raw material

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Raw materials are the unprocessed raw materials obtained from nature through primary production , which are either consumed immediately or used for industrial processing .


Raw materials therefore do not include slightly processed basic materials, semi-finished products , semi-finished products , intermediate goods or intermediate products , and certainly not end products . If natural products can be consumed unprocessed, they belong to the raw materials.


A general distinction is made between primary raw materials and secondary raw materials :


There are different systems for the classification of raw materials. Frequently used criteria for systematic classification are their natural properties, the degree of processing and regenerability, the origin and the intended use.

Natural properties

A distinction is made between organic and inorganic raw materials based on their natural properties . The former come from living nature. They include plant and animal substances including microorganisms . The source of inorganic raw materials are resources of inanimate nature including water and air .


The raw materials are divided into renewable and non-renewable according to the degree of regenerability . Renewable raw materials from the animal and plant kingdom, but also inorganic substances such as water, air and sun . Mineral and fossil raw materials that have formed over geological or astronomical periods (e.g. petroleum and metals) are not considered to be renewable through human influence .


Raw materials come from different areas of the earth's spheres . The plant and animal substances are obtained from the biosphere , the water and fish from the hydrosphere , the oxygen from the earth's atmosphere and the mineral raw materials from the lithosphere . Places on the earth's surface where raw materials have accumulated in a mineable form are called deposits . The building quality is determined by factors such as the quantity, quality or location of the raw material.

Extraction and use

A distinction is made between agricultural and industrial raw materials according to the way they are obtained and their intended use.

Agricultural raw materials are supplied by agriculture , forestry and fishing . They can be of animal or vegetable origin. Raw materials such as grain , meat , fish and organic oils are processed into food , luxury goods and animal feed . Organic waste can be used as a raw material for biogas production.

Products of agricultural production , which serve as raw materials for industrial utilization purposes such as wood , rubber , cotton , industrial fruit , medicinal plants or rape are referred to as industrial raw plant materials.

Industrial raw materials from inorganic and fossil resources are mainly extracted as mineral resources in mining . They are divided into four groups:


Raw materials have always been extracted, used and traded by humans. Entire epochs of prehistory and early history such as the Stone Age , the Bronze Age or the Iron Age are named after the raw materials that shaped them.

The demand for raw materials is largely determined by the level of technological development of a civilization. In the course of technological change processes, the demand for raw materials is also constantly changing: raw materials that were previously in demand are becoming obsolete and there is a demand for raw materials that were previously not needed or could not be exploited due to a lack of available technology.

In modern times, the demand for and demands on raw materials have increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution . With increasing knowledge in geology , chemistry and materials engineering , more and more raw materials and raw material deposits are discovered and new uses are found.

Since the publication of the study The Limits to Growth in 1972 and the subsequent oil crisis , which resulted in economic stagnation and forced restrictions on the population (e.g. driving bans on Sundays ), the public in many industrialized countries has also become aware that no raw material is available in unlimited quantities.

Today, with 70 billion tons per year, twice as much raw materials are extracted as in the late 1970s. Per capita consumption in Europe is four times higher than in Asia and five times higher than in Africa . With a raw material consumption of 200 kg per capita and day, Germany is among the leaders in the world.

World trade and politics

Raw materials represent more than a third of all goods in world trade . Global trade is carried out via organized commodity futures exchanges . The pricing is influenced by oligopoly-like market structures. Many raw materials can only be obtained with considerable investment . In particular, the exploitation of mineral and fossil materials is often concentrated in a few multinational corporations .

The cultivation, extraction and processing of raw materials often take place in different countries. In the past few years, rapidly growing tiger states such as India, Brazil and China have increasingly appeared as buyers of raw materials. In particular, the demand for iron ore is increasing on the part of these countries. The contrast between exporting and importing countries, which had developed since the beginning of the 20th century, made commodity trading an object of national political interests. The basics of an international raw materials policy were laid down in 1927 at the World Economic Conference in Geneva.

In particular, the resource-dependent economies (industrialized countries) need free market access to resources. This applies above all to non-ferrous metals , but also generally to less transparent markets such as the recycling market. In many cases, valuable raw materials are re-exported here, although they are needed domestically. In addition, some raw material-importing emerging countries distort the market because they only pay attention to the price and not to ethical, social and ecological criteria in the mining countries. International politics ( EU , G7 , UN, etc.) would like to prevent this temptation, which due to market constraints, companies from industrialized countries can of course succumb to at any time, through regulated, non-discriminatory export markets.

