Blasting volcanic trap rock for aggregate in the Raon-l’Etape quarry (Vosges, E France, 2003). © BRGM - François Michel

Mineral resources: a strategic issue

02.11.2013
Increasingly scarce resources and growing demand: the supply of mineral raw materials has become a major economic issue for France and Europe. BRGM plays a central role in the activities undertaken to address this issue.

In today’s context of increasingly scarce mineral resources and growing demand for raw materials, Europe and France are setting up action plans to identify new resources, secure supplies and develop materials recycling.

BRGM is directly involved in numerous programmes on mineral resources designed to support these policies.

Mineral resources are scarce and demand is growing

Demand for mineral raw materials has steadily increased since the Second World War and has recently surged with the rapid growth of emerging countries like India and China. China has become a major mining investor in Africa, Australia and the countries of the former USSR.

Some resources are of highly strategic importance, because of their scarcity, surging demand and/or the small number of producer countries. This is the case with the 17 “rare earths” - of which 97% are produced in China - used in applications ranging from wind turbines and catalytic converters to medical scanners, laser equipment or jet engines.

Lithium production for batteries is growing at an average rate of 8% per year.

Some more common metals are also of strategic importance. Copper, for instance, is used in a great many different products. More copper is processed than any other metal: it is a major component in electrical and electronic goods and used on a very large scale in construction and civil engineering.

Promoting world governance of mineral resources

Given this context, competition for access to these resources has become a factor of international tension.

Introducing a system of world governance of mineral resources to address this issue is high on the European Union agenda. 

Diversifying and securing supplies

Finding new resources, including within the European Union, is also part of the solution.

Recycling is another avenue being explored to supply ever-increasing demand for mineral raw materials in European economies.

Finally, developing economic intelligence in the various sectors is essential to forecast market trends.  These must be anticipated in order to make the right decisions regarding mining exploration and development and the security of commercial supplies.  BRGM has the competences to address this issue.

French Strategic Metals Committee

In January 2011, a Strategic Metals Committee (COMES) was set up in France.  Its purpose is to ensure secure access for French industries to these metals, some of which rare or little known. This is a major issue, particularly for the development of green technologies.

BRGM plays a key role within COMES that draws on its knowledge of raw materials and markets. 

Raw Materials Initiative: Europe in the vanguard

Drapeau de l'Europe

With the “Raw Materials Initiative”, the EU launched a wide-ranging agenda on raw materials supplies for Europe.

This agenda rests on three “pillars”:

  • external supplies: developing raw materials “diplomacy” by introducing rules of governance and helping producer countries to strengthen their capacities in the field of mineral raw materials;
  • internal EU resources: developing knowledge on the subsoil in Europe, not only on surface resources but also on layers down to 4 km in depth, where most vital resources for the future are found;
  • recycling: re-using resources as fully as possible by recycling manufactured products and locating new “deposits” in under-exploited waste materials.
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