There are so many different facets to sustainability – especially at a company such as ours that works each and every day to conserve our planet's natural resources and curb global warming. Why not take a trip around our 'World of Sustainability' to find out more?!
The whole notion of sustainability will be a lost cause unless we take action here and now to conserve our planet's natural resources. Future generations and today's developing countries will only be able to enjoy prosperous lives if steps are taken right now to counteract the growing shortages of raw materials. For us – being one of the world's leading recycling, service and water companies – there can be only one goal: to tackle this problem and lead by example. Why not join us on this path?!
'Recycling rather than disposal'. This is a principle that we never fail to follow – doing everything in our power to close product life cycles so that fewer raw materials need to be mined and processed using energy-intensive machinery. A principle we follow with the highest levels of commitment and always with state-of-the-art technologies. Recycling is far too important for us to sit back and be satisfied with what has been achieved so far.
Our planet’s raw materials are finite. And yet we still treat them as if they will last forever. A mere 14% of the raw materials needed in Germany are supplied by the recycling sector. And this despite the fact that recycled raw materials are not only of the same high quality but also better for our climate and carbon footprint.
The Lippe Plant in Lünen is not only a high tech site, it is also an important project for combatting global warming. The various activities carried out at the site help to cut carbon emissions by 466,000t every single year. For a forest to have the same effect, it would need to contain 37 million trees. Certainly a lovely place to take a walk in but perhaps not an ideal place for creating 1,400 jobs.
If anyone knows how the Green Deal works, then it is us. This can be seen not only by the innovative ways we produce recycled raw materials and renewable energies, but also by our many efforts to combat climate change. A good example of this is the ban on landfills here in Germany, which was initiated by us. We have been calling for such a ban to be adopted across the whole of Europe for many years now. This would lead to GHG emissions in one of the four biggest industrial sectors falling by 67% in one fell sweep.
According to the UN, access to clean water is a basic human right. Looking at the bare facts, however, 748 million people around the world are still taking their drinking water from polluted sources. What can local companies do to help here? A great deal – as can be seen by REMONDIS’ international projects.
Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all living organisms on Earth. There is, therefore, a great demand for this substance. Huge volumes of phosphorus are needed in Europe alone every single year – as a source material for products such as fertilisers and animal feed. The search is on, therefore, for innovations that are up to the challenge of recovering this substance.
People searching for an argument in favour of plastics recycling need look no further than at our seas and oceans. Vast areas of waste are floating around in them and are so big that they can even be seen from space. This problem, however, can only be solved on Earth – with more responsible consumer behaviour and systematic plastics recycling.
Unfortunately memories are not the only things left behind by brownfield sites. Such land is often highly contaminated. Every year, our company REMEX ProTerra handles, processes and treats 1.7 million tonnes of soil in order to reclaim land.
Disposable nappies are a real problem as far as sustainability is concerned. For the most part, they go from the changing mat straight into the residual waste bin – and from there to the incineration plant. This is most certainly not eco-friendly. And does absolutely nothing to conserve natural resources. The answer to this problem is to recycle them.
Dangerous substances are part of our everyday life. Empty batteries, for example, contain harmful mercury and must be recycled using special processes. REMONDIS is the right place to turn to here as well. We have access to state-of-the-art technologies for treating hazardous waste – including systems for recycling mercury.
Every year, REMONDIS’ Lippe Plant generates 336,900 MWh of carbon-neutral energy from incinerating waste – energy, therefore, that is produced without any fossil fuels. Moreover, we are constantly working on developing new ways to produce green electricity and heat.
Talking the talk but not walking the walk? Not at REMONDIS. It goes without saying that our all-encompassing view of sustainability also includes us being sustainable ourselves. This covers all aspects of our business – from the energy efficiency levels of our head office buildings, all the way through to ensuring that all our locations adhere to our high social standards, no matter where in the world they may be.
Every company tries to make a profit. And things are no different at REMONDIS either. For us, however, money is always a means to a good end – which is why a large part of the profits we make is invested in developing new and innovative recycling processes and technologies. Helping to preserve our planet’s valuable natural resources.
An ever growing number of employees are looking to find a job that allows them to do work that is both meaningful and sustainable. That’s exactly what they’ll find at our company – no matter what their qualifications or level of education may be. As far as we are concerned, our motto “Working for the future” also means making it possible for people to have a future.
