There are a number of reasons why the consumption of raw materials is increasing worldwide. Population growth, the spread of resource-intensive patterns of consumption and industrialization in many emerging nations are keeping demand for raw materials at a high level.

The world’s voracious appetite for raw materials places a heavy burden on the environment. The ecological consequences of extracting and processing raw materials are immense. Mining raw materials mostly does serious damage to nature and the countryside, as well as posing health risks to people in the regions affected. Substantial volumes of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere during the extraction, transportation and processing of raw materials.

Both ecological and economic arguments are compelling us to wean economic development off the consumption of raw materials and, in so doing, to minimize the harmful environmental impacts that accompany the extraction of raw materials. In this context, improvements to material efficiency must make a major contribution.  

The lead market for material efficiency encompasses technologies and methods 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. Resource efficiency is the overriding theme in both energy efficiency and material efficiency. The technologies and methods employed in achieving energy efficiency constitute a lead market in their own right. Resource efficiency refers to efficiency in extracting raw materials, while material efficiency means efficiency in processing them. The production of goods in industry and commerce is the principal arena in which the technologies in this lead market are applied (see Figure).  

The market segment for material-efficient processes takes examples from various industries to show how companies can both cut costs and protect the environment. In the market segment for cross-application technologies, biotechnology, nanotechnology and organic electronics are described insofar as they apply to material efficiency. Cross-application technologies is the name given to technologies that are relevant to a wide range of industries rather than to one specific industry: Biotechnology, nanotechnology and organic electronics all fit into this category. All three are key to the ongoing development of material-efficient products and processes.

Renewable resources constitute the third segment of this lead market. Replacing finite fossil resources with renewable resources plays an important part in fostering the sustainable use of resources. Accordingly, technology lines such as feedstock for the chemical industry and natural cosmetics have been assigned to this market segment. These technology lines include products and processes that help industry move away from oil and toward renewable resources. The natural cosmetics technology line includes cosmetic products that are produced using renewable resources. One distinctive feature of natural cosmetics is that they contain no paraffin, silicones or any other petroleum based products.

The relationship between growing demand for raw materials, the increasing extraction thereof and the resultant risks and damage to ecosystems is the conceptual basis on which we decided to include the protection of environmental goods as a separate market segment in the lead market for material efficiency. This market segment also covers the renaturation of sites adversely affected by raw material extraction, alongside environmentally friendly methods of extracting raw materials. The market segment for climate-adapted infrastructure encompasses technologies that are used for protection from storms, heat, fire and flooding. The basic idea is that preventing damage caused by extreme weather events not only protects human life, but also helps to attenuate demand for materials by safeguarding buildings and infrastructure.

Market segments and key technology lines

Market segments and key technology lines