Discussion of the environmental limits of primary raw material extraction and development of a method for assessing the environmental availability of raw materials to further develop the criticality concept
The ecological availability of raw materials focuses on the environmental impacts of raw material extraction and the associated supply risks and thus addresses the question of possible ecological limits to growth. This question arises less in the sense of absolute limits to the availability of raw materials than in the sense of potential overexploitation of the environment through increasing raw material extraction, which is increasingly penetrating into previously untapped, ecologically sensitive areas. Extraction and processing are important environmentally relevant steps in the life cycle of primary raw materials. This involves comprehensive interventions in ecosystems for which neither systematically collected data nor scientifically satisfactory evaluation methods exist.
In the ÖkoRess project, a method was developed to assess the environmental hazard potential (EHPs) of raw materials and mining projects for the first time. In an iterative process, a site-related evaluation method was first developed and tested on the basis of 40 case studies. From this, a raw material-related evaluation method was derived and applied as an example to five raw materials. In addition, aggregated total EHPs can serve as a hazard radar for raw materials of particular environmental relevance and can be used to assess ecological criticality. Another component of the project, was the development of an evaluation system for the environmental hazard potential of mining residues.