Ergonomic workstation assessments are carried out at regular intervals to ensure our workstations are safe and healthy places. Moreover we have stringent safety standards in place so that our workforce remains healthy – and not just those who sit while they work but also those working high up in the air, such as our industrial climbers.
Our new head office building, which officially opened in 2010, is a prime example of high efficiency. Several of REMONDIS’ innovative recycled products were used for the construction work. The heat generated by the building’s own computer centre is used to heat the offices and meeting rooms. The temperature regulation system automatically turns the heating off in a room if a window is opened. All in all, a really smart building.
One of our company’s most important features is its decentralised organisation. We have built up close ties with the towns and cities where we are located and do everything in our power to support their local economy – in keeping, therefore, with our maxim of ‘thinking globally and acting locally’.
The movement to help preserve our planet’s natural resources is an international concern but the first step begins with each individual and the way they think. Dedication and a commitment to sustainability, therefore, must be thought through at global level but the message must also reach the people on the ground and must inspire them to join in. REMONDIS’ projects show how this can be done.
Sustainability is not a state or a condition but an ongoing process. First and foremost, sustainability is team work. Which is why we cooperate closely with experts and research institutes that also feel strongly about conserving our planet’s natural resources and preventing climate change. Such work always leads to new approaches and innovations.
We worked together with the independent Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT to develop this unique Sustainability Certificate. It provides our customers with documented proof of how our services help their business to conserve resources and cut carbon emissions.
Recycling starts much earlier than most people realise – namely when a product is actually being designed. It is certainly true that composite materials are very useful for our everyday lives. They are, however, causing a real problem when they are no longer needed as it is practically impossible – or only with a huge effort – to separate the materials from each other so that they can be recycled for reuse. The only way to solve this problem is to systematically implement the principle of ecodesign, which takes the environmental compatibility of a product into account from its development all the way through to the end of its useful life. Including the recyclability of the product and to what extent recycled raw materials can be used to produce it in the first place.
All around the world, local authorities and public sector customers are opting to work with REMONDIS and make the very most of its specialist knowledge. The outcome of setting up these so-called public private partnerships is stable fees for the local inhabitants as well as professional waste treatment processes – combined with the highest possible recycling rates. Positive outcomes that also benefit the environment.
One of the top priorities for companies wishing to run a responsible business is to ensure they have sustainable production processes in place. REMONDIS is always happy to help out here with its know-how. Our portfolio of services ranges from treating wastewater, to processing residual materials, all the way through to producing biogas – all of which are delivered on site at our customers'.
Raw materials don’t disappear, they are just hidden away. Today’s complex products consist of so many tiny elements that it seems practically impossible to recover them and separate them according to type. Focusing on material streams can make things much easier.
Copy our technology? Yes please! Our recycling operations in Lünen are acting as a role model around the globe and have even received an award from KlimaExpo.NRW. We have succeeded in transferring our know-how to many flourishing regions around the world, such as to the Eco Industrial Parks in Asia, which are now run in line with the Lippe Plant’s high standards.
The latest studies have revealed that each and every one of us could do a great deal more towards conserving our planet’s natural resources. Simply by separating our waste better – i.e. less commingling. If we all did this, then a further 7.8 million tonnes of recyclables could be returned to production cycles in Germany alone. This is the equivalent of a further 95kg per inhabitant per year.
A comparison with how nature works shows that what we call a circular flow or closed loop economy is often a bit misleading. This is because, more often than not, people fail to think in a holistic and all-encompassing way. This failure leads to recyclable materials and pollutants being mixed together during production processes, making it impossible for the products to be fully recycled at the end of their useful life. The so-called Cradle to Cradle® design concept aims to help out here.
Products are being developed and improved all the time – not least because of our society's desire to switch to renewable energy. Any environmental benefits that photovoltaic systems, wind turbines and composite insulation boards may bring, however, quickly fall by the wayside if they cannot be sensibly recycled once they reach the end of their useful life. This is where research work must step up to the mark.
Wherever we see an opportunity to drive forward the notion of sustainability and to fix it even more firmly in the minds of people, then we are there, full of passion and enthusiasm for the cause. This covers a whole range of activities – from educational projects, to acting as advisers, to supporting universities.
It makes no difference how many pamphlets politicians and scientists print out about the subject of resource conservation. What is important is just how much of their message is actually taken in by society. Which is why we are doing everything in our power to take the notion of sustainability to where it will truly be absorbed – to kindergartens and classrooms.
We are more than happy to share our knowledge with others. Each and every day, we advise politicians and trade associations about topics such as conserving natural resources and preventing climate change to ensure these issues are given the attention they deserve. Lobbying for sustainable development so to speak.
