Metals, minerals and other natural materials are part of our daily lives. Raw materials that are important economically and have a high supply risk are called critical raw materials. Critical raw materials are essential to the functioning and integrity of a wide range of industrial economic eco-systems. The metals Gallium and indium essential for inorganic light-emitting diode (LEDs) technology used as low-energy consumption lamps.
The Lithium ion battery industry uses huge amounts of the metals Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, Manganese, Aluminium, Copper and the natural material graphite. Semiconductors and future Gen’s of Lithium-ion-batteries need silicon metal. Hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzer’s (electrolyser) to generate elemental hydrogen gas for energy storage purposes (hydrogen as energy carrier) need platinum group metals.
Governments negotiate about strategic plans to achieve raw material autonomy and diversify supply chains. Rapidly increasing global resources demand needs to be addressed by reducing and reusing materials before recycling them.
The enormous appetite for resources (energy, food and raw materials) is putting extreme pressure on the planet, accounting for half of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress. Scaling up the intelligent circular economy will be important to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, while decoupling economic growth from e.g. metal mining.
Achieving national and regional raw material security requires action to diversify supply from both a) primary and b) secondary sources. Generally, 1) reduce dependencies and 2) improve resource efficiency and circularity, and 3) product should designed sustainably and 4) technology innovation and scientists should enable material substitution by engineering new functional materials. The substitution of critical industry metals indium, cobalt or platinum is highly desired.
Successful examples of the material substitution strategy using new functional organic raw materials
Plant-based carbon-precursor for the production of polymers. Examples are thermoplastic starch, polylactic acid and cellulosed-based caster-oil -based and bio-polymers which are manufactured at large scale in Switzerland.
Organic-LEDs OLEDs and Organic Light-emitting electrochemical cells (LECs) can substitute for the precious metal-intense inorganic LED technologies.
Swiss Battery has been successfully developing an early-stage organic-based product using renewable materials for battery electrodes used in lithium-ion cells to substitute the critical cobalt-metal.
Lignocellulosic biomass which is the most abundantly raw material on the Earth is used for the for the production of biofuels (substitution of fossil fuels) to give mainly bio-ethanol. The biofuels ethanol and methanol can be made using CO2 or from the air which can help to achieve carbon neutrality.