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The population growth (in Asia in particular) the spread of resource-intensive consumption patterns as well as the fact that many emerging countries are catching up in terms of industrial development leads to a strongly increasing demand for raw materials.

The natural resources are a substantial element in the production and must be used - of course - both effectively and economically - in accordance with a sustainable and resource-conserving environmental policy. In doing so, these approaches must be considered along the entire value chain from the extraction to the processing up to the disposal and the environmental impairments must be minimised1. If this does not happen, this may involve e.g. the loss of diversity of species and a serious deterioration of the ecological habitat.

Thus, an efficient use of material in the production makes an important contribution to the conservation of the natural resources and to the reduction of the impact on the environment. Moreover, it allows an essential decoupling of the quality of life from the use of the natural resources. It additionally provides the companies with the opportunity to reduce their operating costs by reducing their demand for raw materials and thus to enhance their competitiveness. This approach should not be neglected as well since the cost portion for raw materials, auxiliary materials and operating materials in Germany amounts to approx. 40 percent (on average) of the gross production value. Studies show that - on average - up to 20 percent of the material costs can be saved by more material-efficient approaches2.

The lead market "Raw material and material efficiency" includes 4 areas of application which are interconnected.

The area of application Cross-sectional technologies comprises the technologies which can be ensured in the context of innovation and sustainability in the production. They constitute the key technologies for the further development of material-efficient products and processes3. In this context, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies (among other things) provide the basis for the development of new materials from renewable resources (e.g. bio-hybrid materials, fibres and platform chemicals4).

The segment "Sustainable design" forms - in connection with the provisional areas of application - the starting point for the development of products, which have a high environmental compatibility throughout the entire life cycle. In this context, it is the central task of the Sustainable design to analyse every environmental aspect of the production - from the extraction of raw material, the production up to the end of the product life. Only with these results is it possible to design the product sustainably.

The integration of the waste management in the resource policy is therefore absolutely necessary. Redirecting the material flows away from the landfill into the production of basic materials and goods may constitute a valuable supplement to the conventional extraction of raw materials. This can still be optimised by using renewable energies in the recovery processes. With this, further progress regarding the use of resources might be successful5.

More information about the Cleantech-lead market Raw material and material efficiency:

Raw material and material efficiency in the new federal states of Germany and Berlin

1UBA – Umweltinnovationsprogramm
2Deutsche Materialeffizienzagentur
3Clean Tech Made in Germany
4Plattformchemikalien - Grundchemikalien auf Basis nachwachsender Rohstoffe werden teilweise als Platform-Chemikalien bezeichnet
5Kfw – Perspektive Zukunftsfähigkeit – Steigerung der Rohstoff- und Materialeffizienz