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Environment

Investment in materials R&D could reap diverse benefits

by Cheryl Hogue
July 25, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 30

A United Nations report suggests that a large investment in materials-related R&D could help improve people’s well-being worldwide while reducing industrial production costs and environmental harm. Such R&D investment could quickly improve many sectors’ material efficiency—the amount of materials used per unit of gross domestic product—says the report by the International Resource Panel. This group consists of scientists who compile independent assessments about the sustainable use of natural resources and the environmental impacts of their use. The report finds that global material use grew from about 22 billion metric tons in 1970 to about 70 billion metric tons in 2010. The fastest growing use was of nonmetallic minerals used in construction, such as aggregate and sand. However, use of fossil fuels, metals, and biomass also rose quickly over the same time period. During the four decades studied, much economic activity has shifted from regions or countries with high material efficiency, notably Japan, Europe, and South Korea, to China, India, and Southeast Asia, which have much lower material efficiency.

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