Renewable Matter # 2 / Numero #2

Elemental Sustainability

by James Clark

Today’s designers, industrialists and scientists can select virtually any chemical element to perform the specific function of their desire. As a result, modern technology makes use of practically the entire periodic table of elements as its tool box. Increasing use and lack of recycling of some of the more “critical” elements has raised concerns regarding their long-term availability. These concerns have reinforced interest in finding substitute materials as well as in the more draconian dematerialisation. While substitution may seem a reasonable course of action if we are to maintain or even increase our living standards, in most cases the potential for substitution has not been properly examined and other acceptable solutions need to be considered. In the long term we need to rethink our design strategy enabling a more closed loop approach to materials use, effectively keeping resources in circulation. However until that strategy is widely adopted we must both dramatically reduce materials losses through their lifecycle including the recovery of precious elements from waste streams. Thus a policy based on greater efficiency across an increasingly circular resource life-cycle seems to be the most practical and socially acceptable way forward.

The unique chemical and physical properties of metals mean that they are extensively utilised by industry in a huge variety of applications, including electronics, transport, materials, industrial catalysts and chemicals. The increased consumer demand from a growing population worldwide with rising aspirations for a better life has resulted in concerns over the...

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