The IRTC project has had so far an immense success in bringing together the leading experts on criticality. On November 20, 2019, these experts used the platform provided by the EU Raw Materials Week to convene for a final event of the first phase and discuss how to continue with the project.

At the meeting, the results of the previous work – namely, the criticality assessment method review – was summarized. In addition, the consortium members discussed and agreed on a method for writing an upcoming joint scientific paper, which will show ways how circular economy approaches can help mitigate criticality issues. This paper will also serve as a bridge to the second phase of the IRTC project – IRTC Business – in which the findings of the first phase will be translated into concrete advice for businesses on how to manage the criticality issue.

Presentations

The meeting was opened with presentations – two by the Chairs of the industry focus group of the future IRTC Business project and one by an invited guest.

In the first presentation on Foresight in mineral criticality assessments, Patrice Christmann pointed out that instead of making “forecasts”, scenarios should be developed. On the supply side, these should include not only mining and recycling, but also factors such as governmental and social factors, while on the demand side it seems to be even more difficult to account properly for all relevant factors such as demographics, innovative technologies, economic growth etc.

While there are sufficient reserves for most minerals, it is difficult to assess those accurately as there are no uniform reporting standards and transparency is sometimes lacking. For this reason, we have a data quality problem. Sufficient geologically available reserves should anyways, however, not disguise the fact that necessary supply can be endangered by export restrictions, and social acceptance of new mines should not be taken for granted. Another problem is sufficient water and energy for materials extraction.

Christian Hagelüken provided more depth about the aforementioned problem of forecasting materials demand due to emerging technologies in his presentation Keeping CRMs in the loop – how new technologies can drive metals demand. One way to address this issue is to increase supply by reducing waste and looking to in-use products as a potential mine. In addition, demand can be mitigated by extending product lifetime. The main problem with Circular Economy approaches is currently, however, that today’s product design and business models limit the supply of raw materials through recycling. Circular Economy policies often focus only on the most prevalent materials in the value chain, and current legal frameworks do not support true Circular Economy models.

Anthony Ku combined perspectives from China and California in his presentation What’s next in criticality? A China-fornia perspective, where he discussed how criticality can take business realities better into account, which emerging technologies should be paid attention to and how “big data” could contribute to criticality assessments.

He used the example of engine components in aviation to illustrate the effect of new technologies on materials demand. Consequently, considerations of materials supply should be included in the design phase. Changes in material risk dynamics within the next years could come with the spread of technologies such as 3D printing or the 5G telecommunication standard. He further agreed with the preceding speakers that for a proper foresight, different information has to be combined. It should be borne in mind that businesses above all need models that can predict the costs associated with a certain business decision. There, AI could help analyse data to overcome the data quality problem addressed by Patrice Christmann. Another limiting factor on building useful models is that companies are not willing to share their data. This issue could be addressed by using technologies such as blockchain to protect the companies’ secrecy.

Mr. Ku further raised questions that should be taken up further in the project, such as what the connection between sustainability, CRM and CE is and how knowledge about supply chain dynamics can add to company value, and how this added value can be communicated.

IRTC Project status

An overview of the project status of IRTC is provided by Alessa Hool, CEO of ESM Foundation. It will be seamlessly continued into IRTC Business. The paper about the different criticality assessments has been published. Other papers about the relationship of CRM and CE are currently in progress.

In-depth paper on criticality and CE

One of these papers will essentially be about how Circular Economy measures can solve the criticality issues or factors found in the first paper. Many suggestions were made as to what should be included in the paper, how the writing process should be approached, that case studies should be included, and much more. The consortium widely approved of the approach to tying the criticality factors with the CE solutions and, possibly, the case studies, in a matrix.