EURAWASSER Nord, a company belonging to the REMONDIS Group, has been collaborating with the University of Rostock since 1994 – carrying out research work together and promoting young talent. That's quite a few semesters – and quite a few projects as well, of course.
If everyone around the world consumed our planet's natural resources at the same rate as we do in Germany, we would need to have 2.7 Earths to satisfy their demand. There can, therefore, be only one solution: more responsible consumption habits, less waste, better recycling. REMONDIS works with, among others, NABU (German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) to help set the course for a more sustainable future.
The Steigenberger Hotel in Berlin was presented with the "Meeting Experts Green Award" in 2015. Why? Because the events held at the hotel focus on sustainability and carbon compensation. REMONDIS has been helping Steigenberger with its bespoke recycling concept, drawn up to cover the hotel chain's specific requirements.
Everyone is talking about the scarcity of raw materials and about sustainability. But what exactly is behind it all? We decided to do some research to find out what it’s all about – so that we could put together some pages with the most important background information for you to read.
The first time that attention was really paid to sustainability was during the UN Conference on Environment and Development, which was held in Rio in 1992. At the time, the delegates attending the event decided that the problem of greenhouse gases should be tackled in order to reduce levels of carbon emissions around the world. Practically no progress has been made since then. Which means we have even less time now to successfully combat the greenhouse effect.
Whilst sustainability is without doubt a global issue, it still needs to be tackled at national level with each government introducing their own national structures. So what are the different policies – at global, EU and German level? How is sustainability being approached by these different communities? This chapter provides some answers.
Sustainability needs action. Right around the world. The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs – which were drawn up and adopted in 2015 – describe what action needs to be taken so that all 7 billion people living on our planet can enjoy a high quality of life.
Every one of us has at some time or other heard or read of the ‘impending shortage of raw materials’. Just how serious is the situation though? How much of these natural resources do we actually have left and how can we consume less of them? We’ve put together a few examples that answer both these and a number of other questions.
The concept of sustainability is finding an ever greater audience – online as well. We have done our homework for you and sifted through the huge range of websites on this topic. The result is an interesting collection of websites, portals and blogs.
Every single year, huge volumes of natural resources are being wasted on making things that we don’t really need. Studies have discovered that people living in Germany use just a quarter of all their possessions on a regular basis. This means then that whenever we talk of a shortage of raw materials or of conserving our planet’s natural resources, we are automatically also talking about consumer behaviour. The excessive lifestyles of the world’s more affluent societies are primarily to blame for the fact that supplies of some raw materials are gradually being used up. Take indium – a material needed to produce flat screens – as an example: the Clausthal Institute of Environmental Technology (CUTEC) recently calculated the static lifetime of indium reserves to be a mere 13 years. There is a real risk, therefore, that there will be a shortage of this metal in just a few years’ time. On the surface, the situation appears to be much the same for copper, an essential component for practically all kinds of modern electronics. Economically viable reserves of copper – from today’s point of view – will have been used up in 39 years’ time. As is so often the case in life, however, the subject of raw material shortages is more complex than it would appear to be at first glance. There are a whole host of factors that play a role in determining whether supplies of a raw material are critical or not. Copper, for example, has not been added to the list of critical substances because there are very good recycling systems in place for this raw material and the current global recycling rate of 20% is likely to rise considerably in the future. Copper recycling rates in Germany already lie at 45%. There are, therefore, many things that countries around the world can do to improve their recycling figures.
|> Definitions: reserves v. resources|
|Two terms are often used to assess our planet’s supplies of raw materials: reserves and resources. The term ‘reserves’ is more informative simply because it is more relevant over the medium term. It refers to the volumes of raw materials that can technically and economically be expected to be mined. In contrast, the term ‘resources’ refers to an estimate of the amounts of raw materials that are believed to exist but are unable to be mined with today’s technology.|
The remaining length of time that raw materials are expected to be available to us is listed as the so-called ‘static lifetime’. This figure is calculated by dividing reserves and/or resources by current annual consumption
A number of different factors have to be taken into account to be able to come up with a reliable assessment of just how critical the situation is for the various raw materials. Besides looking at the static lifetime and the recyclability of a material, it is also important to evaluate its economic importance and its substitutability, i.e. whether the raw material can be substituted with another or not. Moreover, trade restrictions can influence supplies as can the location and the number of mines around the globe: Are the regions politically stable? How concentrated is production of the raw material? This is precisely what CUTEC has done – assessing just how critical the situation is for 14 different raw materials. We have summarised the information as an infographic which is also available as a download.
