On average, every person on the planet consumes around ten tons of raw materials a year. That is far more than the figure of 8.4 tons estimated only three decades ago. Population growth, the spread of resource-intensive patterns of consumption and industrialization in many emerging nations are driving a sharp rise in demand for raw materials. However, if worldwide consumption of resources continues to increase unchecked, this will place an impossible burden on our ecosystems. New strategies are therefore needed to break the link between growth and resource consumption – not just in relative terms, but leading to an absolute reduction in the consumption of raw materials in the medium to long term.
These goals can be achieved only if resource efficiency improves significantly, which in turn allows companies to cut costs as they reduce their consumption of raw materials. The environment, too, benefits as the burden placed on ecosystems by the extraction of raw materials is minimized.
The lead market for material efficiency encompasses technology lines that reduce the consumption of non-energy resources (metals such as iron and copper and non-metallic resources such as minerals, for example) and materials.
The lead market as a whole breaks down into five segments. The market segment for material-efficient processes uses examples to show how companies in various industries can both reduce costs and help protect the environment by optimizing their production processes and substituting renewable materials for finite resources.
In the market segment for cross-application technologies, biotechnology, nanotechnology and organic electronics are described to the extent that they apply to material efficiency. These lines are key to the ongoing development of material-efficient products and processes.
Renewable resources are another segment of this lead market. Replacing (finite) fossil resources with renewable resources has an important part to play in driving the sustainable use of resources.
The protection of environmental goods was included as a segment of the lead market for material efficiency because of the close correlation that exists between growing demand for raw materials, the increasing extraction of these materials, and the associated threat to ecosystems.
The market segment for climate-adapted infrastructure covers technologies that are used for protection from storms, heat, fire and flooding.