The “Entwicklungsfonds Seltene Metalle” (ESM Foundation) is a Swiss non-profit organization founded in 1951. It is dedicated to support research and development activities in the field of Rare and Critical Elements, with a focus on their industrial applications. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation sponsors and organizes conferences and workshops, publishes studies and surveys, coordinates projects in the field of Rare and Critical Elements, and confers scholarships and educational grants in areas relevant to the Foundation’s topical focus. ESM is a public interest foundation governed by Swiss Law. Its foundation status is subject to supervision by the Swiss Federal Department of the Interior. ESM is operating within a national and international network of experts, partner institutes and organizations. 


The ESM Foundation is the leading Swiss network for questions about the responsible industrial use of metals with limited availability that are essential for the transformation to a sustainable society.


The foundation initiates, supports and coordinates research and educational projects, organizes events and promotes professional and social discourse on critical metals. The ESM stands for a high standard of scientific quality as well as political and financial independence, made possible by foundation capital that has been managed sustainably since 1951. The foundation works closely with science and industry at home and abroad and is involved in publicly funded projects.

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Strategy on Pocket Watch Face with Close View of Watch Mechanism. Vintage Effect.

“The future starts with Rare and Critical Elements – we don’t want it to end by tomorrow”


In recent years, a growing industrial demand in combination with geopolitical shifts have led to an increased attention towards rare and critical elements. These elements are essential for advanced materials and technologies such as communication, renewable energy and transportation. The supply chain and re-use of rare and critical elements is of fundamental importance for the current and future economy. ESM offers information and facilitates dialogues and information between relevant stakeholders from industry and academia. Typical activities include:

  • Mandating, funding and coordinating relevant research projects, bringing together partners from research organizations, universities, industries, and non-governmental and governmental organizations.
  • Initiating and organizing events and surveys, addressing key issues for industry and academia related to rare and critical elements, covering the whole material value chain (from raw material to recycling), but also geopolitical, political, economic, environmental and legal aspects.
  • Providing and coordinating continuing education, highlighting the complexity and importance of the topic for various industrial sectors and relevant scientific disciplines.
  • Partnering with organizations active in similar fields, providing complementary and extended knowledge and experience.

Studies and reports 

2019 Annual Report (German)




Rare and critical elements (including “Rare Earth Elements”, REE) are not only rare and critical because of their low availability in the earth crust, but also because they are difficult to exploit. In addition, their deposits are concentrated in a few regions in the world.


In the last 20 years, the importance of rare and critical elements increased as they became essential for a sustainable functioning of modern society. The European Commission acknowledges the importance of sufficient and affordable access to such elements like Antimony, Beryllium, Chromium, Cobalt, Gallium, Germanium, Indium, Magnesium, Molybdenum, Niobium, Tungsten and REEs; all of them crucial for the global economy.


Swiss and European industries depend largely on imports of rare and critical elements. Market distortion leads to a high volatility in price and availability. Lacking transparency of supply chains bear the risk of socially and ecologically poor conditions in mining, manufacturing and recycling. These and other factors can endanger the economic growth and development of Switzerland and Europe.


coal in the hands of the working

Trade Ship Harbored at Port of San Pedro, California, U.S.A.

integrated microchip

unknown metal mineral or meteorite isolated on the white background


Geopolitical developments strongly influence the access to rare and critical elements. The high costs of available exploration and extraction technologies today may limit further mining. “Urban Mining” allows Europe and other countries with limited deposits an increased access to rare and critical elements – through re-use and recycling of products. New methods and processes are and will be established to obtain high quality materials from Urban Mining. The optimized use of rare and critical elements in materials and products and the substitution with more commonly available elements will further help to reduce the pressure on industry.


These challenges are in the focus of today’s materials research, new process and product development, and policy dialogue. For our future well-being, it is essential to discuss and highlight the role of rare and critical elements throughout the whole value chain.



After the Second World War, Switzerland struggled with the supply of materials from abroad. On December 15, 1951, Dr. O.H. Messner (Zurich), Prof. E. Baumann (Zurich), Dr. O. Zipfel (Bern) and Robert DuBois (Saint-Légier sur Vevey) established the “Entwicklungsfonds Seltene Metalle, ESM” in Zürich. Based on its bylaws written more than 60 years ago, the foundation aims to support and conduct research and investigations in the field of rare metals with respect to their industrial use. Since then, the ESM foundation has supported more than 30 research projects in fields where less common elements played a crucial role (see WHAT WE OFFER).
When establishing ESM, the founding fathers had the ambition to create new industries in the field of “rare metals” and by this new working places. By financing research and development it was envisaged to support the exploitation and valorization of such results, creating innovations and marketable products.

ESM bylaws from 1951

Today, ESM continues the work of its founders, bringing together novel ideas related to rare and critical elements elements and their strategic implication in science and engineering.

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