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Critical metals and rare earths
OVERVIEW AND CHALLENGES

Technological innovations developed to support the energy transition make use of critical or strategic metals: these refined minerals and metals are used for:

  • electric vehicles: cobalt, lanthanum, lithium,
  • fuel cells: platinum, palladium, rhodium,
  • wind energy technologies: neodymium, dysprosium, terbium,
  • the aviation sector: titanium,
  • photovoltaic solar technologies: cadmium, indium, gallium.
     

The critical metals include the rare earth group: this is a group of 17 metals exhibiting similar chemical properties. They are chemically fairly reactive and have electromagnetic properties that make them essential for the manufacture of high tech.

Exploiting these critical metals and rare earths presents a number of challenges:

  • economic: some of these markets lack:
    • organizational structure,
    • transparency,
    • and most transactions are conducted on an over-the-counter basis, without the support of financial markets such as the London Metal Exchange,
  • technological: some of these metals are mining activity byproducts; as such, their extraction and production are geologically and economically dependent on the production of the other metals,
  • geopolitical: the location of resources and the strategies of players (industrial strategy, trade and investment policy, etc.) can render the use of a raw material critical: the large-scale deployment of technologies using them may potentially create, or indeed exacerbate, tensions in the markets for these metals,
  • energy and environmental: the metal industry currently accounts for around 10% of global energy consumption, with various environmental impacts:
    • water consumption,
    • associated energy consumption,
    • sector emissions.
       

With an oligopolistic market structure and reserves concentrated in a small number of countries, lithium represents a field conducive to the notion of criticality in the context of the electrification of the global vehicle fleet.
 

The European Commission identified 27 critical metals in 2017, compared with 20 in 2014 and 14 in 2011.

Propose eco-efficient critical metal production and recycling technologies
to support the development of new energy transition sectors.

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Contacts

Fabrice Bertoncini

  • Program manager: "Conversion of residues and heavy crudes", "Middle distillate production and purification", "Gasoline production and purification", and "New technological markets"

Jérôme Sabathier

  • Head Economics & Environmental Evaluation Department