The issue has grown in importance for Europe, which consumes a fifth of the world’s magnesium supply, since the West imposed sanctions on Russia after its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia was the world’s fourth largest producer of magnesium last year, with production estimated at 21,000 tonnes.
European imports from Russia have been modest and magnesium is not sanctioned, but Russia’s isolation rules it out as a potential fallback in the event of a Chinese supply cut.
The Commission, the EU’s executive, fears that any drop in shipments from China, which supplies more than 90% of the bloc’s magnesium, could dampen production of cars, aircraft parts and other products that depend on the ore.
Supplies from China fell late last year, inflaming prices in Europe and focusing the EU on efforts to secure local supplies.
As a result, policymakers, who last year gave first place to rare-earth magnets used in electric vehicles and wind turbines, have made magnesium an equal priority in their action plan to secure the supply of critical minerals.
China, which dominates the two, provides 93% of the bloc’s magnesium requirements.
“Magnesium has consistently been flagged as one of the critical raw materials with the highest supply risk, but with no improvement over time,” the EU document says.
“The case of magnesium is a clear example of the risk the EU is taking by making its national economy dependent on Chinese imports,” said Paul Voss, chief executive of the European Aluminum Association.
The document says the EU should aim to meet 15% of its magnesium needs at national level by 2030.
“During the first months of work of the ad hoc magnesium working group, we have identified … several projects at different stages of development,” market chief Joaquim Nunes de Almeida told Reuters. Interior and Industry of the European Commission, in an e-mail. .
The magnesium market is relatively small, with around 1 million tonnes of annual production, according to figures from CM Business Consulting, compared to 67 million tonnes of aluminium, but it plays a vital role in giving compressive strength to a wide range of products.
“The aluminum box as we know it and the wings of a modern Airbus airliner would not exist without magnesium,” said Alan Clark of CM Business Consulting.
“The aluminum industry has taken advantage of its opportunity because there is no substitute for magnesium.”
Magnesium prices soared late last year after Chinese government efforts to reduce energy consumption cut production of a range of metals, including magnesium.
In October, European industry groups warned that factory closures could hit millions of jobs if magnesium shortages persist.
Chinese shipments to Europe resumed, but EU policymakers understood the need to restart production.
The last two European magnesium production sites – in Norway and France – closed in 2001, partly due to competition from cheap imports from China.
There are now three potential European projects that could produce magnesium in the coming years, two in Romania and one in Bosnia, said Krzysztof Kubacki, an official at EIT Raw Materials.
The EIT is an EU-funded organization implementing an EU action plan developed in 2020 to secure critical minerals for the bloc.
Verde Magnesium, backed by private equity firm Amerocap, is seeking to revive a disused mine in western Romania and is seeking government permission.
Its chairman is Bernd Martens, a former purchasing director for carmaker Audi, the premium brand owned by Volkswagen.
Verde hopes to start production by 2025.
($1 = 0.9443 euros)
(By Eric Onstad)