We have put together some more information about the various raw materials for all those interested in finding out more about this subject. These include a general description of the raw materials and their areas of use as well as some facts and figures about their recyclability and substitutability, their availability and current trade restrictions. All statements are based on CUTEC’s 2016 study.
Chromium is a silvery white, corrosion-resistant, malleable yet hard, paramagnetic metal with a high melting point (approx. 1,907 °C). Over 90% of the chromite mined across the world is used in metallurgy. With the majority of chromium being used in alloys, its other applications (such as in the chemicals industry or for refractory materials) play only a minor role.
Metallic chromium and trivalent chromium compounds (e.g. the naturally occurring chromite ore) present no risk to health. By contrast, hexavalent chromium compounds (CrVI) are poisonous, carcinogenic and mutagenic. They are primarily used as a corrosion inhibitor and as a primary product for numerous chromium compounds.
Approx. 27 million tonnes of chromium are currently being produced each year with chromium reserves lying at over 480 million tonnes. This means that it has a static lifetime of 18 years. If only the volume of reserves is taken into account, then chromium is a relatively scarce raw material. However, having said that, chromium resources are estimated to be a good 12,000 million tonnes. If mining continues at the same levels as today, then the static lifetime of the resources is over 444 years.
About 83% of chromium mining is carried out in three countries: South Africa produces the highest volumes (just under 56%), followed by Kazakhstan (14%) and India (13%). The market share of the producing companies, however, is not so concentrated with the three largest producers mining a total of just under 37%.
Chromium recycling currently lies at approx. 13% and is commercially viable – explaining why there is a high demand for steel and iron scrap containing chromium. Inorganic chromium compounds are being substituted more and more because of the health hazards they pose.
Chromium cannot be substituted in its main areas of use in metallurgy. According to a report published by the European Commission, supplies of chromium have been classified as critical. This can be put down to the production of chromium being so concentrated with the three largest producing countries dominating the market.
Several countries have introduced measures to restrict the trade of chromium. According to the information published by the OECD regarding export restrictions on raw materials, export tax is levied on chromium waste and scrap by Russia (6.5%) and Pakistan (25%). India also has export licensing requirements for chromium ore and concentrates. South Africa has introduced such licensing requirements for other chromium products as well.
Gallium is a silvery white metal. It is primarily needed to produce gallium compounds such as gallium arsenide, gallium nitride, gallium phosphide and gallium antimonide. These compounds are then used to manufacture semiconductors for integrated circuits (e.g. for smartphones) and optoelectronic devices (LEDs, laser diodes, photodiodes, solar cells etc). Moreover, these compounds are used for low melting point metal alloys or as a substitute for mercury in thermometers.
Experts are forecasting that the demand for gallium will increase enormously for thin film photovoltaics and microchips as well as for the area of white LEDs and other future technologies.
In 2015, gallium mine production lay at 435 tonnes. For the most part, gallium is obtained as a by-product of treating bauxite as part of the aluminium production process. A less common source of gallium is from processing zinc. The average gallium content in bauxite reserves is put at 50 ppm (ppm = part per million). Reserves of bauxite are estimated to be 28,000 million tonnes and resources to be 65,000 million tonnes.
There is no firm data about the production and reserves of gallium. However, by taking the data that is available and assuming that 95% of gallium is obtained from bauxite, it is possible to give a rough estimate of the gallium reserves and resources as well as to calculate its static lifetime. The results of these estimates reveal that the reserves of gallium currently lie at approx. 1.4 million tonnes and the resources at approx. 3.3 million tonnes. The extremely large bauxite reserves mean that gallium has a static lifetime of over 3,000 years. If the resources are taken into account, then this figure rises to 7,471 years. However, having said this, not all of the gallium in the bauxite reserves can be extracted.
There is no effective substitute for gallium arsenide for some of its areas of use in integrated circuits. Liquid crystals can be used in displays instead of LEDs. Indium phosphide or helium-neon can replace gallium arsenide in laser diodes. Silicon-based power amplifiers can be used as a substitute for gallium in mobile phones. Silicon is gallium's main competitor when it comes to solar cells.
According to the information published by the OECD, export restrictions have been imposed on gallium in several different countries. China uses a mixture of export tax (5%) and export quotas; export licensing requirements are also in place. Russia has imposed a 6.5% export tax.
