Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW)
Through their increasing use in innovative technical products our society is dependent upon rare metals as never before. It is unclear how the rising demand can be satisfied in the future. Workable deposits of rare metals are often restricted to just a few regions, resulting in political and economical critical dependencies. Generally, moreover, rare materials are not mined in isolation, but occur as by-products of the extraction of other elements. Thus the availability of rare materials is not just influenced by the direct demand for a specific element. An added complication is that rare metals are nowadays only recycled to a limited extent.
The concrete examples in this paper show that the way we handle rare materials today could lead to critical situations in the future. We therefore need to find more sustainable ways of handling them. This will require a better understanding of the corresponding material cycles and specific, coordinated measures anchored in international institutions.