Whereas supply risks of fossil fuels and their impacts on economies have been examined for decades, the necessity and availability of non-fuel minerals for emerging energy and information and communication technologies has received increased public attention only during the last few years (Erdmann & Graedel, 2011). Within this area, resources scarcity and its implication on the various societal, economic and ecologic issues is a crucial aspect, and the “criticality” of elements a topic of increasing interest. Various groups from governments, consultancies, and academic institutions have since then been developing a broad range of methodologies for assessing criticality (Graedel & Reck, 2015). However, the relevance of material criticality for the future of energy and technology – and thus for our society – is still obscured by the diversity and, frequently, the immaturity of the evolving methodologies (Erdmann & Graedel, 2011).
As Graedel and Reck (2015) point out, whether an element is considered to be “critical” depends on the perspective; as a simple example, a country with a high abundance of a certain element will assess it to be less critical for their economy than a country without local reserves of this element. Different methodologies can also depend on a region’s or sector’s specificities and individual foci (such as the question of whether to include environmental impacts into the assessment). Ultimately it is a complex mix of geological, economic, geopolitical, social, environmental and policy related aspects that make a material „critical“ for specific stakeholders. However, differences and commonalities of the various approaches should be carved out in detail in order to understand how they lead to differing results. Also, comparing and discussing different methodologies increases knowledge and helps to establish good practices for criticality assessment, and to determine where uniform approaches would be valuable. A global view on perspectives on materials’ relevance and scarcity, furthermore, is indispensable for communicating, improving policy-making, considering supply and product development decisions by industry as well as raising public awareness towards the topic, and finally initiating efforts towards a circular economy.
Objectives and impact
The project aims at advancing criticality assessment on a global level through different mechanisms:
- The Round Table workshops and joint publications shall advance the research on differences and commonalities of different approaches by leading institutions in the topic (basing on former research such as (Erdmann & Graedel, 2011), (Graedel & Reck, 2015), and (Dewulf, Blengini, Pennington, Nuss, & Nassar, 2016)).
- The Roadmap on Criticality will establish common ground of the different groups and provide advice for authorities and policy makers world-wide.
- Good practices of criticality studies will be established; where suitable, the development of more uniform methodologies shall be facilitated for certain elements.
- By inclusion of experts from South Korea and China, both economies with large sectors depending on secure materials supply, approaches that were formerly underrepresented in the international debate will receive more attention and add to existing knowledge.
- A workpackage on education will give young researchers the opportunity to discuss criticality issues with leading experts in the topic and visit relevant partner institutions.
- Awareness towards materials criticality, and its crucial role for a circular economy, shall be raised by creating visibility at established conference with a diverse audience and high impact in research and industry.