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Behind the scenes of the TCEs: what we are talking about and why

TCEs stands for technology-critical elements, a group of chemical elements for which imbalances between supply and demand exist or are considered likely to exist. The concept is economic and geopolitical and is not based on any scientific consideration. The term TCE is linked to competition for natural resources, now dramatically intensified by geopolitical instability and the green-energy transition.

Since it is a geopolitical concept, the elements that are considered as TCEs depend on the country and change over time; basically, they depend on the "eye of the beholder". For example, in the EU list of 2023, compared to the 30 Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) of 2020, there are six new CRMs (arsenic, feldspar, helium and manganese, plus copper and nickel as Strategic Raw Materials) and two have disappeared (indium and natural rubber).

Currently, the European Union considers a large number of materials to be technologically critical (mostly, but not all, chemical elements): 51. Given that the total number of elements in the periodic table is 118, of which 94 occur naturally on Earth and the remaining 24 are synthetic, this means that we are talking about ≈50% of all naturally occurring chemical elements!

In this context, what are the reasons for studying the environmental and (eco)toxicological effects of TCEs? Obviously, they will be different in the European Union than in the producer countries. In this communication, the reasons and research needs on both sides of the so-called supply chain (producers and end-users) will be analysed.


Montserrat Filella1
1University of Geneva, Switzerland
GeoBerlin 2023