Current world economies are very material and energy intensive. To ensure the sustainable development of our planet, we need to consider the implications of the materials we use on the ecosystem and society. The way that we currently produce goods and services contributes significantly towards many of today’s environmental problems and to the crossing of key planetary boundaries generating potential abrupt or irreversible environmental changes. Economic development in the coming decades will become increasingly constrained by resource availability and cost. What is needed is a decoupling of material use from economic growth; this will in many cases require a complete rethink of industrial processes and in the type and amount of resources used and in products which are manufactured. Sustainable materials can be used and produced in required amounts without depleting non-renewable resources and without disrupting the already established equilibrium of the environment and key natural resource systems.
The Materials platform within the Environmental Research Institute encompasses research on materials that can be recycled, recovered, reused or remanufactured; have high durability and low resource or energy intensity; come from renewable resources; replace non-renewables from waste streams replacing virgin raw materials; and materials that have low toxicity and are readily biodegradable. The platform has substantial expertise in the areas of material science, sustainable bio-materials, biotechnology, geological resources, material engineering, urban mining, material reuse, and life cycle analysis.
The ERI has a wealth of experience in the area of materials science, with a grounding in Geology (the Marine Geology Research Group), Chemistry (the Materials Chemistry and Analysis Group), Biology (the Yeast Biotechnology Research Group). In addition, expertise is combined from multiple research areas to comprise the Sustainable Materials Group.