Peak Minerals

Stabu
By Stabu on Sun, Feb 3, 2013 - 12:05pm

I believe that this link:

http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Renewable-Energy/Peak-Minerals-Shortage-of-Rare-Earth-Metals-Threatens-Renewable-Energy.html

has already been part of the daily digest some months ago, but deserves to be repeated.

Basically the link claims that we’ll run out of the following resources very soon (defined as less than 40 years):

< 5 years

  • Gallium (semiconductors, solar cells, MRI contrast agents)
  • Germanium (semiconductors, solar cells)

< 10 years

  • Hafnium (computer chips, nuclear control rods)
  • Indium (solar cells and LCD’s)

< 15 years

  • Platinum (jewellery, industrial catalysts, fuel cells, catalytic converters)

< 20 years

  • Antimony (some pharmaceuticals and catalysts)
  • Arsenic (semiconductors, solar cells)
  • Silver (jewellery, industrial catalysts)

< 30 years

  • Tantalum (cell phones, camera lenses)
  • Zinc (galvanizing)

< 40 years

  • Tin (cans, solder)
  • Uranium (nuclear power)

On top of that the amount of extractable gold and lead is also on the lower end. Once we run out, the only way to use the above listed minerals is to get them by recycling, which is often an expensive, and time and energy consuming effort.

Note: If you're reading this and are not yet a member of Peak Prosperity's ResourceWatch Group, please consider joining it now. It's a collection point for news and data on the growing scarcity of key natural resources. Simply go here and click the "Join Today" button.

6 Comments

shawns333's picture
shawns333
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 30 2011
Posts: 42
Fascinating information

Most (or virtually all) of these figures will not actually stand, of course.  This is because due to economics, technical ability, ingenuity and consumption, things will change that makes these numbers not absolute as to when something will "run out", but rather as useful views of when something will have to change in the story of how it is consumed.

So, the numbers and dates are very useful markers for changes that will surely take place from now until then to reach a new rate of consumption or reality of how the item will be used by society.

Thanks for posting, this is a facinating view.

sugraham75's picture
sugraham75
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2013
Posts: 13
Historical Example?

I wonder, have we ever (in human history) fully depleted a mineral or rare metal before?  If so, which ones, what were the primary use cases, and how did we adapt to their extinction?  As far as I know, we have been witness to (or been the cause of) the extinction of many animal/plant species, but have we ever lived through the total depletion of a natural resource such as the items listed in this article, and if so, how did we adapt?

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
from science fiction to possible fact?

Mind you, I am nowhere near convinced, and I wonder about the energy cost involved, but a solution for some applications like rare earths might be Programmable Matter. If you've used a liquid crystal display, you've already encountered an early versoin of it: complex fluids.

Wendy, your friendly neighborhood science fiction editor and engineer here. I first became interested in this legitimate field of research when I heard Wil McCarthy give a talk on his book, Hacking Matter, wihich is now available as a pdf with a Creative Commons licence (free unless you use it commercially). Mind blowing stuff, really.

Basically, avoiding long discussions about nanoscale computing appliactions, I'd like to focus on artifical atoms. From what I''ve read in this field, the most promising applications are all optical or light-band focused, where quantum dots may be used in  very efficeint solar cell applications.

Here's a link to a YouTube video on Programable Matter from Darpa. It's not a panacea. I simply can't see them making nuclear reactor control rods, for example, with this technology. But it might be able to eventually make substitues for critically depleted minerals. Question is, other than any energy cost, do we have the time?

shawns333's picture
shawns333
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 30 2011
Posts: 42
sugraham75 wrote: I wonder,
sugraham75 wrote:

I wonder, have we ever (in human history) fully depleted a mineral or rare metal before?  If so, which ones, what were the primary use cases, and how did we adapt to their extinction?  As far as I know, we have been witness to (or been the cause of) the extinction of many animal/plant species, but have we ever lived through the total depletion of a natural resource such as the items listed in this article, and if so, how did we adapt?

Good question.  I can't imagine that this has ever been the case or ever will be the case.  At least from an absolute perspective.  If we're talking relative to what is technologically or economically feasible to pull out of the environment - of course.

There are examples throughout history of civilizations or certain peoples dying off (or migrating away) after a natural resource was "depeleted" in their environment.  But, again, that was due to their ability to procure it and/or the limited scale of the addressable environment that they controlled.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Online)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2934
Commodity Prices at Highest Ever for this time of year

From Zero Hedge:

 

While every central banker and policy-leech spews forth the government-supplied statistics on inflation - noting that all is well, carry on - we recently pointed out that Gas Prices are their highest ever for this time of year. Of course, the standard supply constraints (or technical) reasoning was applied to dismiss this as transitory (even though it has continued to rise since); but what is perhaps more worrisome is the broad-based nature of the real inflation that is leaking into our global supply chain. The 24-commodity heavy S&P GSCI index (widely recognized as a leading measure of general price movements and inflation in the world economy) has never been as high in early February as it is currently - ever. And with global growth stagnating at best, it seems a tough call to blame 'recovery' for this inflating (fastest pace in 8 years) raw material price leaking cost-push inflation (and margin-compression) into the real economy.

 

20130205_GSCI1_1_0.jpg

Stabu's picture
Stabu
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 7 2011
Posts: 89
Historic Examples and an Older Forecast
sugraham75 wrote:

I wonder, have we ever (in human history) fully depleted a mineral or rare metal before?  If so, which ones, what were the primary use cases, and how did we adapt to their extinction?

No there aren’t any historic examples where humans would have run out of a mineral/rare earth before, however, there are various examples that could give indication of what will happen if total depletion would ever come to pass. During the Bronze Age, the bronze in most regions came from either trade or meteorites found on the ground, which then naturally restricted the use of bronze to mainly weapons and tools, putting a clear natural restriction to population/economic growth. Similarly aluminum was notoriously difficult to find and use before the Hall-Heroult process was invented, making it roughly equally valuable with silver even if aluminum is roughly 100,000 times more prevalent in the earth’s crust than silver. The last example that I can think of was the banning of certain frequently used compounds such as DDT or chlorofluorocarbons. So basically when we run low/out of anything the three responses that follow are 1) lower economic growth, 2) higher prices, or 3) unpleasant side-effects, e.g. bedbugs after the DDT ban.

As shawns333 pointed out, what happens before we run out of anything is a change in how that material is used. And these predictions are hard to make. I found another earlier source who made similar analysis back in 2005 here: http://scotaaron.com/resources.html . According to that site (fast forwarding 8 years, and excluding the list I provided in the original post) we have less than 10 years of strontium, less than 30 years of manganese, less than 40 years of lead and we’re also running low on palladium in the not too distant future.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments