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The MSP-REFRAM consortium stemed from the PROMETIA Association and included 5 partners from industry/SMEs, 8 research and technology centres, 6 academics, 1 public authority and PROMETIA.
Experts also joined the project in order to cover a wider range of expertise fields, including 11 from industry/SMEs (TASMAN, VARISCAN, EURECAT, Aluminium of Greece, ARN, Cobre Las Cruces, KGHM, Ecorecycling, Mondragon Corporation, ASG, CLEEN), 5 public authorities (French Ministry of Economy, EDM, ADEME, BGS, IGMNiR), 4 associations that covered the value chain of refractory metals (AMIRA, WRMC, SIEMCALSA, FIMECC), 3 research centres (CIRCE, CENSE, VITO) and 4 internationally renowned experts (P. Christmann through BRGM, J. Lifton, O. Vidal and A. Boyce).
A secure access to refractory metals (tungsten, tantalum, rhenium, molybdenum and niobium) is highly strategic. They provide a number of unique characteristics – such as resistance to high heat, corrosion and wear – making them critical in a multitude of applications. Today, with the exception of rhenium, these metals are mainly imported from China (Tungsten, Tantalum and Molybdenum), Brazil (Niobum and Tantalum) and Chile (Molybdenum and Rhenium) but also from USA, Canada, etc.
The European primary production of these metals represents only a small share of the global production – only Rhenium is produced in significant amounts in the EU (Poland produces 15% of the world production, 2013) and Tungsten, which is produced in Austria, Spain and Portugal (total EU production represents about 2.7% of the world production). And although Tantalum is mainly mined in Africa, China remains the first Tantalum processing country. According to USGS, the impact of trade restrictions applied by China is therefore highly visible to the consumer. In addition, the EU argued in 2009 that Chinese export restrictions on raw materials will cost EU companies at least €20 billion on a yearly basis.
Refractory metal resources exist in Europe: while they are limited in primary resources (ores), these metals are likely to be found in secondary resources (industrial waste and urban mines). Refractory metals are already being recycled from super alloys to some extent (more than 50% for Niobum and Rhenium; between 25% and 50% for Molybdenum, between 10% and 25% for Tungsten but less than 1% for Tantalum).
In this context, it would be possible to improve the supply value chain in the coming years if an industry, in line with European regulations and standards, develops a better use of secondary or tertiary resources that can be found in these wastes, optimises the use of external resources such as energy and water and at the same time reduces the amount and the toxicity of the waste.
In 2014 European and international stakeholders from research and industry in the fields of extractive metallurgy and ore processing gathered to create the PROMETIA association. Thanks to the wide network of members and the positive outlook of the context, a multidisciplinary team of experts formed the core of the MSP-REFRAM project, providing the required expertise to cover the whole refractory metals value chain. The project included public entities and civil society representatives to allow a multi-stakeholder dialogue on a topic that has significant societal, economic, geopolitical and environmental implications.
MSP-REFRAM aimed to establish a durable multistakeholder platform that carried out a comprehensive study of the entire value chain of key refractory metals including mining, processing, recycling and final applications (and potential substitution opportunities), and taking account of crosscutting aspects: policy/society, technology and market. The objective was to strengthen the refractory metals supply chain in Europe.
The strategic vision of MSP-REFRAM was:
The opportunities of designing and implementing new, innovative value chains to deliver on this vision were great. However, our consortium also acknowledged the challenges (technological, industrial, economic, etc.) posed by the disruptions required to implement such value chains, which is why dialogue with and between stakeholders has been at the heart of our project: policy and industrial decision-makers are involved from the start, and our main outcome was to facilitate strategic knowledge-based decisions to be carried out by these groups.
If you are looking for more information or would like to join our discussions please contact us.
Stéphane Bourg, CEA (Marcoule, France)
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation programme under Grant Agreement no. 688993
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