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Mineral raw materials

Mineral raw materials such as gravel, sand, limestone and clay are widely used in the construction industry and are largely mined in Switzerland. However, Switzerland also imports many raw materials, especially energy raw materials and metals, including the special metals and rare earths that are important for the energy transition.

Untervaz Quarry (GR)
Untervaz Quarry (GR)
© Holcim (Switzerland) AG

Many of the goods we use in our daily life are made from mineral resources, including raw materials for construction (gravel, sand, limestone, clay), metals and industrial minerals such as salt and gypsum. Mineral resources are formed in the course of the earth's history through geological processes and do not regenerate during a timespan that we can imagine. Sufficient quantities of some raw materials, such as construction raw materials, are available in Switzerland. Others, such as energy raw materials, metals and rare earths, have to be imported because they exist in Switzerland in small quantities or not at all, or they cannot be mined economically.

Because of the high demand for construction, it is in the public interest to secure the supply of these raw materials.

However, the exploitation of mineral resources creates pressure on the environment, climate, landscape and population. Regarding mineral resources in Switzerland, conflicts of interest exist in particular with nature and landscape conservation areas, agriculture, noise protection, forests, air pollution control, transport infrastructure, groundwater and local or regional economic interests, such as construction and commercial zones or tourism.

Since mineral resources are the product of natural geological processes, they are confined to their specific site of origin and are limited in space. It makes therefore sense to use raw materials sparingly and to reduce consumption whenever possible and reasonable. In addition, the demand for primary raw materials can be reduced by using secondary raw materials. Importing mineral raw materials that are available in Switzerland from abroad over long distances cannot be a permanent solution. The exploitation of local mineral resources makes sense from economic and ecological perspectives as well as in terms of the security of supply.

Cement plays a central role in the realisation of many construction and infrastructure projects. The cement raw materials are limestone and marl, which are found along the Jura Mountain chain between Geneva and Schaffhausen and in the northern and southern Alps.

The six Swiss cement plants extract the raw materials from quarries and process them into cement within their facilities. The demand for cement in Switzerland is around 5 million tonnes per year. In 2019, 86% was covered by the Swiss cement industry.

The expansion of existing quarries and the development of new ones is sometimes difficult because of conflicting interests. The long-term access to the required raw materials represents a major challenge in securing the national supply of cement.

Hard rock is used for the construction and the maintenance of the national transport infrastructure and is thus central to Switzerland's mobility. The hard rock used in Switzerland is mainly siliceous limestone and a particularly hard sandstone variety that meet the required criteria (in particular compressive strength, abrasion resistance and a high proportion of hard minerals). Suitable rock units are located mainly along the northern Alps between Lake Constance and Lake Geneva and, to a lesser extent, in southern Ticino.

High-quality hard rock is mined and processed in eight locations throughout Switzerland, mainly for rail ballast and road pavement aggregates. The demand for hard rock averages 2.4 million tonnes per year, of which around 90% are covered by the Swiss hard rock industry (as of 2019).

The national supply of domestic hard rock could decrease in the medium term, unless new raw material reserves are located and authorised. However, suitable deposits often conflict with landscape protection interests.

The use of secondary raw materials from recycling sources allow the closing of material cycles, thereby reducing the consumption of primary raw materials. Today, two thirds of deconstruction material are already reinjected into its cycle, and one third ends up in landfills.

Despite technological developments, secondary raw materials can substitute primary raw materials only to a small extent. Primary raw materials thus play a major role in the production of building materials. As part of the work on strengthening the recycling economy, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) supports the possibilities for promoting the substitution of primary raw materials with secondary raw materials, particularly with the increased use of recyclable materials.

The role of the Swiss Geological Survey

Based on the «Report on Mineral Resources» by swisstopo (2017) and the «Green Economy» Action Plan, the Federal Council commissioned the Swiss Geological Survey and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) to prepare periodically updated, fact-based Raw Material Safety Reports on domestic non-energy mineral resources. These reports show the current consumption and the status of Switzerland's supply of the relevant raw materials and provide estimates on short- to medium-term national demand.

Together with the Georesources Switzerland Group (FGS), the Mineral Resources Network (NEROS), private industry, the cantons and other federal authorities, as well as various universities, the Swiss Geological Survey compiles further basic data related to natural resource reserves and circulation in Switzerland. The results are available to the public as reports, digital maps, models and databases.

In addition, the Swiss Geological Survey participates in various raw material projects of Eurogeosurveys (EGS).


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
Tel.
+41 58 469 01 11

E-mail


Relevant authority

Swiss Geological Survey
Tel. +41 58 469 05 68
E-mail

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

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