1.4 Global perspective on critical commodities: country summaries and demand

Recent studies have been undertaken by several countries to identify which commodities are critical for them. The results of these studies, summarised below and in Table 1.4.1, provide a foundation for the assessment of critical commodity resource potential in Australia.

The country studies vary significantly in their objectives, approach and scope, and so their assessments of which commodities are critical differ accordingly. For example the EU and the US studies integrate both supply risk and importance in their assessments, whereas the UK list represents supply risk only. There is nevertheless sufficient commonality in purpose among the studies that a composite list can be compiled which represents a broad (multi-national) perspective on the commodities considered most critical. Table 1.4.1 summarises the critical commodities identified by several countries.

Table 1.4.1 shows that commodities such as iron, aluminium, copper, gold, lead and uranium yield category three overall scores as countries do not consider these commodities to have high risks of supply. Australia’s current and potential resources of these non-critical commodities are sufficient to meet forseeable demand. The purpose of Table 1.4.1 is to identify critical commodities to assess Australia’s resource potential for these commodities. The commodities included in the assessment are shown with an asterisk in Table 1.4.1, and the assessment of Australia’s resource potential for these commodities is summarised in Section 1.5.

Table 1.4.1: Summary of rankings of critical and other commodities from recent studies of materials criticality in the UK, EU, US, South Korea and Japan, and combined rankings as determined in this study (see methodology in note 10, below table). The Willis and Chapman (2012) study also synthesised previous reviews, and is included for comparison. Category one critical elements and minerals are coloured red, those of category two criticality are in orange, and category three criticality are coloured blue.
United Kingdom1 EU low C energy2 European Union4 United States DoE5 South Korea7 Japan8 Willis and Chapman (2012)9 This study10 *ranking Score10

*Commodity included in this study; helium was not ranked in any of the cited studies

  1. British Geological Survey (2012).
  2. European Commission (2011).
  3. Buchert et al. (2010).
  4. European Commission (2010).
  5. US Department of Energy (2010).
  6. US Department of Defence National Defence Stockpile with Sales Suspended or Restricted (2009). (Not ranked in any order of importance, hence assigned category two criticality = orange).
  7. Korean Institute of Industrial Technology: Bae (2000).
  8. JOGMEC (2010).
  9. Willis and Chapman (2012: summary and consolidation of other lists in the table).
  10. Overall rankings in this study were calculated by summing the individual scores for each commodity in each of the UK, EU, US, South Korea and Japan studies, as follows: red = 5 points, orange = 3 points, blue = 1 point. The results in this study are coloured red, orange and blue with arbitrary cut-offs between scores of 10 and 12 and between 3 and 5 to indicate category one criticality (red), category two criticality (orange), and category three criticality (blue).
REE REE Antimony Heavy REE Gallium Manganese Beryllium *REE 29
Tungsten Tellurium Beryllium Tellurium Indium Chromium Gallium *Gallium 29
Antimony Gallium Cobalt Indium Lithium Nickel Indium *Indium 26
Bismuth Indium Fluorspar Lithium Magnesium Molybdenum Magnesium *Tungsten 23
Molybdenum Niobium Gallium Cobalt Nickel Cobalt PGE *PGE 22
Strontium Vanadium Germanium Gallium PGE Vanadium REE *Cobalt 21
Mercury Tin Graphite Manganese REE Tungsten Tin *Niobium 20
Barium Selenium Indium Nickel Silicon Indium Tungsten Magnesium 17
Graphite Silver Magnesium Light REE Titanium Gallium Antimony *Molybdenum 15
Beryllium Molybdenum Niobium Magnesium Tungsten PGE Cobalt *Antimony 14
Germanium Hafnium PGE Vanadium Zirconium REE Germanium *Lithium 14
Niobium Nickel REE   Antimony Niobium Manganese *Vanadium 13
PGE Cadmium Tantalum US DoD6 Chromium Tantalum Nickel *Nickel 13
Cobalt   Tungsten Zinc Cobalt Strontium Niobium *Tantalum 13
Thorium Sustainable tech EU3   Tin Manganese Lithium Rhenium *Tellurium 13
Indium Tellurium   Iridium Molybdenum Antimony Tantalum *Chromium 12
Gallium Indium   Platinum Niobium Titanium Tellurium *Manganese 12
Arsenic Gallium   Germanium Selenium   Zinc *Selenium 11
Magnesium REE   FerroChrome Thallium   Bismuth *Titanium 10
Tantalum Lithium   Tungsten Vanadium   Chromium *Strontium 9
Selenium Tantalum   Tantalum Copper   Fluorine *Graphite 8
Cadmium Palladium   Niobium Lead   Lead *Tin 8
Lithium Platinum   Cobalt Zinc   Lithium *Germanium 8
Vanadium Ruthenium   Ferro-manganese Aluminium   Silicon *Beryllium 7
Tin Germanium   Beryllium     Silver *Zirconium 6
Fluorine Cobalt   Chromium     Titanium *Bismuth 6
Silver Titanium         Zirconium *Fluorine 6
Chromium Magnesium           Zinc 5
Nickel             *Mercury 3
Rhenium             *Thorium 3
Lead             *Arsenic 3
Diamond             Lead 3
Manganese             *Barium 3
Gold             Silver 2
Uranium             *Cadmium 2
Zirconium             *Copper 2
Iron             Aluminium 2
Titanium             *Rhenium 1
Aluminium             Gold 1
Zinc             Uranium 1
Copper             Diamond 1
              Iron 1

