#05 | The importance of CRM recovery for the future of Europe

By Alejandro Vilar and Carlos Echevarría (Cetaqua)

Accelerating technological innovation cycles and rapid growth in emerging markets have resulted in growing demand for metals and minerals. Specifically, climate-neutrality and digitalization scenarios defined for 2030 and 2050 in the EU Green Deal require an intensive consumption of critical raw materials (CRM). These CRMs are considered critical due to their significant economic importance and due to all the existing risks in their supply chain associated to a complex globalized market and a limited number of resources (Figure 1). In response to this challenge, the European Commission has developed a CRM list for the EU, which is reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

Figure 1. Economic importance and supply risk results of 2020 criticality assessment. [1]

CRM are especially important for high-tech products and emerging innovations, which technological progress and quality of life depend on access to more and more raw materials. CRM have an irreplaceable role in solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and energy-efficient lighting as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Flows of raw materials and their current supply risks. [2]

Moreover, it is important to note that most of these primary raw materials are produced and supplied by non-European countries, Figure 3 shows the Contribution of countries accounting for largest share of supply of primary CRMs to the EU from 2010-2014. This great dependence, together with geopolitical conflicts or unprecedented situations such as COVID-19 pandemic, can generate significant fluctuations in metals or CRM prices. Thus, it necessary to look for new primary deposits, secondary sources (such as extracting CRM from extractive wastes, by-products, electronic waste, wastewater, etc.) and promote circular economy strategies to reduce the great dependency on importing CRM in Europe.

Figure 3. Mains sources of the CRM used in Europe. [1]

CETAQUA, aware of this problem, has boosted and participated in different European projects for the recovery of CRM and valuable non-ferrous metals (copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn)) from industrial wastewaters, specifically in the mining and metallurgy sector. Through an innovative scheme, LIFE REMINE WATER will allow the recovery of high value raw materials such as Cu and Zn. On the other hand, other projects such as REECOVERY or RESILEX, will tackle the recovery of Rare Earth Elements (REE) or cobalt (Co) respectively. Additionally, these schemes can be adapted to recover CRM from different wastewaters generated in other relevant sectors such as urban mining, which is focused on the lithium batteries or other electronic devices recycling.


[1]  G. A. Blengini et al., Study on the EU’s list of Critical Raw Materials (2020) Final Report. 2020.

[2]  S. Bobba, S. Carrara, J. Huisman, F. Mathieux, and C. Pavel, Critical Raw Materials for Strategic Technologies and Sectors in the EU – a Foresight Study. 2020.