Raw Materials Needs for Future Technologies

The influence of branch-specific natural resource consumption in material-intensive and resource-sensitive future technologies on the future demand for raw materials


Industrialized nations, being high-wage countries, gain competitive advantages in the global market through technical innovations. The research and development race triggered by these framework conditions increases the pace of innovations constantly and in the long term. At the same time, German industry depends almost entirely on imports, not only of energy resources, but also of metals. Germany's success in exporting its high-tech and cutting-edge technology products, and thus the prosperity of its society, therefore rely essentially on an undisrupted supply of raw materials at reasonable prices.

The situation on the commodities markets was extremely turbulent in recent years. New market participants, above all China, gave rise to in part dramatic disparities between raw materials supply and demand. The resulting upheavals caused the price of many commodities to rise by leaps and bounds.

Against this background, the question arises what risks for the development of future technologies the supply of raw materials could entail. It is also necessary to check which stimuli the development and industrial utilization of such technologies generates for raw materials demand and whether it will be possible to develop a set of instruments that allows such surges in demand to be recognized in advance. An appropriate foresight method could contribute towards balancing supply and demand and thus towards stabilizing the commodity markets.

Whereas the markets for energetic natural resources have been the center of attention since the first oil crisis in 1973, the markets for metals and minerals have become a focus of concern only in recent times. The present project therefore exclusively addressed non-energetically utilized raw materials. Time horizon was the year 2030.

Potential supply risks come from vulnerable raw materials/ commodities. Raw materials are vulnerable if they are of great significance for the economy, their incidence is re-stricted to only a few countries and these countries are located in a politically unstable region. Therefore, these raw materials which could primarily hinder the development and industrial exploitation of future technologies are the main focus of attention. Platinum, for example, is an essential raw material for developing and utilizing fuel cell technology, tantalum an indispensable resource for miniaturizing electronic circuits, the scarce metal indium for developing display technology, the semi-conductor industry as well as photovoltaics, and copper for hybrid and electric vehicles.

The starter set for the raw materials portfolio in the project includes the natural re-sources chromium, tin, copper, platinum metals, germanium, indium, tantalum, niobium, antimony, cobalt and industrially utilized rare earths. This list will be extended in the course of the project if further raw materials are recognized as significant for the development of future technologies. Future technologies are industrially exploitable technical capabilities which trigger revolutionary innovation surges far beyond the boundaries of single industrial branches, and which in the long term bring about far-reaching changes in the economic structures, social life and the environment. Future technologies cannot be narrowed down to a few innovations, but are found in various forms in all industrial/ economic sectors. This underlines the efforts of the industrialized high-wage nations to survive global competition by means of technological excellence.

The project starts with a broadly based search for future technologies in whose development the supply of vulnerable raw materials plays a crucial role. The initially broad technology portfolio will be concentrated in several steps during the project, and simultaneously the analysis will be intensified/ deepened. The researchers reckon with con-siderable difficulties in obtaining technology-specific information about raw materials, because this field has until now hardly attracted any attention. A central methodological instrument for gathering information is to interview experts from industry and applica-tion-oriented research institutions. In this context the raw material content, the development status, the timing of the market introduction and the expected market diffusion should be estimated for each specific technology.

The project was completed at the end of 2008 and the results are accessible to the public since the beginning of 2009.


completed in December 2008


  • Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie (Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Technology (BMWi)), Berlin


  • IZT gGmbH

Project monitoring

  • Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR)), Hannover