This presentation from 2015 by Alicia Valero of the Spanish Research Centre for Energy Resources and Consumption (CIRCE, Zaragoza) is on critical materials, minerals scarcity, recycling and a “thermodynamic cradle-to-cradle approach”.

It features two Sankey-style diagrams depicting the mineral balance of the European Union (UE).

This first one is a Sankey diagram for the mineral balance without fossil fuels (‘Diagrama de Sankey para el balance mineral de la UE sin combustibles fósiles’).

Data is for the year 2011, Flows are shown in tons. Iron and limestone dominate the picture with 77% of the input. Limestone is produced (extracted) mainly within Europe, while iron is mostly imported.

The second Sankey diagram is a scarcity diagram (‘Diagrama de rareza para el balance mineral de la UE sin combustibles fósiles’) and takes into account thermodynamic exergy to obtain (mine) the minerals. Although it depicts aluminium, gold, ion, nickel and the likes, flows are shown in an en(x)ergy unit (Mtoe).

Iron and limestone which seemed to be the most important mass-wise only constitute some 10% of the input. Aluminium and potash seem to be much more difficult to produce. Rare earth elements (REE) are not included in this diagram.

The author points out that it is important to not only look at materials from a mass perspective. Looking at materials availability taking into account thermodynamic exergy paints a different picture of the real cost and scarcity.

For those interested, please check out the presentation (in Spanish) here.

Browsing my repository of Sankey diagrams I discovered this almost vintage example:


This is from a 1992 ecoprofit poject in Austria. To have 1 kg of dry paint applied to a surface, 2.16 kg material is needed. This includes solvents, overspray, and sludge for example. Interesting take on material efficiency.

Following up to my Aug 25, 2011 post on Global Steel and Aluminium Flows, I would like to recommend the follwing book that has just been released: Sustainable Materials – with Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, Vehicles, Products and Equipment – Made Efficiently and Made with Less New Material by Julian M. Allwood and Jonathan M. Cullen.

I’m hardly a hundred pages into reading, but I already love it. The book is very graphical (to say the least), well illustrated, with many graphs and photos, infographics and even historic images. Plus – and this is why it deserves to be presented here on the blog – it features a great number of Sankey diagrams.

I really enjoy the lego bricks in the steel making flow chart (pp. 121-127). You’re also going to love the ‘WhatsApp’-style chat between Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers (p. 181).

This book “faces up to the impacts of making materials in the 21st century. We’re already making materials well, but demand keeps growing and so we need to start using them well to.” (from the back cover)

Sustainable Materials with Open Eyes by Julian M. Allwood and Jonathan M. Cullen can obtained from Amazon and – I am pretty much sure – from your local book dealer. Here is the book’s website.