Special Issue "Responsible Sourcing of Materials Required for a Resource Efficient and Low-carbon Society"

A special issue of Resources (ISSN 2079-9276).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 December 2018).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Lucia Mancini
Website
Guest Editor
European Commission Joint Research Centre
Interests: Raw Materials; Sustainability; Life Cycle Assessment; Responsible Sourcing; Social and Environmental Impact Assessment
Dr. Philip Nuss
Website1 Website2
Guest Editor
German Environment Agency (UBA)
Interests: Sustainable resource use, Environmental and social life-cycle assessment, Material flow analysis, Social network analysis, Scenario analysis, Science-policy interface

Special Issue Information

Dear colleagues,

Our modern economy relies on the quality and availability of natural resources. Driven by population growth and economic development, future demand for natural resources is expected to further increase in coming decades. Natural resources such as metals, non-metallic minerals, and biomass will be an important part of society’s future material mix as countries increasingly transition towards resource efficient and greenhouse gas neutral economies. These materials are also fundamental to meet ecological and socio-economic targets within the Sustainable Development Agenda of the United Nations. For instance, they have a fundamental role in renewable energy technologies, new building materials and infrastructure, modern communication systems, and low-carbon transportation.

However, some materials are largely supplied from countries with poor governance and the future availability of these materials could be threatened by various factors. The resource criticality studies developed in recent years have explored economic, geo-political, and technological factors that could affect the raw materials’ security of supply. Environmental and social pressures can also play a role in the materials security of supply and present obstacles to a future transition to a low-carbon society. For instance, conflicts can prevent access to mineral deposits; accidents and environmental damages compromise public acceptance and can hinder future extraction operations. 

From the industry perspective, companies increasingly evaluate and report environmental and social performance. Responsible sourcing of minerals and supply chain due diligence are sometimes integrated in companies’ risk management strategies.

In this special issue we would like to gather papers aiming at:

  • Monitoring and assessing social and environmental pressures in material supply chains (e.g., with social and environmental life-cycle assessment)
  • Exploring the role of social and environmental pressures in resource security of supply assessments
  • Discussing how social and environmental consideration could be increasingly considered in future-looking scenarios of materials needed in the increasing transition to resource efficient and greenhouse gas neutral societies (e.g., metals used in renewable energy systems)
  • Reflecting on certification and other approaches for responsible sourcing of resources
  • Discussing supply chain due diligence approaches and their implementation from a company perspective

Dr. Lucia Mancini
Dr. Philip Nuss
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Resources is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Raw materials
  • Environmental and social sustainability
  • Responsible sourcing and resource governance
  • Due diligence
  • Future scenarios
  • Security of supply

