Back to top


Systems represent the totality of the stocks and flows within boundaries defined in space and time at a chosen level of (dis-)aggregation. They include observed and unobserved  stocks and flows. Adding a system definition to observed data adds information: Systems define the context of observed flows and they allow for calculation of unobserved flows using mass balance. Systems define where materials are located, either in the form of stocks or in processes, but also, where they are moving to (flows). Mathematically, systems are defined through (mass or energy) balance equations, which include observed and unobserved flows (e.g. material dissipation). Systems can be defined using different levels of aggregation. This is determined by the objectives of an investigation. Strong system definitions reflect the real system adequately at an aggregation level that serves the purpose of their models. Without good system understanding, the MFA will be of poor quality and may even lead to wrong conclusions. Spending therefore adequate time to understand the real system and how best to reflect it in MFA, is very important. The development of systems requires substantial background research, as well as engagement with multiple stakeholders and industry to ensure that it aligns well with the real one. Ultimately, the system represents a map of the processes, material stocks and flows in a supply chain.

Please note: The following text is taken from the existing MinFuture report "A systems approach for the monitoring of the physical economy". Please click on the afore-mentioned link to access and read the full publication.


Testing of the outlined hypotheses on selected companies, national authorities and at the European and global level. This is achieved through close collaboration between MFA specialists and representatives of the above mentioned institutions. Validation will illustrate how the five data challenges can be addressed effectively using the MinFuture hypotheses.

Without a coordinate system, the measurements provided by data cannot accurately be placed to flows or stocks. The key approaches below aim to illustrate how systems can be developed in order to provide better coordinate systems for some known challenges. Systems are very much linked to data and without proper systems in which the data can be placed within robust interpretation can become a challenge.

Read More

Crude ore versus beneficiated ore
Some geological surveys report the crude ore in their statistics, whilst the majority report the beneficiated ore, namely the valuable part of the ore. The difference between the two represents the waste rock, Figure 8. Let us assume now that the aim of a study is to understand global production of a mineral commodity. When compiling data from different sources that report at different points in the system and do not provide sufficient metadata information, for example, the metal content of the crude ore, then it is highly likely that
errors are introduced during the calculation process.

Figure 1: An illustration of the measurement points for crude and beneficiated ore

Production versus sold production
Most statistical agencies and geological surveys report data on production, sold production, or shipment, Figure 9. However, these terms represent different parts of the value chain. Production is the quantity of a material produced directly from a mine in a given year. Shipment and sold production represent the quantity of a material that has been sold in a given year. Often companies have inventories where material is stored after production. Sold production or shipmen may represent a quantity of a material that originates from an inventory. Therefore, the terms production and sold production or shipment do not mean the same thing and should not be used interchangeably as they may introduce errors to MFA. Equally, data providers should try to remove any inconsistencies associated with these
terms by providing additional information on the measurement point they represent.

Figure 2: An illustration of the measurement points for production and production sold / shipment

Finished products (steel)
The term finished steel or finished products may correspond to various different production stages, Figure 10. It can be interpreted as the sum of the production of all steel companies, or as the sum of finished steel production by a country. Interpreting the numbers wrongly, for example due to product from company A feeding into company B, may results in double counting especially when attempting to calculation production at country level.

Figure 3: An illustration of the different measurement points that may be accounted for when quantifying ‘finished steel’ products from different companies

End Use
The term end use is relative and has different meanings for different sectors. Wrongly interpreting the end use statistics can result in inconsistencies throughout the material cycles.

Figure 4: An illustration of different measurement points for end use products

Domestic shipment
Domestic shipment (DS) the “trade” within a single country, cannot be visualized directly when using markets. However, it can be visualized if trade is visualized without markets (Figure 5). To be able to understand the relationship between what a single country produces for own use and their import reliance, it is important that these concepts are properly understood. Production and apparent consumption (AC) can be calculated if DS, import (I) and export (E) are known (see formula), provided that there are no significant stock delays in the market.

Figure 5: An illustration of how domestic shipment may be accounted for in MFA

International trade
Trade is visualised using markets, however, trade between countries does not happen instantly and can occur in a variety of forms. Markets consists of several sub-processes such as transit, boarder control, customs and warehouses that all can contain stocks which can further lead to delays in the system and to inconsistencies between the measurement (statistics) of import and export. In addition, trade can happen illegally (smuggling), in which the materials are not tracked at all. As an example of possible delays in the system, it is possible to export materials for storage in a bonded warehouse where the material can be stored for some time (possibility to speculate in material prices) before being imported to another country (Figure 6).

Figure 6: An illustration of the stages involved in the trade of goods between different markets

  • Systems are the foundation of any MFA
  • The system represents the coordinate system of the physical economy.
  • Without a proper system definition it is not possible to monitor the physical economy in a consistent way.
The figure shows a snapshot of the cover page of the synthesis brief
MinFuture Workshop synthesis brief No. 3

In order to develop strategies as well as to define and reach goals concerning raw materials management, maps are needed to help navigate existing knowledge and data.

Impression from the third MinFuture workshop in Brussels, showing the participants listening to an input presentation

The purpose of this workshop was to further develop the roadmap for monitoring the physical economy. During the spring of 2018, the MinFuture project has held several commodity specific workshops to test the developed framework and to identify commodity specific trends, opportunities and challenges that can inform the MinFuture roadmap.  Workshops has been held on aluminium, cobalt, neodymium, platinum, phosphorus and construction aggregates, and stakeholders from different parts of the supply chain has contributed to it.

This figure shows a sankey diagram of global steel flows from steelmaking to end-use goods. The width of the different arrows represent quantities flowing from one life cycle stage to the next; the thicker the arrow, the larger the quantities.
MinFuture deliverable D3.2

MinFuture is a collaborative project funded by the Horizon 2020 framework, aiming to identify, integrate, and develop expertise for global material flow analysis and scenario modelling.


This workshop is part of an EU Horizon 2020 project MinFuture (Global material flows and demand-supply forecasting for mineral strategies...


This workshop is part of an EU Horizon 2020 project MinFuture (Global material flows and demand-supply forecasting for mineral strategies; see details in the flyer attached or the project website:


The MinFuture workshop synthesis brief describes the main insights from discussions on:

  • How can we add more relevance and credibility to data published on raw materials? What context is missing that might enhance their status? How could we present data using a systemic MFA? perspective
  • How do raw material data reporting schemes (information flows) currently operate at national, regional and global level?
  • What raw material indicators are often used to identify issues with raw material supply/ demand? What are their strengths and weaknesses and how do they relate to material flow analysis?

Aimed at developing a common framework to analyse global mineral raw material flows, which can be agreed and used at international level, the MinFuture project intends to support data collectors, providers and users. Improving knowledge and quality of data on material cycles was found to be essential, but is faced with challenges such as interrupted information flows or lacking data availability. The first MinFuture Workshop (‘Methodology workshop’) served to discuss how MinFuture could support key data providers and users.

Group photo of the participants of the 2nd MinFuture workshop

The purpose of this workshop was to initiate a dialogue with key stakeholders that report raw materials data, use data to develop MFA models, or use MFA models to inform decision making. The knowledge and needs of data providers, users and decision actors are different, but in order for a ‘common approach’ to be developed their input is required.

MinFuture Deliverable D3.1

The brief presents key discussion items and main findings from the June 2017 Workshop in Vienna. In order to tackle challenges such as insufficient information flows or lacking data availability, a (more) systemic understanding of global mineral raw material flows is needed. Mapping the system context and making data/information gaps explicit will help identifying possible improvements.


Subscribe to Systems