The world is hungry for solutions that are both resource-efficient and cost-efficient. Examples include precision farming – which releases only the necessary amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients – and solar PV – for which there are a growing number of examples where policy mechanisms and technology innovation have made solar PV cost-competitive compared with electricity from, for example, gas-fired power plants.


A growing population that is able to buy more per capita is creating an unsustainable demand for our planet’s resources.

To enable our planet to provide for future generations, we must work towards sustainable practices for resource extraction and consumption. There are three key imperatives shaping the policy agenda:

  1. reducing our reliance on fossil fuels through electrification;
  2. adopting sustainable consumption of mineral resources; and
  3. improving the management of fresh-water resources.

Technology has potential to address all three of these imperatives, but possibly at a higher cost than customers are willing to pay. Cost-lowering technological development must therefore go hand-in-hand with efforts to develop innovative resource-efficient solutions.



Further advances in automotive and shipping will massify the electric and hybrid electric powertrain market, implying a shift towards Lithium-ion or next-generation batteries, with unique materials needs compared with traditional technology. Advances in vehicle and infrastructure technology are required to make this practical and viable to the wider public.

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Continual gains in the efficiency of solar PV cells are being obtained through improvements in materials science and fabrication. Wind power is enabled through the use of critical elements with singular magnetic properties such as neodymium. The geological distribution of many novel elements constrains the supply chain and elevates prices. Advances in the use of more common elements hold greater potential to increase the uptake of these technologies.

Further advances in automotive and shipping will massify the electric and hybrid electric powertrain market


There is a move away from resources that are either scarce relative to demand, or have a high energy input - e.g. the replacement of steel with lightweight alloys, typically comprising Magnesium, Aluminium, and Lithium, or novel designs that reduce the amount of steel required to obtain the same mechanical properties. These transitions will change the landscape of the materials supply chain, and spur technological innovation in refining, manufacturing, finishing and assembly.

Careful analysis is needed when substituting materials. E.g. Magnesium and aluminium are costly to produce but efficient, lightweight alloys can recoup the extra investment.


Innovation in energy storage is driven by the ability to manipulate and design materials at the nanoscale. This is enabling the development of batteries with higher capacities and longer lifetimes. While lithium is in rich supply across the globe, supporting elements required to make cathodes, such as nickel and cobalt, may introduce supply chain issues in the coming decades.


The threat of depleting mineral reserves has largely been offset by the discovery of new deposits and improved methods of extracting and refining lower quality ores. However, the general energy intensity of mining operations has increased steeply owing to falling ore body concentrations. Continued efforts are needed to find technological solutions to this challenge.

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In water-scarce regions, the battle against water losses will spur increased adoption of efficient irrigation and rainwater harvesting technology in agriculture, sensor-based surveillance of municipal water distribution systems, and a scale-up of renewable energy-powered desalination. Improved rainwater management techniques can boost crop yields by a factor of 2 to 4 in parts of Africa and Asia.


While commodity metals such as steel, magnesium, and copper, can be recovered relatively easily, small amounts of metals in, for example, electronic waste can be harder to recover. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) International Resource Panel therefore recommends recycling products rather than recycling individual metals. This shift is, however, currently hampered by a perception of higher costs, liability issues, and the fast pace of technological development.


Fresh water scarcity relative to demand will lead to increased reliance on reclamation, purification, and re-use of water discharges. Technology solutions will include residential re-use of waste-water for sanitation, reclamation of agricultural water run-off, municipal or decentralized waste water treatment facilities, and technologies capable of treating waste-water while generating energy.

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Efforts to reduce water consumption will require accurate benchmarking of actual use relative to target levels of efficiency. This may involve real-time monitoring of water distribution systems, efficiency labelling of water-consuming appliances, and metering of residential water consumption. Tailored policy mechanisms may follow, such as progressive pricing of water consumption, which in turn may encourage further technology-enabled efficiency gains.

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