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Material scarcity is about the shortages in metal and mineral resources which are expected inthe next decades. With a growing world population which is also getting more prosperous, thedemand for products increases and therefore also the demand for metal and mineral resources.In the past century the increase in demand has been equalled by an increase in mining andextraction of the required material resources. Exploration of new locations and technologicalinnovation in mining and extraction has kept the available and known material reserves on parwith the increase in demand. Will this continue in the 21
century as well? It is difficult to predicta century ahead, but looking at a number of developments, we are afraid the answer is: no.
Which developments indicate that material scarcity may become a reality in the near future?One is that for a number of material resources the peak production is already in the past. Anexample is Zirconium, an element used for high temperature materials. Despite the ongoingneed for Zirconium and rising prices, the extraction rate is declining. Another development is thecontinuing decrease in ore grade at which some materials are being mined. For instance, copperwith an ore grade of 25 % was available for mining in 1925, in 1985 the available ore grade forcopper mining was decreased to 0.8 %. This was made possible by ongoing technologicaldevelopments in mining and extraction techniques. But mining at lower ore grades requiresexponentially more energy. And energy being a scarce resource as well, it will not be possible toextract resources at ever lower ore grades using more and more energy. Also geopoliticaldevelopments can lead to material scarcity, sometimes on much shorter timescale. A recentexample is the plan of the Chinese government to restrict or stop the export of rare earth metalsto the rest of the world in 2009 – 2015. China produces 95 % of most of these elements, whichare used in the production of for instance iPODs, mobile phones and LEDs.
Development of new materials and material applications for industry and society is the corebusiness of the Materials innovation institute M2i. If material scarcity has to be taken seriously,and M2i is of that opinion, properly directed material innovation is needed to help solvingmaterial scarcity. Therefore M2i has carried out the present study on the shortage of non-energyraw materials: for the benefit of its industrial and university partners, to increase the awarenessfor material scarcity and to support the discussion how to approach material scarcity in materialresearch and production. The study is also intended as a help for the government by highlightingseveral aspects of material scarcity and the effect on the Dutch industry.
As this report will show, material scarcity is a complex issue. The whole lifecycle of products hasto be considered, from mining of materials to the final disposal or better, recycling of the productat the end of its lifetime. The stakeholders are not confined to one industry or one country.Material scarcity is a global issue.Let’s for the moment ignore the complexity of material scarcity, what are the main elements for asolution? The first element is to reduce the use of materials, by more efficient productionprocesses and longer lifetime of products. The second element is to greatly enhance the