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Global material flows and demand-supply forecasting for mineral strategies

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MinFuture (Global material flows and demand-supply forecasting for mineral strategies)

Reporting period: 2017-12-01 to 2018-11-30

Raw materials are the backbone of supply chains in industrial production, playing a prominent role as a source for prosperity, growth and competitiveness in Europe. The global use of mineral raw materials has increased exponentially over the past decades, both in overall quantity, and in number and combination of minerals and elements used for different applications. Being able to access reliable, fair and sustainable supplies of mineral raw materials from the global commodity markets is a key challenge for the EU. The development of effective strategies for raw materials supply depends on reliable maps of the physical economy and robust forecasting tools for supply and demand.

MinFuture aims to address the challenges described above by pursuing three main objectives: (1) to develop a common methodology that creates transparency about the data and approaches used in models for global cycles of materials; (2) to strengthen international collaboration by integrating the networks, expertise and outreach of different governmental and intergovernmental agencies, business areas, and research disciplines; and (3) to create a methodological discourse and stimulate the broad adoption of a ‘roadmap’ towards harmonization among key institutions that are either providing or using data to analyse global resource stocks and flows.

Material Flow Analysis (MFA) is a generic methodology for describing matter and energy stocks and flows in systems defined in space and time, which can be employed on any scale. MinFuture aims to employ MFA concepts in order to develop a proof of concept for a “Google Maps of the physical economy in four dimensions”. The four dimensions covered by MinFuture are (i) stages along the supply chains, (ii) international trade of products along the supply chain, (iii) layers and linkages/conversions between them, including total mass of goods, mass of individual chemical elements, energy, or value, and (iv) time, both historical and future.
The MinFuture project team has laid the foundation for a common methodology through the “MinFuture pyramid”, a hierarchical structure of MFA components that build on each other. The aim of this methodology is not only to perform high-quality MFAs, but to provide a common data structure based on explicit system definitions that could enable the publication of government data in a systems context, which in turn would provide more transparency and facilitate data exchange, data harmonization, and the development of more robust maps of the physical economy. The team is currently working towards the testing of the common methodology through case studies on wind energy technologies, neodymium construction minerals, aluminum, cobalt, and phosphorus. During the first six months of the project, a set of raw materials was selected to be investigated further, the mapping of models and indicators and aiming to establish a common system definition. Due to the importance of involving a large number of stakeholders in the development of a global physical economy maps, the MinFuture team organized several workshops in Europe (at the JRC in Ispra, BGS in Nottingham) and in the U.S. (at USGS in Reston, UN Statistics in New York, and Yale in New Haven) including various stakeholders in order to develop a common ground for the development of a common methodology. This outreach activity and will continue to be a significant part of MinFuture throughout the project.

During the second half of the reporting period, the development of the MinFuture pyramid of MFA components was a central aspect. This gained acceptance from the consortium and stakeholders and will form the backbone for the common methodology and the roadmap. An additional key feature of the common methodology was the development of a set of “system design principles”. The system design principles are being developed in order to map the system context of measurements published in statistics (e.g. UN Statistics, geological surveys, or national statistical offices). Providing the system context to reported data is relevant for transparency and for facilitating data harmonization. For example, the system design principles have a great potential for supporting the development of the European Minerals Yearbook, and the MinFuture project will therefore develop guidelines for this application.
In total, the MinFuture project has been very successful in reaching its objectives in the first reporting period. The MinFuture bottom-up approach to data and mapping of system has gained a lot of attention from different stakeholders. Traditional MFAs have been primarily focused on finding data points that fit previously developed generic systems. In the MinFuture project, we focus on understanding the system itself and designing the systems in a way that better reflects data gathered by national and international organizations. The MinFuture project aims at making the data gaps explicit and by that strengthening the approach by being transparent about the system’s limitations and data gaps. This is novel in the MFA community and the common methodology currently being developed by the project is new approach that will strengthen MFA as a tool for strategy development and policy.

Many of the large societal challenges today, such as reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, are directly or indirectly linked through the physical economy. In order for governments to develop robust strategies for addressing these challenges, they need to understand the physical (socio-metabolic) systems that they are trying to change. In order to achieve this, it is essential that governments move from the measurements of isolated data points towards a monitoring of systems For example, the implementation of the Circular Economy strategy heavily relies on an understanding of the current form of the economy and its drivers. The applications of the maps of the physical economy proposed in the frame of MinFuture are therefore going beyond access to critical raw materials.

MinFuture explores maps of the physical economy in four dimensions: (1) stages, (2) linkages, (3) trade and (4) time. This requires a close collaboration with data providers and data users by providing a common understanding of what the data represents and what they are further used for which holds a large focus in the MinFuture project. By collecting data within a system context, the transparency and what the data represents are by default made explicit. A transparency that will benefit both data providers and data users in the future in addition to also allowing for a more concise monitoring of systems.
The MinFuture pyramid: the hierarchal components of Material Flow Analysis