Background

The concept of dematerialization as developed in the 1980s can be said to be applicable only to a select group of technologically inferior materials, and not to an overall decline in the use of materials in general. Throughout history, the introduction, growth and decline of materials have been recorded as newer, more technically advanced materials have come into use. Several ages have even been named after the dominant materials consumed during their span as witness the 'Stone Age', the 'Bronze Age' or the 'Iron Age'. When we examine individual materials, boilers in the early 1800s were made of cast iron or sheet iron; by the 1860s, steel boilers were being used in response to the need for weight reductions in order to increase efficiency and to reduce costs. Materials used in the construction industry have gone through similar changes over time. Natural stone was probably the first mineral commodity used by modern man. Dimension stone has been used for several millennia as a construction material. Since the late 1800s, the use of dimension stone in building has been partially replaced by concrete, glass and bricks, because of the

* Thanks are due to Haixiao Huang for his technical assistance.

superiority of the latter materials in that they were stronger, less heavy and less costly. In roofing, clay and slate tiles have been replaced by sheet metal, wood shingles, asbestos-cement shingles and synthetic materials. In response to the need for more fuel-efficient automobiles, aluminum has significantly replaced steel in the manufacture of lighter-weight cars. While aluminum earlier experienced very high demand growth, the newer aluminum alloys are now being challenged by a new breed of materials, including advanced alloys, ceramics and composites (Eggert 1986).

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