Margarethe Hofmann-Amtenbrink, Alessandra Hool

M. Hofmann-Amtenbrink: Past President of FEMS, CEO MatSearch and Foundation of Rare Metals, ESM

Alessandra Hool: MatSearch and Foundation of Rare Metals, ESM


Materials are classified into metals, polymers, ceramics and their various composites, and new developments such as carbon-based materials arise to be used in new innovative products. Regarding their application, materials are related to industrial sectors such as energy, health, transport, communication, construction etc. These sectors require certain functions independent on what kinds of materials and processes were used.  Such functions or “smart” properties should also meet other requirements of the end-user related to legislation, standards, ecological impact, and to the pricing on the market.

Highly innovative products contain a variety of different elements and sophisticated technologies. Materials research has enabled various breakthroughs which led to marketable innovations and improvements for climate, health and energy projects.

However, many of these innovations need more and more materials functions, and a broad variety of raw materials – amongst them materials which are critical in view of their resource availability, mining conditions, ecological footprint, social exploitation and the end of the production cycle. Most of these materials do not origin from Europe, their manufacturing makes it difficult or even impossible to recycle them, the raw materials can become expensive or are not in line with legislation e.g. for environmental standards. Materials research and development should be understood in a “whole value chain approach” which considers these aspects already in a very early phase - the invention and design stage.

Research is a first step on a way to an innovative product and happens around 10 to 15 years before the product comes on the market. Materials scientists and engineers should be aware of the challenges in each of the process steps that a product passes from mining to end-of-life to ensure long-term availability and sustainability. This presentation deals with some examples of innovative products to highlight the dependency on critical materials and shows how a “whole value chain approach” could help to develop more sustainable materials.