Conflicts in raw materials trade arise from conflicting private and national interests, especially between industrialized and developing countries . The need for global agreements that take into account the increasing demand for raw materials on the one hand and environmental protection and resource conservation on the other, has led to a number of international agreements and organizations. The most important of these are UNCTAD, representing the interests of developing countries, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea , which regulates the exploitation of marine resources, the Antarctic Treaty and OPEC as the association of petroleum exporting countries.

Commodity market

Trading venues

The world's largest commodity futures exchange is the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). On this exchange are metals , energy products, agricultural commodities traded and other products. The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), founded in 1848, is the world's oldest futures exchange and part of the CME Group . More than fifty different futures transactions are processed by over 3,600 CBOT members, both through floor trading and electronically . Another exchange is the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). Above all, futures and options on various goods are traded on the CME .

For industrial metals such as aluminum , lead , copper , nickel , zinc and tin which is the London Metal Exchange (LME) is responsible. With the exception of copper and aluminum, which are also traded on NYMEX in New York , the LME has almost a monopoly on all other metals. The ICE Futures (formerly "International Petroleum Exchange," IPE) is trading platform for Europe's leading oil grade Brent . It is the largest futures exchange for options and futures on oil , natural gas and electricity in Europe.

The London Bullion Market is the most important over -the-counter (OTC) trading place for gold and silver, as well as one of the globally important commodities trading places in London. The world market price for gold has been determined here since 1919 and the world market price for silver since 1897 . Trading is coordinated by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). The pricing for the precious metals platinum and palladium takes place at the London Platinum and Palladium Market (LPPM). Like the London Bullion Market, the LPPM is the exception among the commodity markets: it is not an exchange, but an OTC market.

Commodity indices

The Thomson Reuters / Jefferies CRB Index measures the price development of 19 commodities relevant for world trade . It was first calculated in 1958 by the Commodity Research Bureau (CRB) in the USA. The index is considered to be a superordinate indicator for the entire raw materials sector. Today's commodity index, called the CRB Index, cannot be compared with the historical CRB Index. It was fundamentally revised in 2005 when its traditional calculation method was no longer up to date. The original CRB Index has since continued under the name Continuous Commodity Index ("Old CRB Index").

Other commodity indices are the Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index (formerly Dow Jones-AIG Commodity Index), the Rogers International Commodity Index (RICI) and the S&P GSCI (formerly Goldman Sachs Commodity Index). A food - price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations , the FAO Food Price Index (FFPI). It records the development of world market prices for various agricultural raw materials and foods. The HWWI raw material price index is a comprehensive raw material index.

In contrast to commodity indices, commodity stock indices do not reflect the performance of the commodities but that of the stock corporations. Examples are the NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index (HUI), a stock index of the international gold producer and mainly Gold promoting mining company, and the Philadelphia Gold and Silver Index (XAU), are listed in the international gold and silver producers.

Over 90% of world trade, almost 95% of foreign trade in the European Union and almost 70% of German imports and exports are carried out by sea. The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) is an important barometer of sentiment for world trade and thus also for the world economy . The BDI is a price index for the worldwide shipping of major cargo (mainly coal, iron ore and grain) on standard routes. It has been published daily by the Baltic Exchange in London since 1985 .

Commodities as an asset class

Commodities are an asset class of their own and are considered alternative investments . Due to its high volatility , this asset class is often the subject of speculative investments. An investment in raw materials ( commodities ) is usually not made in physical stocks, but in futures transactions on raw materials or exchange-traded exchange-traded commodities . Fundamentally, four major groups are distinguished in raw material investments: agricultural raw materials, precious metals, industrial metals and energy raw materials. In particular, the investment in agricultural raw materials is ethically controversial. By far the most popular investment products are precious metals with gold at the top. Gold is often seen as a hedge against inflation and crisis situations.


Large-scale extraction of raw materials can lead to significant environmental problems. Examples are pollutant releases in coltan and uranium open-cast mining , oil spills , large clearances and grazing for logging and energy plant cultivation and the destruction of landscapes and ecosystems when brown coal open-cast mining . To minimize these dangers, codes of conduct are being drawn up by mining companies, national governments and international organizations. In addition, the international community develops transparent standards for ecologically and socially sustainable practices in mining, raw materials trading and processing. However, their implementation is often not guaranteed and verifiable in many countries, or only to a limited extent, so that considerable damage to people and the environment continues, some of which has irreversible consequences.

