Skip to main content

Multi-Stakeholder Platform for a Secure Supply of Refractory Metals in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MSP-REFRAM (Multi-Stakeholder Platform for a Secure Supply of Refractory Metals in Europe)

Reporting period: 2015-12-01 to 2017-06-30

Refractory metals (Tungsten or W, Tantalum or Ta, Rhenium or Re, Molybdenum or Mo, and Niobium or Nb) are highly strategic metals for society as they are present in different kinds of industrial processes and common everyday products and technologies. Today, except for Rhenium, these metals are mainly imported from China, Brazil, Chile, USA and Canada. EU primary production is only a small percentage of the global production of these metals, with about 2.7% of the world production. The impact of trade restrictions put in place by China is therefore highly visible to the consumer. Nonetheless, refractory metal resources do indeed exist in Europe, although very limited amounts are obtained from primary resources and the main resources for these metals are likely to be secondary resources. In this light, it would be possible to improve the supply value chain in the coming years if an industry that abides by EU regulations and standards can be developed through better use of secondary or tertiary resources that can be found in these wastes, optimising the use of external resources as energy and water and at the same time reducing waste toxicity levels.
The main goal of the project is to facilitate strategic knowledge-based decisions by policy-makers and industrialists. Thus, by fostering the collaboration of a wide panel of experts MSP-REFRAM has coordinated a global reflection on the refractory metal value chain.
WP1 organized three workshops where the various phases of the work were presented and discussed among stakeholders. Main results obtained showed the difficulties in collecting/estimating reliable figures on EU value chains of the selected refractory metals and that the mass balance of EU value were mainly determined by economic factors.
WP2 - The map of the primary resources of 5 refractory metals in EU including resource types, reserves, and geological mineralogy and chemistry is provided. The situations of existing mining, mineral processing, and metallurgical technologies are described and evaluated. The innovative potentials are then studied to efficiently recover the refractory metals and minimise waste amount. Currently, only tungsten in the minerals of scheelite and wolframite is found to be mined in Europe.
WP3 - The map of the secondary resources of five refractory metals in EU including resource types, reserves, estimated amounts and chemistry is provided. The situations of existing processing and metallurgical technologies are described and evaluated. The innovative technologies are then studied to efficiently recover the refractory metals from secondary resources and minimise the number of residues. Currently, secondary resources of tungsten are found recovered to high extent.
WP4 - In the studies a wide range of applications was analysed to determine potential sources of refractory metals in the end-of-life products. Individual factors which have influence on the collection rate and on extraction of refractory metals from the end-of-life waste were determined
WP5 objective was to discuss and analyse substitution potential for RM within their most relevant applications in EU industry. Substitution has been considered as another alternative for managing the refractory material supply chain together primary supply and recycling. Refractory metal substitutability: for Tungsten consumption continues to increase as if the amount of carbide tool production increases with the expansion of markets in developing countries. TiC and TiN would be potential substitutes but the technology or manufacturing cost is not competitive now, due to the large market volumes of the WC/Co. Tantalum substitutability in capacitors and carbides is quite simple and economical, Niobium’ one is possible depending on the applications it is used for, Molybdenum’s one in present applications is rather low, while Rhenium, can be designed with closer tolerances, operating at higher temperatures, with prolonged engine life and increased engine performance and operating efficiency.
WP6 - The objective was to gather all the knowledge existing or generated in the project and produce tools and documents to make this information accessible to public by the ECCP MSP-REFRAM platform, a knowledge management web application that helped to create the multi stakeholder platform, to review, tag and index the deliverables and to produce a set of documents aimed to a general public.
WP7 - The main EU Regions with potential to work on refractory metals have been identified through their Smart Specialisation Strategies and its interest in mine through 3 criteria (R&I capabilities, Business areas & target market and EU priority). A common meeting with targeted regions was celebrated during the Conference «European Regions in the Critical Raw Materials Strategy and the Circular Economy». Reproducibility and transferability to other Critical Raw Materials of MSP-REFRAM model has been analysed thought the Tungsten model. After a deep analysis of the list of Critical Raw Materials, four of them have been proposed for replicability and transferability.
Several challenges and problematic issues were identified in refractory metals panorama and they must be addressed in the coming years if Europe is to strengthen its position in the worldwide refractory metals value chain.
China's actions and its export restrictions on Tungsten which are aimed at preventing accelerated depletion of the resource in China must be closely monitored as it is the world's main producer of Tungsten and Molybdenum. In parallel, political development in countries like Rwanda must be analysed as conflicts in that area of Africa might affect metals production. Ethical issues must also be monitored as, in most cases, working conditions in the region are lacking in terms of respect for human rights.
As for secondary sources, it has been reiterated that scrap is imported into the UK and Germany and then is subsequently used in recycling efforts throughout Europe. Implementing the right incentive policies and strategies, EU could avoid having to import secondary sources and boost self-sufficiency. Another challenge is the lack of proper systems for the identification of the metals contained in EoL products. Regarding substitution, the main challenge is to find substitutes that are not another refractory metal as this creates a loop that might provide a temporary solution for a certain refractory metal shortage but will not be sustainable in the long term if supply risk is extended to all. Lastly, the wide array of data available on refractory metals is often conflicting. Hence, more transparency is needed to be able to accurately assess the status of EU markets.
Different pathways have been identified through MSP-REFRAM to improve the performance of the EU refractory metals supply and to address the challenges that have arisen in the EU refractory metals arena. In general, investing more in new extracting technologies and subventions for recycling will be needed as well as more transparency in the actions being undertaken in EU, such as recycling rates.
The comprehensive study of the different innovative refractory value chains led us to make the following statements, including the potential impacts from these innovations. These results are presented in more details in the periodic report metal by metal.