In 2015, the price of gold was 8% lower than it had been in the year before and 30% lower than in 2012 when it hit an all-time record high. Gold is primarily used to produce jewellery, in the electronics industry (contacts), in dentistry, for coins and medals, as an investment, to gold plate surfaces as well as for optical applications (coatings, mirrors).
In 2015, global gold mine production amounted to 3,000 tonnes. Looking at the current reserves of 56,000 tonnes, gold has a static lifetime of 19 years. In 2015, 140 tonnes of gold were recovered from new and old scrap in the USA – just slightly less than total consumption of gold in the country. The amount of gold being recycled has been steadily dropping since 2011 due to the fall in price for producing primary sourced gold. Despite this fact, supplies of gold have not been classified as critical.
Approx. 34% of all gold mining is carried out by three countries: China mines the most with just under 16%, followed by Australia (10%) and India (8.1%).
The recyclability of gold is high. 25% of the gold being used in manufacturing processes has been recycled. Gold can be substituted in both electrical / electronic products and jewellery by using non-precious metals as the base material and then alloying this with gold. Many of these products are continuously being further developed so that the gold content can be reduced without performance being impacted.
According to the information published by the OECD regarding export restrictions on raw materials, Benin, Fiji, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa have all introduced export licensing requirements for their gold trade. Benin and Fiji have also imposed a 3% export tax. There would appear to be no other export restrictions in other countries.
Indium is a soft, silvery white heavy metal and can be used with most other metals to make alloys to increase the strength and the corrosion resistance of the alloy system. Indium tin oxide (ITO) is both transparent and electrically conductive making it an essential material for liquid crystal displays and flat screens.
Besides being used for thin film coating, low temperature alloys and soft solder (e.g. lead-free solder), indium is also used in semiconductors (e.g. in LEDs and laser diodes) as well as in thin film solar cells.
Indium will continue to be very important for display applications in the future and so demand for this material will increase. Other areas of application that will grow in importance include thin film photovoltaics and white LEDs. The amount of indium needed to produce LEDs and photovoltaic modules could make up 20% of primary sourced indium by 2020. This figure lay at 7% in 2012. Looking at the growing demand for smartphones and tablets, the share needed for display applications could grow by 5.5% every year.
In 2015, indium mine production lay at 755 tonnes. 95% of all indium is obtained as a by-product of zinc production processes. The average indium content in zinc reserves is put at around 50 ppm; zinc reserves and resources are estimated to be 200 million tonnes and 1,900 million tonnes respectively. The reserves, resources and static lifetime of indium have been calculated based on this data. The results of these calculations reveal that the reserves of indium currently lie at 10,000 tonnes and the resources at 95,000 tonnes. This puts the static lifetime of indium at just 13 years; if the resources are taken into account, this figure rises to 126 years.
Approx. 78% of all indium is mined in three countries: China mines the most (49%), followed by South Korea (approx. 20%) and Japan (approx. 10%). Production of indium is, therefore, extremely concentrated, occurring in just a few regions.
Indium is primarily recycled by treating residue from sputtering processes (cathode sputtering). Highly volatile prices and the concerns regarding the continued availability of indium have resulted in greater efforts being made to find substitutes for this material. It is, however, proving very difficult to find substitutes for its use in displays. First attempts have been made to use antimony tin oxide as a substitute. Antimony, though, is controversial because it is both toxic and carcinogenic. Carbon nanotubes are also being looked at as an alternative for ITO in displays, solar cells and touch screens. Supply risks exist, therefore, because indium is difficult to substitute in its main area of use (LCDs) and demand for indium can be expected to rise.
Supplies of indium from China are both restricted and highly regulated. Mining companies must apply for a licence and must comply with the export quotas imposed on them by the authorities. China introduced an export tax on indium in 2006; this was reduced from 15% to 5% in 2009. Russia also charges an export tax amounting to 6.5%.
Cobalt, a transition metal, is ferromagnetic and very hard. It maintains both its stability and its magnetic properties at high temperatures and has relatively low thermal and electrical conductivity. Future demand is expected to primarily come from manufacturers of lithium ion batteries as well as from businesses developing new areas of application for superalloys (e.g. hard-wearing cobalt chromium molybdenum alloys in orthopaedic implants, high temperature superalloys for the aviation industry). The use of cobalt in catalysts to produce synthetic fuels will also increase in the future.
