The sustainable supply chain of metals and the risks for the solar technology market

Project description

Securing reliable and unhindered access to raw materials is important for the EU, where at least 30 million jobs depend on their availability. Raw materials are not only of strategic importance for the production of goods and services used in everyday life, but also for the development of many eco-efficient technologies. Climate change, as well as energy security, have become the major concerns of this century. However, to achieve the climate targets, we need a thorough transformation of the global energy landscape, which is only possible with the implementation of low-carbon technologies, such as the ones for solar and wind energy. The rapid increase of technical innovation systems and the growth of emerging economies have led to a higher demand for metals and minerals. The major issues here are that they are required in other economically relevant sectors, their availability is often limited, they occur mainly as by-products, and are usually concentrated in only a few countries. Therefore, a secure and stable access to raw materials has become a priority for economies like those of the EU that rely on the import of many minerals and metals.

During this research, a general and complex model will be created that quantitatively defines the risks associated with raw materials supply. Given the dynamic and uncertain nature of the problem, the risk assessment methodologies used so far are no longer sufficient. Thus, the originality of the work arises from the use of a new semi-quantitative methodology of risk analysis, the Holistic Risk Analysis and Modelling (HoRAM). To carry on the analysis, the present work will start from the study of different solar technologies, from their construction to market introduction, taking into consideration all the possible variables that can affect (or improve) their release and acceptance. The technology is taken here as a starting point for developing a model-based framework for the risk assessments of raw materials, in the form of demand/supply projections based on future energy scenarios that will be assessed during the research.


For this research, different types of solar photovoltaics (PVs) and, therefore, different materials will be studied and compared. The ones selected correspond to the diverse market status of the technology: the currently highest market share is taken by silicon solar cells, where silver is the worrying metal. Cadmium telluride thin-film PVs (CdTe) compete with silicon PVs and contain two interesting metals, cadmium (toxic and critical) and tellurium (critical). CIGS PVs are also considered to take higher market shares and contain indium (critical), cadmium (toxic and critical), gallium (critical). Perovskites solar cells, which are still in the research and development stage and contain lead (toxic), will also be studied to have a comparison with a technology that does not contain critical metals, but brings other issues on the material side. The risks connected with the different technologies will be analyzed with an innovative methodology, HoRAM, which enables the analyst to study the process in its complexity and broadness without excluding any parameter.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Alexander Colsmann (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany), Prof. Dr. Simone Colombo (Politecnico di Milano, Italy), Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany)
Advisor: Dr. Witold-Roger Poganietz (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany), Maryegli Fuss (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany)
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


Angela Ciotola, M.Sc.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-28055