Uncertain strategies for securing supplies of critical raw materials

An infographic showing the demand-supply gap looming in the global rare earths delivery system
The energy revolution can be stunted by raw material shortages (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • Rare earth elements and other rare materials are increasingly required in modern industries across all supply chains
  • Supplies of many of them are neither sufficient nor secure in the next five to 15 years
  • New mining projects, optimization of use and substitution will make a difference, but not soon enough
  • The dominance of China and a few other suppliers may have far-reaching geopolitical implications

Faced with steadily increasing demand for critical raw materials (CRMs) driven by the rapid expansion of decarbonization and digitalization technologies, governments and industries in the developed world have adopted a range of strategies to ensure adequate supplies of these materials. The cue words are: reuse, reduce, substitute and recycle CRMs, and diversify their imports.

These strategies have their limitations and constraints, however. Substitution and recycling have a long research and development phase, while it takes on average seven to 10 years lead time to open new mines for import diversification. The “circular economy” concept may be a part of the long-term solution, but the present potential to increase recycling and substitution is insufficient to help meet the growing worldwide demand for this class of raw materials.

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