The most critical commodities are (in order of score shown in final column of Table 1.4.1): rare-earth elements, gallium, indium, platinum-group elements (in particular platinum and palladium), tungsten, niobium, cobalt, lithium, vanadium, nickel, molybdenum, tantalum and chromium. It should be noted that among the rare-earth elements there is considerable variation in criticality with the heavy rare-earth elements at the highest level whereas the light rare-earth elements, scandium and yttrium are less critical.

The assessments of criticality are essentially snapshots current at the time of the assessments, and in most cases do not take into account changes in future demand for the particular commodities. This report identifies possible critical commodities of which Australia has current or potential resources. Table 1.4.2 compares demand in 2006 with projected demand in 2030, for selected critical commodities plus copper, in the emerging technologies sector (European Commission, 2010). In 2006 the demand from emerging technologies generally comprised only a small to moderate fraction of global production (up to factor of 0.4; see column, Indicator 2006). Importantly, projected annual demand in 2030 for gallium, indium, germanium, neodymium, platinum and tantalum all exceed current annual production (European Commission, 2010). Projected demand in 2030 is proportionately lower for silver, cobalt, palladium, titanium and copper than for the former elements. Nevertheless this analysis demonstrates that all of the commodities listed in Table 1.4.2 could experience large to very large growth in demand by 2030.

Table 1.4.2: Production 2006 tonnes and demand in 2006, and projected demand in 2030, from emerging technologies for selected commodities (European Commission, 2010).
Raw material Production
2006 (tonnes)
Demand from emerging
technologies 2006 (tonnes)
Demand from emerging
technologies 2030 (tonnes)
  1. The indicator measures the share of the demand resulting from driving emerging technologies in total demand for each raw material in 2006 and 2030.
  2. Ore concentrate.
Gallium 152 28 603 0.18 3.97
Indium 581 234 1911 0.40 3.29
Germanium 100 28 220 0.28 2.20
Neodymium (REE) 16 800 4000 27 900 0.23 1.66
Platinum (PGE) 255 very small 345 0 1.35
Tantalum 1 384 551 1410 0.40 1.02
Silver 19 051 5 342 15 823 0.28 0.83
Cobalt 62 279 12 820 26 860 0.21 0.43
Palladium (PGE) 267 23 77 0.09 0.29
Titanium 7 211 0002 15 397 58 148 0.08 0.29
Copper 15 093 000 1 410 000 3 696 070 0.09 0.24