Skip to main content

Rare Earth Supply Chain and Industrial Ecosystem: A Material Flow Assessment of European Union

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - REE Value Chain (Rare Earth Supply Chain and Industrial Ecosystem: A Material Flow Assessment of European Union)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

Rare earths are a critical component of many high and green technologies such energy efficient lights, wind turbines, hybrid and full electric vehicles (electro motors and batteries) and are important ingredients in hard disks, lasers and superconducting magnets. The concentration of rare earth elements (REEs) and other critical metals in countries like China and Russia raises the vital issue of security of supply as Europe is the leading importer and consumer of these minerals both in mineral and applied forms. The criticality of these minerals were highlighted in the reports of the European Commission’s Ad hoc Working Group on defining critical raw materials. These raw materials are fundamental to Europe’s economy, growth and jobs. The importance of these minerals to the European economy has never been studied thoroughly, though more recently securing reliable, sustainable and undistorted access to crucial non-energy raw materials has been of growing concern. In the EU, responses have been initiated in different nations, economic areas and companies, with the European Commission launching the “Raw Materials Initiative (RMI)”.

The European Commission has identified criticality of raw materials along with addressing the entire raw materials value chain in the raw materials part of the Societal Challenge 5 of Horizon 2020. Therefore an empirical study on rare earth elements and its importance to the European economy become an important issue to study. This study aims to identify the mineral sources, mineral production and recycling technologies, as well as key applications within European economies by combining the input-output matrix as developed at CML with the network theories that I have developed in previous work. The study calculated the value addition at each stage of the life cycle of rare earths.

The overall objectives of the study included the following

1) Assess the trends in supply and production status of these critical minerals and mineral products worldwide and Europe’s dependence including on intermediate products such as permanent magnets, RE based super alloys, batteries, polishing compounds, phosphors, catalysts etc.
2) Trace the entire value chain of the identified minerals from mining to intermediate products to final products and calculate the value addition in each stage
3) Identify the importance and measure the criticality of identified minerals and mineral products to the European economy and workforce
4) Identify types of information and possible research initiatives that will enhance understanding of critical minerals and mineral products
5) Assess risks and opportunities by identifying possible program and policy directions
The study identified the mineral sources, mineral production technology, the key use and contribution of minerals and mineral products to European economies by constructing an input-output matrix and conducted a material flow analysis of the selected minerals.
The study analyzed current global competitive dynamics and quantified the mineral supply including risk and supply chain fragmentation. The evaluated global status of mining, production and supply and Europe’s dependence.
The result achieved so far include identifying risk to mineral supply, applying a new method based on resilience theory and examined factors on geopolitics, market and environment.

For the final period the work included construction of rare earth input-output matrix and identification of industrial applications through the construction of Sankey diagrams and provide examples that demonstrate specific applications of minerals and materials in European industrial sectors.

The most critical elements such as Neodymium and dysprosium and their applications have been studied thoroughly.

The last part of the project demonstrated the application of a criticality matrix methodology to evaluate mineral criticality and rank the minerals and products in terms of its connectivity to various intermediate and final sectors in the value chain and value creation in the European economy. The study also tried to fill the data gaps and identified stocks and flows and value chain structure for Rare Earths and long term implications to downstream industries. The results have been widely exploited and disseminated to a wide range of stakeholders from academics, industry, policy makers and investment communities. The results also widely disseminated particularly to students while giving guest lectures at various universities in Netherlands, China, Belgium and USA. The results from the project have been presented in number of academic as well as business conferences and invited talks. Also four peer reviewed articles have been published so far in reputed scientific journals and two more publication are getting ready for publication.
The project clearly expanded principal researcher’s capability and understanding on CRMs, and was successful in getting a follow-up project that helped him obtaining a next position, so this was clearly successful. The project has been highly successful in coordination and sharing the data and results with other H2020 projects such as SCRREEN, DEMETER and FORAM.

During the project, the researcher have been regularly approached by couple of European companies and companies and capital funds from Canada and USA to know the RE market and investment potentials across the world.

The project helped the researcher to work on his own spin-off, the equivalent of the Lead and Zinc study group for Rare Earths as a not for profit organization under Belgian law. This will have the same function and organization as e.g. LZSG, i.e. paid by companies across REE value chain, having a scientific board, and being a permanent source of information on supply and demand of rare earths and interface between policy, company and academia. This is being turned to be a nice follow-up of the MC project.

In this regard, the EIT Raw material has accepted this proposal for funding to set up this start up nonprofit REE organization in Brussels. The organization will play central role in filling data gaps and identification of stocks and flows and value chain structure for Rare Earths and long term implications to downstream industries.
Flow of Dysprosium in EU-2012
Flow of Neodymium in EU-2012