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Towards a roadmap for monitoring the Physical Economy

Towards a roadmap for monitoring the Physical Economy

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. However, there appears to be a lack of such maps in relation to material flows as material flows tend to be monitored for isolated materials thus generating individual point measurements, but leading to fragmentation of knowledge. For getting a more complete, comprehensive and realistic picture of material flows, developing a systemic mapping and system’s monitoring appears promising because this can help putting statistical data into (its respective system) context.

Against this background, the MinFuture project ( wants to develop a ‘proof of concept’ for a kind of google maps of the global physical economy, allowing us to zoom in and out on different materials, while taking into consideration the four dimensions of MinFuture, please see

  • Stages
  • Trade
  • Layers/Linkages
  • Time

In order to achieve this, we need to continuously involve governments and industry.

The conceptual framework of MinFuture forms a pyramid (see also of 7 components of Material Flow Analysis, in which the robustness of components on the higher level, depends on the robustness of the components on the lower levels. For instance, we need data and a good understanding of the system before we can develop meaningful models and scenarios. That means that we have to conduct MFAs from the bottom of the pyramid starting with the system.  

Against this background, the purpose of the third MinFuture workshop (“Towards a roadmap for monitoring the Physical Economy”; held in Brussels on 7 June 2018) was to further develop the roadmap for monitoring the physical economy. During Spring 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 these workshops.

Against this background, the 3rd MinFuture workshop aimed at discussing with organisations involved in data reporting, material flow analysis as well as decision makers in Europe and elsewhere and jointly shaping a ‘common framework to monitoring the physical economy’, as currently being developed in the MinFuture project.

Key findings of the workshop are:

  • The representation of exploration in the system is still under discussion. This is a challenging question because of the dynamic nature of this process. It is also difficult to represent in an MFA, because even though it implies large monetary flows, this is not directly translated into the physical economy, and does not follow the mass balance principle. For some commodities, it might still be possible to infer the future increase in resources from the investments in exploration.
  • Using Input-Output / bulk MFA data, such as EXIOBASE data, can help filling gaps in our systems. However, EXIOBASE data is not refined enough and not really mass balance consistent. Therefore, it is most likely to be the other way around, that MFA could complement EXIOBASE by improving their modelling of the physical economy. EXIOBASE is only based only on global monetary Input-Output data, which is not reliable enough and lead to mistakes when translating it to physical data. Therefore, we should make plans to further develop the Input-output approach and foster the will for harmonisation among the Input-output-community.
  • Many projects have been unsuccessful in providing a clear roadmap. An idea is to cluster different projects working on this topic to fill the gaps, and working on a proposal for a second phase to collect more recent data. Platforms for data sharing already exist in other projects. The main contribution from the MinFuture project is the system understanding. This project should not only benefit the USGS – further development of data reporting in a systems context should be supported by the European Commission to avoid this situation.
  • The benefits for the stakeholders should be communicated clearly to avoid the fear of change in the industry. It would be important to get business support.


Please find the synthesis brief for download below.

Publishing Date
July, 2018

Hirschnitz-Garbers, M., Allesch, A., Lundhaug, M. and Billy, R. (2018). Towards a roadmap for monitoring the Physical Economy. MinFuture Workshop synthesis brief No. 3. Berlin: Ecologic Institute