Opening the black box of material criticality : heterogeneity and interrelations of companies within and across industrial sectors

Abstract: The concept of ‘material criticality’ has been introduced to examine availability and accessibility of natural resources that underlie industrial competitiveness and deployment of strategic technologies, such as electric mobility or wind turbines. The academic and policy discourse conceptualised material criticality rather as a black box, assuming industrial sectors to be monolithic, homogeneous and independent entities, neglecting complexity of the company dimension. The thesis questions appropriateness of these assumptions and aims to achieve the following objectives: 1) to examine the influence of heterogeneity and interrelations of companies on identification and mitigation of material criticality; and 2) to demonstrate their relevance for understanding material criticality.Through the exploratory case based research, the thesis highlights the importance of the company dimension for examination of critical materials. The findings indicate the need to extend the criticality analysis to consider power relations of companies along supply chains, and competitive relations of companies across industrial sectors at a shared resource market. These relations influence a company’s ability to identify and mitigate material criticality, which in turn affects an industrial system’s ability to withstand supply disruptions. Heterogeneity of companies within and across industrial sectors suggests against utility of generic outcomes of the criticality analysis at the national/global levels.The thesis provides implications for policy-makers regarding selective support for companies and industrial sectors to assist their efforts to mitigate material criticality. The results serve to raise awareness of practitioners about material criticality and to assist with the decision-making for development of mitigation strategies. Finally, the thesis calls for the need to establish a dialogue between policy-makers, industrial actors and researchers to advance understanding and analysis of material criticality.