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EC includes copper and manganese in critical minerals, launches strategic minerals list

Highlights

Strategic projects may benefit from faster approvals, easier financing

Eurofer pitches for including steel scrap

  • Author
  • Diana Kinch and Euan Sadden
  • Editor
  • Ribhu Ranjan
  • Commodity
  • Agriculture Coal Electric Power Energy Transition Metals Petrochemicals

The European Commission has expanded its list of critical minerals to include copper and manganese and has also launched a strategic minerals list to support the March 16 publication of its proposed Critical Raw Materials Act.

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The lists were published March 16 as an annex to the proposals for a European Parliament and Council regulation to establish a framework for ensuring a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials for use in transport and renewable energy as the energy transition advances.

The proposed lists need to be approved by the European Parliament and member states before becoming law.

Strategic materials

The following raw materials shall be considered strategic, the EC said in its launch proposal: bismuth, boron – metallurgy grade, cobalt, copper, gallium, germanium, lithium – battery grade, magnesium metal, manganese – battery grade, natural graphite – battery grade, nickel – battery grade, platinum group metals, rare earth elements for magnets (Nd, Pr, Tb, Dy, Gd, Sm and Ce), silicon metal, titanium metal and tungsten.

"The strategic importance shall be determined based on the relevance of a raw material for the green and digital transition as well as defence and space applications, taking into account: (a) the amount of strategic technologies using a raw material as an input; (b) the amount of a raw material needed for manufacturing relevant strategic technologies; (c) the expected global demand for relevant strategic technologies," the EC said in its document.

While there is an overlap between strategic and critical minerals, strategic minerals are generally considered to be those needed for supply chains and to support a nation's output.

Strategic minerals are "what you need to give you security of supply," according to a definition by Keith Coughlan, executive chairman of European Metals Holdings, a mineral exploration and development company advancing the Cinovec vertically integrated battery metals project in Czech Republic. This is one of five lithium mine projects currently under preparation or development in the EU.

Critical materials

The EC said the following raw materials shall be considered critical: antimony, arsenic, bauxite, baryte, beryllium, bismuth, boron, cobalt, coking coal, copper, feldspar, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, hafnium, helium, heavy rare earth elements, light rare earth elements, lithium, magnesium, manganese, natural graphite, nickel – battery grade, niobium, phosphate rock, phosphorus, platinum group metals, scandium, silicon metal, strontium, tantalum, titanium metal, tungsten and vanadium.

Critical minerals are typically defined as those needed for military, industrial or commercial purposes, including at a government or national level, used for instance in renewable energy, defense equipment, medical devices, electronics and agriculture. In addition, the term critical can be used to refer to minerals or metals that risk going short.

"Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) are those raw materials which are economically and strategically important for the European economy, but have a high-risk associated with their supply," said the EU's Critical Raw Materials Alliance, an industry body.

The EU launched a critical minerals list in 2020 which included 30 metals or minerals, not including copper or manganese. Natural rubber -- included in the original list -- has now been dropped.

The US Geological Survey describes as both strategic and critical those minerals essential to the economic and national security of the US; and where the US is dependent on imports for most supply.

Trade reaction

Trade sources welcomed the inclusion of manganese in the critical and strategic minerals lists. Manganese is increasingly being used as a lower-cost substitute to some other metals in battery chemistry.

"It's clear we need more minerals than are currently available on the market [for the energy transition]," said Megan Leahy-Wright, head of strategy and operations at RCS Global Group, a firm which audits responsible sourcing in the electric vehicles battery chain, in a March 16 webinar. "Regulators have responded with regulations which require companies to take concrete and measurable actions, directly or indirectly impacting the battery raw materials chain."

European Steel Association Eurofer described the inclusion of manganese which is often used to improve steel quality "as a little step forward."

However, steel scrap should also be included in the list of critical raw materials due to its major role in the circular economy, Axel Eggert, Eurofer director general, said.

"The steel sector -- which is crucial for green, digital, space and defence applications -- already now recycles millions of tonnes of ferrous scrap. With the transition to green steel, our scrap needs will drastically increase with shortages expected before 2030," Eggert said in a statement commenting on the EC's Critical Raw Materials Act proposals. "This is why also scrap should be included in the list of critical raw materials, as well as all nickel products. Favouring only the nickel battery grade could impact the overall nickel availability, in particular for the stainless steel sector."

Hildegard Müller, president of German Automotive Association VDA, said "concentrating on a list of strategic raw materials is basically right – this directs the focus to the raw materials for the urgently needed climate technologies."

"The fact that a Critical Raw Materials Board is to identify strategic raw materials projects that will then benefit from faster approval procedures and easier financing is also an important step in the right direction," Müller added.