Climate protection and the energy transition are inconceivable unless raw materials are managed sustainably.
The important role of raw materials will continue to increase as the worldwide economy transforms towards climate-friendly technologies and products. Overcoming the climate crisis implies a substantial demand for raw materials. Among other things, historically significant raw materials such as copper are in high demand. However, rare earth metals for instance, such as neodymium, which are used in permanent magnets in electronic components, are also becoming increasingly important. Their relevance could increase dramatically, above all due to the introduction of forward-looking technologies aimed at climate protection. At the same time, the economic system of fossil-based raw materials such as natural gas and crude oil must be phased out to allow us to do business without a negative impact on the climate. To this end, hydrogen and carbon, the backbones of the raw materials industry, must be obtained from alternative, sustainable sources in future and raw materials must be utilised as efficiently as possible.
A large proportion of the raw materials that are critical for the energy transition in Germany and NRW come from abroad or can only be accessed from other countries. The sustainable security of supply chains is therefore a key element for the success of the energy transition in Germany and likewise in NRW. Alongside security of supply, it is also essential to further utilise existing potential for sustainability in the emissions-intensive and environmentally-polluting raw materials exploitation sector. The proven competency and technology of the North Rhine Westphalian raw materials sector can make a significant contribution in this respect.
Parallel to ensuring long-term security of raw materials, the Circular Economy approach, which is frequently highlighted at the EU and German levels, offers significant potential. This transformation of the economic system from a linear to a circular one can make a considerable contribution towards reducing long-term demand and thus also our dependence on raw materials from other countries. The concept of the circular economy involves products, materials, energy, resources and even waste products and residual material being recycled back into the loop at the end their useful life in order to use them again, repurpose and/or recycle them for as long as possible. This conserves resources and frequently reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The circular economy thereby promotes optimisation along the entire supply chain: in the procurement of raw materials, in product development and design, and in the increased use of secondary raw materials.