in the development of the raw materials sector.
Jobs, value added and investments in the sector are recovering after the impacts of the financial crisis, and circular economy sectors have expanded.
However, more efforts are needed to increase security of supply and to boost domestic production.
EU increasingly reliant on raw material imports
The European Union is the world’s third largest producer of industrial minerals and industrial roundwood.
However, the EU’s share of global production has been decreasing as production increases in other parts of the world regions, in particular in Asia.
For other materials, including those considered critical for the EU economy, the EU relies heavily on imports.
This can result in a lower security of supply, especially when primary production is done in non-EU countries that apply strict export restrictions or have unstable governance.
The Scoreboard highlights the necessity to diversify sources of supply and to develop alternative solutions which can help reduce risks and increase secure supply.
More R&D needed to boost investment attractiveness of raw materials sector
Both investment attractiveness and EU patent applications show a continuous decreasing trend.
However, there are signs of recovery of the attractiveness for finance of the EU metals and mining sectors,
The Scoreboard points to the importance of investing in research and innovation as enablers of the development of new products and services.
Efficient minerals policy framework needed
The EU has the potential to increase its capacity to source raw materials domestically.
This potential is currently not fully exploited and investment in mineral exploration remains low compared to other world regions.
A stable and efficient minerals policy framework which facilitates the development of mining operations is crucial for encouraging sustainable mining.
Public acceptance is another factor that affects mining operations.
At the moment, public acceptance of mining activities is low in the EU, although people are more favourable towards secondary raw materials.
Valuable raw materials are wasted for lack of recycling and proper waste management
Data indicates that the circular use of raw materials in the EU is currently relatively low, but there are opportunities to increase the use of secondary raw materials by increasing recycling rates.
Product design plays a key role in this, as it is at the moment one of the key factors that impedes recycling.
Waste management is another area where scientists see a huge potential to recover valuable raw materials as a large amount of waste is not yet properly collected, or exported to non-EU countries.
This waste is potentially recyclable into secondary raw materials.
China’s recent ban on the import of waste and scraps is an opportunity for the EU to ensure more circularity and to keep these secondary raw materials in European production chains.
All eyes on sustainability
Businesses and consumers are showing more and more interest in whether the raw materials used in products are sustainable and have been mined responsibly.
Consequently, the raw materials sector is also paying greater attention to sustainable and responsible sourcing of raw materials.
In addition, the EU is increasingly concerned about the sustainable sourcing of raw materials coming from countries outside the EU and embraces environmental and social considerations in this context.
EU Raw Materials Initiative
The EU "Raw Materials Initiative" is based on sustainable sourcing of raw materials from global markets, sustainable domestic raw materials production, and on resource efficiency and supply of secondary raw materials.
In 2012, the European Commission launched the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials.
It is a stakeholder platform bringing together representatives from industry, public services, academia and NGOs.
It covers all non-energy, non-agricultural raw materials such as metals, minerals and biotic materials, and provides a new approach aiming to streamline efforts and accelerate the market take-up of innovations.
EU Raw Materials Scoreboard
The EU Raw Materials Scoreboard is an initiative of the EIP on raw materials. It provides policymakers with quantitative data on the EIP's general objectives and on the raw material policy context.
It presents reliable and relevant information to inform governments, industry and other stakeholders.
The EU Raw Materials Scoreboard also contributes to monitoring progress towards a circular economy. It is published every two years. The 2018 Scoreboard is the second edition of the series.