In 2015, global cobalt mine production amounted to 124,000 tonnes. Reserves currently lie at 7.1 million tonnes giving cobalt a static lifetime of 57 years. There are estimated to be 25 million tonnes of terrestrial cobalt resources. More than 120 million tonnes of cobalt resources have also been identified in manganese nodules and crusts on the seabed.
50.8% of global mine production is carried out in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other important countries include China (5.8%), Russia (5.1%), Canada (5.1%) and Australia (4.8%). This means that about 62% of all mined cobalt comes from just three countries and approx. 72% from five countries.
Cobalt recycling rates lie at 16%. In some cases, substituting cobalt with another substance can lead to a loss in product performance.
Cobalt has been classified as a ‘conflict material’ as such a large percentage is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a country with a history of political instability, exploitation, corruption and civil war and which is also one of the poorest countries in the world.
Different countries use copper for very different purposes. At the moment, it is primarily used as copper metal and in alloys (brass, bronze, nickel silver) to make, for example, pipes, cables, wires and sheet metal.
Furthermore, copper is effectively the basis for all future electrical and electronic technologies. This soft and malleable metal does not corrode when exposed to air (forms a protective oxide layer) and is only affected by oxidising acids. Copper can be further processed into many different shapes such as sheets, films and wires. Its most important properties are its electrical conductivity, its thermal conductivity as well as its ability to be alloyed with many other metals.
Annual global production of copper currently lies at approx. 19 million tonnes. Global copper reserves are estimated to be 720 million tonnes [USGS 2016] giving it a static lifetime of 39 years. The amount of copper resources that have been identified have been put at around 2,100 million tonnes, which would mean that – at the current rate of consumption – the resources would be sufficient for approximately another 112 years.
The main export country is Chile with a share of approx. 31% of global production. Other important countries include China (9.4%), Peru (8.6%), the USA (6.7%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5.3%).
Added together, the three most important mining countries have a share of approx. 49% of global production. The three most important producing companies have an overall share of a good 29.4%.
Copper is easy to recycle; the rates of recycling given, however, differ between 20% and 47%. German recycling rates (over 40%) clearly show that much can still be done in this area. The almost unique properties of copper – primarily due to its electrical conductivity – make it difficult to substitute.
According to the information published by the OECD, China has reduced VAT rebates on copper wiring. Indonesia has export licensing requirements for copper waste and scrap. Russia uses a variety of export taxes ranging between 10% and 50%. Zambia also imposes an export tax of 15% on various copper materials. There are a number of other countries that have also imposed trade restrictions on copper.
For the most part, niobium is found in nature as pyrochlore or niobite (mixed crystal with iron, tantalum and manganese). A further ore containing niobium and tantalum elements is coltan (columbite-tantalite ore). Niobium has a very high melting point (2,468°C), is resistant to all acids except hydrofluoric acid and is only affected by molten alkalis. It is air-stable and corrosion resistant, also at high temperature. Furthermore, it has very good electrical and thermal conductivity. Niobium is used in many different applications thanks to its special properties.
In 2015, niobium production amounted to around 56,000 tonnes with reserves lying at around 4.3 million tonnes. This means it has a static lifetime of 77 years [USGS 2016]. A look at the producing countries reveals that Brazil is practically the only country supplying niobium with a share of over 89%. Canada supplies around 9% of niobium requirements. The situation is similar for the producing companies: the three most important firms produce practically all supplies of niobium (approx. 93%).
Niobium recycling rates have been put at 11%. Whilst niobium can be substituted in a number of different areas, such substitutions may involve high costs and/or a loss in product performance.
According to the OECD, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam have imposed an export tax of 5% and 20% on niobium ore and concentrates. Export licensing requirements exist in Grenada, Rwanda and the Philippines. There would appear to be no trade restrictions in either Brazil or Canada.
Phosphorus is used by the agricultural sector as a fertiliser as well as to manufacture foodstuffs and animal feed. It can also be found in detergents, corrosion inhibitors and flame retardants.
Phosphorus is produced from phosphate rock. Annual global production of phosphate rock currently lies at approx. 223 million tonnes. Global phosphate rock reserves are estimated to be 69,000 million tonnes which gives it a static lifetime of 309 years. Resources of phosphate rock have been put at approx. 300,000 million tonnes, which would mean that – at the current rate of consumption – the resources would be sufficient for around another 1,345 years.
Approx. 71% of all phosphate rock is mined by three countries: China has the biggest share (approx. 45%) followed by Morocco (approx. 14%) and the USA (approx. 12%). Together the three most important producing companies have an overall share of a good 65%. Production of phosphate rock is, therefore, very concentrated – both from point of view of region and producing companies.
