Raw Materials play a key role in fulfilling functions that meet our physical needs, but they have been defined quite differently.  Some consider raw materials as those that occur in the natural environment, i.e. part of natural resources (Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, COM(2005)670); others also consider (partially) processed natural resources (e.g. chemical, high-tech raw materials) or even processed waste (e.g. scrap: so-called secondary raw materials) (Raw Materials Initiative, COM(2008) 699).

A recent JRC publication proposes a proper definition and structuring of raw materials based on their sustainable supply (Dewulf et al., 2015). In this paper, primary raw materials are seen as the product of the primary production sectors that rely on the transformation of natural resources through growing, harvesting, mining and/or refining. The resulting raw materials are typically the first market commodities and are the base materials for further manufacturing and consumption processes, finally ending as waste, a potential source for secondary raw materials.

Through a holistic analysis, 85 non-energy primary raw materials were identified and structured, including metals (27), minerals and mineral materials (16), raw materials from fossils (11), terrestrial biomass (20), aquatic biomass (2), raw materials derived from water bodies (6), and raw materials derived from the atmosphere (3). Thirty primary energy raw materials were also identified: fuels from fossils (12), nuclear energy (2), terrestrial biomass (6), aquatic biomass (1), and renewable energy from flow resources (solar, hydropower, wind and tidal) (9).


[1] Dewulf, Jo; Mancini, Lucia; Blengini, Gian Andrea; Sala, Serenella; Latunussa, Cynthia; Pennington, David. 2015. Towards an overall analytical framework for the integrated Sustainability Assessment of the Production and Supply of Raw Materials and Primary Energy Carriers. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19(6) 963-977.

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