Project aims to find substitutes for ‘critical raw materials’

15 April 2013

Read more: theEngineer Online Magazine

Engineers and scientists have today launched a project to develop substitutes for raw materials that are vital to European business but have unreliable supply chains.

The network aims to reduce Europe’s economic dependence on materials of which the EU feels there is not a secure international supply, such as the rare earth elements used in wind turbines, electric vehicles and tablet computers, but also common materials such as graphite.

The scheme will bring together experts from academia, industry and government to identify particular challenges related to the substitution of these materials with more widely available ones, and come up with possible solutions.

‘The issue of critical raw materials affects a very diverse community,’ said Catherine Joce, project coordinator at the Chemistry Innovation Knowledge Transfer Network, which is leading the CRM_InnoNet scheme.

‘Creating a network to bring these people together in a constructive environment will play a vital part in shaping the research and innovation environment to enable future development of substitutes to help address the problem of materials scarcity.’

The EU has defined 14 of what it deems ‘critical raw materials’ for which it argues demand must be reduced (or supply increased) to prevent adverse economic impacts, including platinum group metals and rare earth elements but also graphite and magnesium.

CRM_InnoNet will identify substitution challenges and opportunities through a series of workshops and an online portal.

This will feed into a roadmap and set of policy recommendations which will be developed from October and presented to the European Commission, with a view to setting the future policy.

The network is being launched today at an event attended by over a hundred interested parties, and is looking for participants from industry, engineers, materials scientists, chemists, physicists, academics, professional bodies and policy makers.

The full list of materials includes:

  • Antimony
  • Beryllium
  • Cobalt
  • Fluorspar
  • Gallium
  • Germanium
  • Graphite
  • Indium
  • Magnesium
  • Niobium
  • Platinum Group Metals (platinum, palladium, iridium, rhodium, ruthenium and osmium)
  • Rare earths (including yttrium, scandium, lanthanum and the so-called lanthanides (cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, rebium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium)
  • Tantalum
  • Tungsten

(Adopted from theEngineer,