The European Union’s 2020 Communication on Critical Raw Materials, published on September 3, includes natural rubber (NR) in the list of critical raw materials. The only biotic material to be included, NR was first listed in 2017. The material’s listing as a critical raw material was welcomed by the European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association (ETRMA).
The critical raw materials list reconfirms the priority status of NR in EU policy and the importance of securing fair and sustainable NR supply for European industry, ETRMA states, as well as providing further support for ongoing industry research into alternative NR sources.
As the Association points out, it has been highlighted in the EU’s foresight report-part of the Communication on Critical Raw Materials- that the EU neither produces nor processes NR. As a result, the EU is entirely dependent on imports, mainly from South East Asia. The biotic nature and unique characteristics of NR mean that it is difficult to substitute through alternative sources or secondary raw materials, creating many uncertainties for producers and end users.
Under the framework of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials in 2008, ETRMA committed to diversifying NR supply, to reduce dependency on South East Asia and to increase research into alternative sources. Currently, over 20% of the NR used in the EU is sourced from Africa and industry is researching how NR sourcing from dandelion and guayule – plants that grow in Europe – can be scaled to supply both tire and non-tire rubber industries. The ETRMA concedes that despite the progress that has been made, the sustainable sourcing of NR remains a challenge.
Ms. Fazilet Cinaralp, Secretary-General of ETRMA, stressed that the recognition of NR as a critical raw material for the second time is of great importance for the industry. “It confirms the European Commission’s ambition to support industry efforts to diversify supply, both by stimulating production beyond traditional producing countries and by increasing the scalability of the production of NR from alternative plant sources of latex that could be grown in Europe,” she said
ETRMA says it hoped the European Commission will continue to support public and private projects aimed at relieving the rubber value chain’s import-dependency and continue down the path towards diversification.