The evolution of the biosphere has been constrained by the relative availability of the chemical elements, and all living matter mainly consists of the abundant elements, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The evolution of the industrial system, too, is constrained by the availability of elements as well as the sustainable use of them (Holmberg and Karlsson 1992; Karlsson 1996; Holmberg et al. 1996; Azar et al. 1996).
A key component of every industrial ecosystem is the energy system. The growth of the world population to nine or ten billion towards the second part of the 21st century and continued economic growth will immensely increase the demand for energy services. At the same time, the carbon dioxide emissions inherently linked to current fossil fuel energy technologies need to be reduced substantially over the century. Hence, there is a need for development and large-scale growth of a range of new technologies in the energy sector.
Some emerging technologies that are promising in the short term may, however, be constrained in the long term by their requirement for scarce metals. Constraints may materialize in the form of resource scarcity or detrimental environmental effects. In this chapter we discuss such long-term material constraints and the role they may play in forming or disrupting sustainable technology trajectories. We outline some implications of the assessment for policy and strategy as well as for the scope of industrial ecology. Throughout the chapter we give examples from three promising technology domains: batteries and fuel cells for electric-drive vehicles (EVs) and thin-film solar photovoltaics (PV).
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