Elements at risk of short supply revealed

14 September 2011

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14 September 2011 | Adam Leach

Buyers at car manufacturers, construction companies and space agencies face a turbulent future with the chemical elements they use deemed to be at high risk of supply disruption.

RiskList 2011, published this week, revealed that antimony, which is used in making flame retardant seats; tungsten, a main component in building tools; and niobium, used to make spacecraft parts, are among the chemical elements most likely to be in short supply.

The list, which assigned each element a risk score out of 10, with 10 being very high risk, put antimony, platinum group elements (PGE), mercury and tungsten as the elements most at risk with a relative supply risk index of 8.5.

The study, conducted by the BritishGeological Survey, scored each element against different criteria, such as the abundance of the element in the earth’s crust, the location of production and reserves, and the political stability of the countries where supplies are located.

The report also illustrated the continued dominance of China in terms of raw material supplies. Of the 52 elements included in the index, China leads production on 27 of them, including six out of the 10 most at risk elements.

China’s dominance in the raw materials market has become an area of increasing controversy in the past couple of years as a result of its alleged tactics to put foreign companies at a disadvantage. In July, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that Chinese export restrictions contradicted its WTO trade obligations. The country had previously claimed that it imposed restrictions on exports for environmental reasons, however, as it has imposed no restrictions on domestic companies, the panel ruled in favour of the US, EU and Mexico who first lodged the complaint.

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