Research Platform Conflict Minerals
Green technology, renewable energy, resource ef ciency – these are the catchwords of the day as we seek to sever our reliance on fossil fuels. But with the energy transition comes the dependency on new materials. They don’t pose the problems of fossil fuels, but pose problems of their own. In 2017/2018 a multidisciplinary working group will explore these questions. It will amplify and extend scientiﬁ c competence at TU Darmstadt through an international network of researchers. The Energiewende entails signiﬁ cant changes in the use of resources. While steel, wood and concrete still make up the bulk of used materials, the technologies to produce energy from wind, geothermal sources, solar radiation, or the tides utilize numerous other substances in varying quantity. In many of the materials needed, rare earth elements are a vital component. This dependence presents numerous economic, political and ethical challenges. Often the working conditions in the mines are problematic, some of the deposits are subject to violent conﬂ ict which serve to acquire funds to arm militants. With only a few countries exporting these materials, geopolitical constellations become more complicated, advanced technological systems become more vulnerable. At the same time, there is a lack of compelling design concepts for recovering and recycling conﬂ ict minerals. By delegating many of the risks associated with these minerals to poorer countries with fewer protections, we make ourselves dependent on particularly these countries. Whether mutual dependency promotes conﬂ ict or peaceful cooperation is an open question – how green tech- nologies are developed may have a lot to do with this.