Availability and range

From an economic point of view, in a closed, integrated economy with a given production technology, the scarce production factor limits economic growth. If this scarce factor can be regenerated finitely or only to a limited extent, further economic growth is only possible if other production technologies are used that make this factor superfluous. Unless the Innovations are efforts just before the exhaustion of the raw material tackled, the transition is towards new production technologies krisenhaft . If substitution attempts start long before exhaustion and process innovations are achieved, it is obvious that old and new technologies coexist for a long time, since the introduction and dissemination of the latter requires time-consuming learning processes. The old procedures then disappear and the resources they require are devalued, if they still exist.

In an open economy , in which imports from other countries are feasible and thus a mitigation of the national effects of the lack of resources is possible, a lack of resources can develop from a disadvantage to an advantage if a new production technique makes the old one superfluous in important market segments. The necessary import of a scarce raw material can then be replaced by an export of goods developed through new technologies, whereby the old raw material is economically devalued both in one's own country and in other countries.

The static range of a non-renewable raw material indicates the time span in years for which the globally known and exploitable deposits will still last, given current consumption. Since, on the one hand, the global demand for raw materials is increasing and, on the other hand, new deposits are still being found, this represents only a rough measure of the long-term availability of a raw material. The high-grade raw material deposits known today have a limited range of often less than a hundred years. Conflicts over raw materials can lead to global power politics. There are projects for deep-sea mining z. B. to research the mining of manganese nodules and also theoretical considerations for asteroid mining .

In the event of a lack of availability, the prices initially increase. This influences the profitability of all processes and products that depend on this raw material, but in the medium and long term it also promotes the development of less productive deposits, the development of substitutes (e.g. photovoltaics instead of coal-based power generation), more efficient technologies and recycling processes.

Potential raw materials are often found naturally or due to their use so finely distributed in the environment that an economic enrichment is not economical for the foreseeable future. This applies, for example, to the extraction of rare metals from seawater, which z. B. contains a few million tons of gold . Even more common metals, such as zinc from galvanized iron parts, are gradually dispersed in the finest form by environmental influences, analogous to platinum , which is released into the environment as nanoparticles from vehicle catalysts (see increase in entropy ).

In recent years there have been increasing discussions about the range of technologically hardly replaceable metals such as B. indium . Often only a few, locally narrowly limited occurrences of these are available. As a rule, they are only used in such small quantities that they are currently practically unrecoverable. Because of their great importance for electronic components and other future technologies, bottlenecks are sometimes expected here at short notice.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Raw material  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Germans use too many high-tech metals  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.umweltbundesamt.de  
  2. http://aktien-blog.com/eisenerz-frachtkosten-insider.html Aktien-Blog, September 7, 2007
  3. a b Dieter Lohmann u. Nadja Podbregar: In focus: natural resources. Looking for raw materials. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg 2012, pp. 5-6.
  4. Maritime economy - growing with certainty ( Memento from December 1, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  5. Top Ten Threats 2013.pdf of the Blacksmith Institute.
  6. Rainer Fremdling , Innovation and Volume Adjustment. The detachment of iron production from the central industrial resource wood , in: Hansjörg Siegenthaler (Ed.) Resource scarcity as a problem of economic history , Berlin 1990, 17–46, p. 17f.
  7. Rainer Fremdling, Innovation and Volume Adjustment. The detachment of iron production from the industrial central resource wood , in: Hansjörg Siegenthaler (Ed.) Resource Scarcity as a Problem of Economic History , Berlin 1990, 17–46, p. 18.
  8. ^ Treasures from the deep , rsc.org, accessed April 28, 2011.
  9. Potential Deep-Sea Mining of Seafloor Massive Sulfides ucsb.edu, pdf, accessed on April 28, 2011.
  10. ^ Clifton E. Curtis: Ocean mining and the law of the sea. In: New Scientist , March 19, 1981, p. 736, @ google books .
  11. Tanja Krämer: The high-tech spices - the mining of high-tech metals is subject to many imponderables . In: Spektrum-online , February 11, 2010.
  12. Markus Christen: The material limits of growth: key elements of technological progress are becoming scarce . ( Memento of the original from September 30, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . December 7, 2005. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / nzz.ch