Phosphorus can, in principle, be recycled. REMONDIS has developed a patented system that enables phosphorus to be recovered from sewage sludge ash. To learn more, simply go to phosphorus recovery.
It is not possible to substitute phosphorus in its main area of use, i.e. in agriculture. It may be possible to exploit the phosphorus deposits on the seabed in the future but only if such an enterprise can be made commercially viable.
No trade restrictions known.
Platinum group metals (PGMs)
Platinum group metals consist of the six elements: platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, osmium and iridium. The CUTEC study primarily focuses on platinum and palladium. All of the platinum metals are very rare, expensive and chemically inert and all are used – except iridium – as a catalyst or catalyst additive. The density of platinum (21.5 g/cm³) is twice that of palladium. In contrast, the electrical conductivity of palladium (9.5·106 S/m) is almost identical to that of platinum (9.7·106 S/m) – both these values, however, are considerably lower than those of either silver or copper.
In 2015, global production of platinum amounted to 178 tonnes and of palladium to 208 tonnes. The reserves of both elements have been put at around 66,000 tonnes giving them a static lifetime of 171 years. The resources are estimated to be 100,000 tonnes.
Supplies of platinum and palladium, however, have been classified as ‘particularly critical’ as mining activities are primarily carried out in South Africa (approx. 51%) and Russia (approx. 27%). The market share of the three largest companies lies at almost 68%. Production of platinum and palladium is, therefore, very concentrated – both from point of view of region and producing companies.
Recycling rates lie at just under 35%. The method used to recycle industrial catalysts is considered to be particularly efficient. The economic importance of platinum, palladium and rhodium is very high indeed and all these elements are difficult – and, in some cases, impossible – to substitute in many of their areas of use. According to a study published by the European Union, whilst substitution may be possible, it also involves high costs and/or a loss in product performance. The options available to substitute platinum and palladium are, therefore, extremely limited.
Many countries consider supplies of PGMs to be ‘at risk’ or ‘critical’ as mining is restricted to just a few countries. At the moment, however, PGMs are being traded all around the world and no trade restrictions have been identified. Russia currently imposes a 6.5% export tax on all PGM exports. The 2012 miners’ strike in South Africa also had an impact on PGM production. This could happen again in the future.
Tantalum is primarily found in nature as tantalite or as microlite and wodginite. As is the case with niobium, it is also contained in coltan. Tantalum has a very high melting point (2,996°C). It is hard but also ductile and malleable. Moreover, it is resistant to all acids except hydrofluoric acid and alkalis, is corrosion resistant and has very good electrical and thermal conductivity. Tantalum is used in a great number of very different fields thanks to its special properties. 42% of all tantalum, though, is used to produce micro-capacitors in computers, vehicle electronics and mobile phones as well as by the aerospace and aviation industries.
In 2015, tantalum mine production lay at almost 1,200 tonnes. With reserves of around 100,000 tonnes, it has a static lifetime of 83 years. For the most part, resources have been identified in Australia, Brazil and Canada but specific figures are not available.
Approx. 79% of all tantalum mined comes from three countries: Rwanda has the highest share of the market (50%) followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (approx. 17%) and Brazil (approx. 13%). Production of tantalum is, therefore, extremely concentrated with the three largest producing countries dominating the market.
According to the EU, 6% of tantalum is currently being recycled. In general, it is possible to substitute tantalum with another substance but the substitutes may not necessarily achieve the same performance. It should be noted here, however, that supplies of the alternative material, niobium, have also been classified as particularly critical.
Trade restrictions have been imposed by several different countries. According to the information published by the OECD, Rwanda is the only producing country to monitor its production of tantalum. Rwanda has export licensing requirements for tantalum ore and concentrates and has banned the export of tantalum waste and scrap. China has reduced VAT rebates on tantalum and tantalum products. Russia has levied an export tax (6.5%) on tantalum waste and scrap.
Titanium unites many interesting properties. It is very light and has great mechanical strength. Furthermore, it has a high melting point and low thermal expansion coefficients and is resistant to many substances (including acids and salt water). Titanium and titanium alloys are, therefore, very important for many applications. Around 95% of the titanium produced worldwide is used as titanium dioxide and can be found in paints, varnishes, plastics, paper, glass and ceramics. The remaining 5% is processed into titanium metal.
