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Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | Last updated: 10 Dec 2020

Raw materials and rare earth elements

The majority of resources used today are non-renewable and are set to become increasingly scarce given rising demand and unsustainable consumption patterns.

  • Global material extraction has increased 14 times from 1900 to 2015 (from 6 billion tonnes in 1990 to about 84 billion tonnes in 2015) and is projected to further increase by 119 % by 2050 (reaching an estimated value of 184 billion tonnes in 2050).  Since 1980, globally, material extraction has risen more than 200%, due largely to a surge in mining of non-metallic minerals.
  • The competition for some raw materials will increase in the future as key countries such as China and USA, together with the EU, are all highly reliant on imports for the same materials (e.g. niobium, chromite ore, platinum, palladium, rhodium, tantalum, etc.). 
  • China accounts for 85% of the global rare earth elements production.
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  • China and the US extract the most non-energy raw materials followed by India and Brazil (mostly biomass), and South Africa and Canada (mostly metals).
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  • The Netherlands, the UK and Japan score highest in material productivity.
  • The global transition to a low-carbon economy, e.g. through a large deployment of wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and electric vehicles will require the global production of some metals to increase at least 12-fold by 2050 compared to today's output. For example, the demand for neodymium, terbium, indium, dysprosium, praseodymium, lithium, cobalt and graphite stand out. 
  • Between 45 and 60 billion tons of resources (metals, rare earth elements and minerals) for e-products are extracted globally every year. It is estimated that this figure could increase to 140 billion tons by 2050.
  • Rare earth elements demand from clean technologies will reach 51.9 thousand metric tons (kt) rare earth oxides in 2030.
  • The extractable ores of the world's geologically scarcest mineral resources (e.g. antimony, molybdenum and zinc) may be exhausted within several decades to a century, if their extraction continues to increase.
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  • E-waste discarded in 2014 reached some 42 million tonnes, which is estimated of containing some 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, and 300 tonnes of gold as well as significant amounts of silver, aluminum, palladium, and other potentially reusable resources, with a combined estimated value of US$52 billion. | Related Megatrends: GeopowerClimate and environment

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