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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

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Supply of raw materials for High-tech german industries – specifying and further developing germany’s raw materials strategy

Thematic area: Energy, resources, environment
Analytical approach: Innovation report
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: completed
Duration: 2010 till 2012

Background and central aspects of the topic

German industries require a reliable supply of mineral resources to function properly. The problem of securing the supply of raw materials for Germany has recently become the focus of attention, not least because of the turbulence on the commodities markets. The origins for this turbulence were not the exhaustion of natural resources, but rather an imbalance of supply and demand. In addition, the fact that the extraction of some raw materials is concentrated on only a few, often politically unstable countries is a cause of considerable concern. At least in the short term, it is not possible to counteract this dependency by exploiting raw material resources in more stable countries and regions.

On the demand side, alongside the growth of the global economy, technological change also has to be taken into account. Important impulses for the demand for raw materials could be triggered by a broad diffusion of emerging technologies. It is precisely these technologies which often require specialized metallic raw materials.

As an industrial nation with few domestic raw material deposits, Germany is particularly reliant on a secure resource supply and the German government therefore presented a raw materials strategy in October 2010. The further development and specification of this strategy throws up a series of questions, especially with regard to the raw material requirements for high technologies:

  • Vulnerability: Which criteria result in raw materials being classified as particularly critical?
  • Consequences: What would be the impacts on industry and society of serious supply problems or even a breakdown in the supply of a critical raw material?
  • Demand: How will the demand for critical raw materials develop in selected technologies and/or sectors? What substitution options exist and how can these be exploited? Are there essential, non-substitutable raw materials? Are there efficiency potentials in material applications, for example, through miniaturization?
  • Supply: Can changes in the supply of raw materials be predicted long-term, for instance due to new mining projects, new processing technologies or promoting more intensive recycling?
  • Actors and value chains: What options do companies have at different levels of influence to campaign for a stable resource supply? What are the differences for SMEs in comparison to larger firms or global players?
  • Raw materials strategy: Which objectives should a German raw materials strategy be pursuing and how do these objectives relate to each other? How should the tasks be split between the state and the private sector? Are there any successful strategy models for individual raw materials? How can transparent markets be developed whose revenue streams also benefit the local population in resource-rich countries, as demanded, for example, by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)? Especially NGOs point out that poverty, corruption and the disregard for human rights often increase with the extraction of raw materials in developing countries. Therefore the networking possibilities or prerequisites between different policy areas should also be investigated (e.g. raw materials, development, foreign, environmental and technology policy).

Objectives and approach

Based on these considerations, the following objectives result for the innovation report:

  • Preparation for the international discussion on critical raw materials;
  • analysis of the different social requirements of a raw materials strategy;
  • as an example, looking at the role of critical raw materials in at least one sector of German high and leading-edge technology (e.g. medical technology). This should incorporate companies at different stages of the examined value chain and perhaps the perspective of actors from different company departments (e.g. strategic purchasing, technology development, environmental management);
  • estimating the potentials and practical starting points for German industry to promote not just safeguarding the access to raw materials but also more advanced goals such as, e.g. the fight against poverty, developing good governance in the countries or shaping social and environmental standards;
  • identifying the starting points for the further development and specification of Germany’s raw materials strategy.

These objectives are pursued in the following five work packages:

Vulnerability of raw materials

The existing studies of the vulnerability of raw materials are analyzed and their methods and results are compared.

Objectives and challenges of a national raw materials strategy

The different economic, ecological, social and political requirements of a national raw materials strategy are derived based on an analysis of the relevant literature and tested for their compatibility.

Case study

Selecting the sector or technology to be examined is done based on the existing knowledge about critical raw materials and sunrise industries. The potential supply risks are discussed against the backdrop of the specific supply structures and consumption patterns of a high-tech sector. In addition, existing or conceivable approaches to reduce these risks, e.g. by recycling or substitution, are analyzed and discussed with industry representatives at a workshop.

Estimating the potential of measures

Based on the results obtained, possible starting points are shown for the concrete implementation of a raw materials strategy such as, e.g. certification of raw material chains, multi-stakeholder initiatives or dismantling trade barriers. The different starting points should be systematized and discussed with a view to their chances of being realized now and in the future.

Further development of the raw materials strategy

Finally, the insights are summarized and suggestions are formulated for the further development and specification of the raw materials strategy. The results will be compiled in a final report (innovation report).

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