Demand for this metal is expected to increase as new areas of use are discovered (corrosion inhibitor for seawater desalination plants, implants, miniaturized capacitors, dye solar cells, superalloys).
The static lifetime for this metal has been put at 130 years with mine production lying at 6.1 million tonnes and reserves at 790 million tonnes.
Despite its great economic importance, supplies of this metal have not been classified as critical as there is a sufficient number of producing countries spread across the world (Top 3 countries: approx. 38%).
6% of titanium is currently being recycled. Titanium dioxide can be substituted in many applications. It is, however, very difficult to substitute titanium in high-tech products because of its excellent strength, its resistance to corrosion and its very light weight.
Several countries have imposed trade restrictions. The Ukraine and Vietnam charge export tax on titanium waste, scrap, ore, concentrates and products – with the tax rate varying between 5% and 45%. A number of other countries have also introduced trade restrictions.
Tungsten is only found in chemical compounds in nature and never in its elementary form. Tungsten has robust physical properties and has the highest melting point of all unalloyed metals and the second-highest of all elements after carbon. Tungsten is primarily used in alloys to produce hard and high temperature alloyed steels.
In 2015, global mine production amounted to just under 87,000 tonnes with reserves of 3.3 million tonnes. This gives it a static lifetime of 38 years. There are no firm figures available about the potential resources; it is merely stated that tungsten resources are widely distributed around the world. Production of tungsten is very concentrated with the market being highly dependent on China as it is by far the biggest producer (approx. 82%). Vietnam (5.7%) and Russia (4.4%) are next on the list but they produce far less tungsten. This means that these three countries own over 91% of global tungsten resources. Moreover, Chinese state-owned firms have a market share of over 83% so that China practically monopolises the market.
Tungsten recycling rates have been put at 37%. The recycling of the material is very dependent on economic conditions. As a general rule, though, it can be recycled. Substituting tungsten for another product may – in some areas of use – lead to higher costs or to a loss in product performance.
China has imposed trade restrictions on tungsten. Export quotas have been reduced over the last few years.
Zinc is primarily used to protect steel against corrosion. It is, however, also used to produce zinc-based die-casting alloys and brass alloys, medicines, cosmetics, paints, varnishes, ceramics and pigments.
Annual global zinc production currently lies at 13.4 million tonnes. Global zinc reserves have been put at 200 million tonnes giving it a static lifetime of 15 years. Zinc resources have been estimated to be approx. 1,900 million tonnes, which would mean that – at the current rate of consumption – the resources would be sufficient for another 142 years.
36.6% of all zinc production is carried out by China. Other important countries include Australia (11.8%), Peru (10.2%), the USA (6.3%) and India (6.2%). This means that just three countries are responsible for approx. 59% of all zinc mining activities and five countries for approx. 71%. Together, the three most important producing companies have an overall share of a good 54.2%.
Zinc recycling rates lie at almost 8%. Many elements can be used as a substitute for zinc when it comes to chemicals, electronics and pigments. Substitution is, therefore, at least possible for these applications.
Several countries have imposed trade restrictions on zinc. China has reduced VAT rebates on various zinc products. Russia has imposed an export tax (30%) on zinc waste and scrap.
Zircon is the most important naturally occurring mineral of the element zirconium and is used in the ceramics industry for wall and floor tiles, bathroom and technical ceramics, glazes and enamels. Moreover, zirconium can be found in chemicals, in basic moulding material used by foundries, in refractory products, television tubes, abrasives, glass and explosives.
In 2015, zirconium production amounted to around 1.41 million tonnes. With reserves lying at 78 million tonnes, it has a static lifetime of 55 years. The resources have been estimated to be 60 million tonnes which means its static lifetime – from point of view of resources – is 43 years.
A look at the producing countries shows that Australia has a share of approx. 36%, South Africa 27% and China approx. 10%. This means that just under 72% of global production is carried out by three countries. Other important countries include Indonesia (ca. 8% of global production) and the USA (approx. 4%). The five biggest producers, therefore, are responsible for approx. 85% of global production. The Top 3 producing companies have an overall share of a good 66%. Production of zircon is, therefore, very concentrated – both from point of view of region and producing companies.
There are no figures available regarding zircon recycling rates. The options for substituting zircon are very limited. The high demand for zircon and the fact that it cannot be substituted in certain applications have resulted in the supplies of this raw material being classified as particularly critical.
China has imposed trade restrictions on zircon. Export quotas have been reduced over the last few years.
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