Raw materials are the lifeblood of modern day societies. We rely on them as the primary source of energy and they are essential components of buildings, infrastructure and manufactured products. They are vital for economic development, the continued affluence of the developed world and the future prosperity of emerging countries hinges on their availability. Against the backdrop of rising demand, the markets for these materials are being increasingly disrupted by political instability, armed conflict, as well as export restrictions and quotas. Securing a steady supply of raw materials has become a major issue for policy makers and companies around the world but particularly so for advanced but resource-poor economies such as the European Union. A flurry of policy making has targeted diversification of supply, substitution of particularly critical materials, greater resource efficiency and improved recovery of material from waste.
Although this issue has attracted much attention, some issues continue to be under-researched and many of the supply risks remain largely unabated. Evolving supply risks and changing demand driven by a high rate of innovation in key manufacturing industries also make this a challenging research field and many institutions and companies lack the necessary expertise to carry out risk assessments.
Since our work supporting the European Commission in the development of its first major policy on critical raw materials in 2008 (The Raw Materials Initiative), we have developed significant expertise in this field which encompasses a wide range of issues. The scope of our work on raw materials is wide-ranging and encompasses supply chain mapping over the whole lifecycle and assessments of materials’ criticality. Here we have reviewed policies and criticality assessment methodologies in a number of EU and non-EU countries and advised the European Commission on their applicability to the EU. We have subsequently supported policy makers with regard to the determination of data availability for a range of raw materials where this involves mapping the flows of raw materials across their whole lifecycle, including exploration, extraction, processing, use in manufacturing of end products, waste collection and recycling.
RPA has developed particular expertise in the area of recycling and also has considerable experience in the evaluation of policy responses and mitigation strategies such as resource efficiency and raw material stockpiling. Here we have reviewed past and current experiences with the stockpiling of non-energy non-agricultural raw materials and provided a preliminary assessment of the desirability, feasibility and added value of possible EU action in this field.
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