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Responsible Materials Management for a Resource-Efficient and Low-Carbon Society
Resources 2020, 9(6), 68; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources9060068 - 05 Jun 2020
Abstract
Our societies rely on the quality and availability of natural resources. Driven by population growth, economic development, and innovation, future demand for natural resources is expected to further increase in coming decades. Raw materials will be an important part of society’s future material [...] Read more.
Our societies rely on the quality and availability of natural resources. Driven by population growth, economic development, and innovation, future demand for natural resources is expected to further increase in coming decades. Raw materials will be an important part of society’s future material mix as countries increasingly transition towards resource-efficient and greenhouse-gas neutral economies. Raw materials are also fundamental to meet ecological and socio-economic targets within the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. For instance, they have a fundamental role in renewable energy technologies, new building materials and infrastructure, communication systems, and low-carbon transportation. However, some materials are largely supplied from countries with poor governance. The future availability of these materials and associated impacts are of increasing concern going forward. Recent raw material criticality studies have explored economic, geo-political, and technological factors that affect materials’ supply. However, environmental and social pressures also play a role in their security of supply. For instance, conflicts can prevent access to mineral deposits; accidents and environmental damage compromise public acceptance and can hinder future extraction operations. This article will introduce this Special Issue with a focus on material requirements and responsible sourcing of materials for a low-carbon society, and provides an overview of the subsequent research papers. Full article
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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Devising Mineral Resource Supply Pathways to a Low-Carbon Electricity Generation by 2100
Resources 2019, 8(1), 33; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources8010033 - 06 Feb 2019
Cited by 6
Abstract
Achieving a “carbon neutral” world by 2100 or earlier in a context of economic growth implies a drastic and profound transformation of the way energy is supplied and consumed in our societies. In this paper, we use life-cycle inventories of electricity-generating technologies and [...] Read more.
Achieving a “carbon neutral” world by 2100 or earlier in a context of economic growth implies a drastic and profound transformation of the way energy is supplied and consumed in our societies. In this paper, we use life-cycle inventories of electricity-generating technologies and an integrated assessment model (TIMES Integrated Assessment Model) to project the global raw material requirements in two scenarios: a second shared socioeconomic pathway baseline, and a 2 °C scenario by 2100. Material usage reported in the life-cycle inventories is distributed into three phases, namely construction, operation, and decommissioning. Material supply dynamics and the impact of the 2 °C warming limit are quantified for three raw fossil fuels and forty-eight metallic and nonmetallic mineral resources. Depending on the time horizon, graphite, sand, sulfur, borates, aluminum, chromium, nickel, silver, gold, rare earth elements or their substitutes could face a sharp increase in usage as a result of a massive installation of low-carbon technologies. Ignoring nonfuel resource availability and value in deep decarbonation, circular economy, or decoupling scenarios can potentially generate misleading, contradictory, or unachievable climate policies. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
On the Spatial Dimension of the Circular Economy
Resources 2019, 8(1), 32; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources8010032 - 02 Feb 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
The concept of a “circular economy”, in which material in society is regarded as “a transient phase in anthropogenic resource utilization”, is a growing topic for discussion. The primary motivations for supporting a circular economy include a reduction of environmental impacts and conservation [...] Read more.
The concept of a “circular economy”, in which material in society is regarded as “a transient phase in anthropogenic resource utilization”, is a growing topic for discussion. The primary motivations for supporting a circular economy include a reduction of environmental impacts and conservation of natural resources. Australia is a vivid example of a country whose large metal extraction capacity is not balanced as it has neither an extensive product manufacturing capability nor a large domestic market. Consequently, Australia must rely on the global resource network to achieve circularity and carbon neutrality. This work illustrates this situation with quantitative material flow cycles for Australian aluminum, nickel, copper, zinc, and stainless steel, and comments on the implications of the results for Australia and for circular economy prospects more generally. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Enough Metals? Resource Constraints to Supply a Fully Renewable Energy System
Resources 2019, 8(1), 29; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources8010029 - 31 Jan 2019
Cited by 9
Abstract
The transition from a fossil fuel base to a renewable energy system relies on materials and, in particular, metals to manufacture and maintain energy conversion technologies. Supply constraints shift from fossil fuels to mineral resources. We assess the availability of metal reserves and [...] Read more.
The transition from a fossil fuel base to a renewable energy system relies on materials and, in particular, metals to manufacture and maintain energy conversion technologies. Supply constraints shift from fossil fuels to mineral resources. We assess the availability of metal reserves and resources to build an energy system based exclusively on renewable energy technologies. A mass balance of 29 metals embodied in renewable energy technologies is compiled in order to satisfy global energy demand, based on five authoritative energy scenarios for 2050. We expand upon these scenarios by modeling the storage capacity needed to support high shares of intermittent renewables (wind and solar). The metal requirements are then compared with the current demand and proven reserves and ultimate mineable resources. This allows us to distinguish between constraints related to renewable energy sources from those linked to technology mixes. The results show that proven reserves and, in specific cases, resources of several metals are insufficient to build a renewable energy system at the predicted level of global energy demand by 2050. The comparison between reserves and resources shows that scarcity relates sometimes more to techno economic supply than to raw material availability. Our results also highlight the importance of substitution among technologies and metals as well as the limited impact of recycling on the depletion of scarce metals. Full article
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Jumping the Chain: How Downstream Manufacturers Engage with Deep Suppliers of Conflict Minerals
Resources 2019, 8(1), 26; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources8010026 - 26 Jan 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Global manufacturing firms are engaging distant suppliers of critical raw materials to participate in responsible sourcing. Downstream firms are concerned about risks in mineral supply chains of violent conflict, human rights violations, and poor governance, but they are limited in seeing their suppliers. [...] Read more.
