November 8-12, 2015
The essential link to a sustainable future on our planet may be composite materials. Energy efficiency drives research and development toward lighter, stronger, and cheaper materials, and the general strategy of greater inhomogeneity at ever-finer length scales appears a good bet for technology development via a qualitatively new scaling. Advanced composites offer superb advantages, and this hope shines brighter with the promise of greater control in manufacture, voxel-by-voxel, under digital control.
However, even the prospect of doing fundamental research let alone development and widespread production in this important area will eventually be limited by the availability of materials unless we solve the problem of true sustainability. In the face of inexorable pressure for lifestyle advances, in developing and developed countries alike fueled by improvements in education and health care, there may come a day when essential materials research becomes out of reach due to lack of research quality resources.
In this talk, I introduce and discuss the concept of criticality assessment applied to emerging technologies. Criticality evolves in time, and it differs between “emerging” vs. “mature” technologies. Aspects of supply risk beyond scarcity often dominate, such as regulation and geopolitical risk (including conflict minerals, international tensions, minerals rights, and reserves under military control). However, scarcity (Fig 1 from Ref 2) looms as the final arbiter. “Importance” metrics will be illustrated using the DOE Critical Materials Plan and a recent report on energy critical elements. I conclude with careful speculation about the roles of resilience and adaptation in future risk analysis, drawing on the Global Trends 2030 report.
 Critical Materials Strategy, US Department of Energy, 2013, http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/DOE_CMS2011_FINAL_Full.pdf  Energy Critical Elements, American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society, http://www.aps.org/policy/reports/popa-reports/upload/elementsreport.pdf  Global Trends 2030 Report, National Intelligence Committee, 2012, https://cgsr.llnl.gov/content/assets/docs/Global_Trends_2030-NIC-US-Dec12.pdf