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Guiomar Calvo, Alicia Valero, and Antonio Valero (2017)

Thermodynamic Approach to Evaluate the Criticality of Raw Materials and Its Application through a Material Flow Analysis in Europe

Journal of Industrial Ecology, 0(0):0.

This paper makes a review of current raw material criticality assessment methodologies and proposes a new approach based on the second law of thermodynamics. This is because conventional methods mostly focus on supply risk and economic importance leaving behind relevant factors, such as the physical quality of substances. The new approach is proposed as an additional dimension for the criticality assessment of raw materials through a variable denoted “thermodynamic rarity,” which accounts for the exergy cost required to obtain a mineral commodity from bare rock, using prevailing technology. Accordingly, a given raw material will be thermodynamically rare if it is: (1) currently energy intensive to obtain and (2) scarce in nature. If a given commodity presents a high risk in two of the three dimensions (economic importance, supply risk, and thermodynamic rarity), it is proposed to be critical. As a result, a new critical material list is presented, adding to the 2014 criticality list of the European Commission (EC) Li, Ta, Te, V, and Mo. With this new list and using Sankey diagrams, a material flow analysis has been carried out for Europe (EU‐28) for 2014, comparing the results when using tonnage and thermodynamic rarity as units of measure. Through the latter, one can put emphasis on the quality and not only on the quantity of minerals traded and domestically produced in the region, thereby providing a tool for improving resource management.

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