Global manufacturing firms are engaging distant suppliers of critical raw materials to participate in responsible sourcing. Downstream firms are concerned about risks in mineral supply chains of violent conflict, human rights violations, and poor governance, but they are limited in seeing their suppliers. Descriptive data on 323 smelters and refiners of tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold (the “conflict minerals”) were complemented by interviews with downstream firms in the electronics industry. Results provided a narrative of supplier engagement, describing tactics used to identify “deep suppliers” at chokepoints in metals supply and to persuade producers into joining due diligence programs. Top-tier firms collaborate through a standards program to overcame barriers of geography and cultural distance in supply chain management beyond the visible horizon. Curiously, manufacturers do not need line-of-sight transparency to lower-tier suppliers. Rather, top-tier firms are “jumping the chain” to engage directly with “deep suppliers” who may—or may not—be their own actual physical suppliers. The research contributes empirical evidence to understanding multi-tier supply chains, examines how power is exercised by top-tier firms managing suppliers, and provides insights on supply chain transparency. Responsible sourcing, based on due diligence guidance and standards, is becoming expected of companies that are involved in supply chains of raw materials. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Decreasing Metal Ore Grades—Is the Fear of Resource Depletion Justified?
Resources 2018, 7(4), 88; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7040088 - 19 Dec 2018
Cited by 8
Abstract
Metals are an essential part of modern living. Ensuring the future supply of metals is a key issue in politics, science, and economics because the available amount of mineral resources is limited. To measure the depletion of mineral resources, several indicators are used. [...] Read more.
Metals are an essential part of modern living. Ensuring the future supply of metals is a key issue in politics, science, and economics because the available amount of mineral resources is limited. To measure the depletion of mineral resources, several indicators are used. Some of them are based on the ore grade, which has been decreasing over time and is thus taken as a sign of resource exhaustion. However, does this assumption hold true? This paper shows that the development of ore grades is mainly the result of the increasing demand and the outstanding technological improvements that made mining of low grade ores profitable. The usage of ore grades as an indicator may, therefore, lead to erroneous conclusions about the safeguard objects. These are not the metals themselves, but the environment that is impacted by their extraction. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Environmental and Social Pressures in Mining. Results from a Sustainability Hotspots Screening
Resources 2018, 7(4), 80; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7040080 - 01 Dec 2018
Cited by 8
Abstract
In recent years, increased interest and actions have been taken to better understand, and mitigate, sustainability impacts of mining activities, by both industry and policy. The present work reports on a sustainability hotspots screening performed for the EU Horizon 2020 “Integrated Mineral Technologies [...] Read more.
In recent years, increased interest and actions have been taken to better understand, and mitigate, sustainability impacts of mining activities, by both industry and policy. The present work reports on a sustainability hotspots screening performed for the EU Horizon 2020 “Integrated Mineral Technologies for More Sustainable Raw Material Supply” (ITERAMS) project, which foresees a more efficient water recycling, tailings valorization, and minimization of environmental footprint. The focus of this paper is on social and environmental issues in mining. Different methodologies were explored, starting from a qualitative causal loop modelling. Afterwards, an environmental and social LCA screening was performed using well-accepted databases and methods, thus completing results with a literature research. The main findings related to the importance of the supply chain, the vulnerability of local communities, and the toxic emissions from tailings offer a starting point to reflect on the specific social, socio-economic, and environmental context which may influence these issues. A better understanding of the environmental and social pressures associated with mining is not only crucial to orient the sustainability assessment foreseen for the ITERAMS project, but also to contribute in terms of methodology to the challenges tackled by policy and research worldwide towards a more sustainable mining. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Critical Natural Resources: Challenging the Current Discourse and Proposal for a Holistic Definition
Resources 2018, 7(4), 79; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7040079 - 01 Dec 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
Studies on critical natural resources have grown in number over the last decade out of concern for resource availability and its potential impacts. Nonetheless, only a handful of studies explicitly define criticality for natural resources. Through a systematic literature review, we identified four [...] Read more.
Studies on critical natural resources have grown in number over the last decade out of concern for resource availability and its potential impacts. Nonetheless, only a handful of studies explicitly define criticality for natural resources. Through a systematic literature review, we identified four main perspectives in the descriptions of critical natural resources: (1) economic importance is overemphasized at the expense of sociocultural and ecosystem support functions of natural resources; (2) a Western perspective dominates the research discourse; (3) apart from the field of economics, the debate lacks input from social sciences; and (4), non-renewable resources are overrepresented compared to renewables. Based on the current discourse and its apparent inclinations, we propose a new definition of criticality for natural resources aligned with risk theory. We argue for the need to balance out the perspectives described above to provide decision-makers with impartial information for the sustainable management of natural resources. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Metals for Fuels? The Raw Material Shift by Energy-Efficient Transport Systems in Europe
Resources 2018, 7(3), 49; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7030049 - 09 Aug 2018
Cited by 4
Abstract
The long-term transition towards a low-carbon transport sector is a key strategy in Europe. This includes the replacement of fossil fuels, modal shifts towards public transport as well as higher energy efficiency in the transport sector overall. While these energy savings are likely [...] Read more.
The long-term transition towards a low-carbon transport sector is a key strategy in Europe. This includes the replacement of fossil fuels, modal shifts towards public transport as well as higher energy efficiency in the transport sector overall. While these energy savings are likely to reduce the direct greenhouse gas emissions of transport, they also require the production of new and different vehicles. This study analyses in detail whether final energy savings in the transport sector also induce savings for material resources from nature if the production of future vehicles is considered. The results for 28 member states in 2030 indicate that energy efficiency in the transport sector leads to lower carbon emissions as well as resource use savings. However, energy-efficient transport sectors can have a significant impact on the demand for metals in Europe. An additional annual demand for 28.4 Mt of metal ores was calculated from the personal transport sector in 2030 alone. The additional metal ores from semiprecious metals (e.g., copper) amount to 12.0 Mt, from precious metals (e.g., gold) to 9.1 Mt and from other metals (e.g., lithium) to 11.7 Mt, with small savings for ferrous metal ores (−4.6 Mt). Full article
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