Thought for the month

“Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction the sign of truth.” Blaise Pascal, French mathematician and physicist (1623 – 62).

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Pending material shortages?

A Geological Society meeting recently discussed the issues surrounding the shortages of minerals. The shortage of rare-earth elements over the past year being a case in point. China, responsible for more than 90% of the world's supply of these elements, prioritized its own economy's demand and started to limit export and worldwide disruptions ensued. Interestingly the EU has drawn up a list of fourteen economically important raw materials that are subject to a higher risk of supply interruption. As well as the rare earth elements the list includes Ge, In, Ga, Sb, Ta, and Be. The EU will be monitoring material availability and discussing actions as required.

The geologists do have concerns over the limits to material availability but this stems not so much from the fear that resources will run out. The so called "peak metal", the anticipated turning point from globally increasing to decreasing production when minable deposits become scarce, is not yet in their view on the horizon. The bigger issues being demand surges coming up against political/monopolistic actions by governments or companies thus causing bottlenecks and shortages. Building more mines is one approach but the social and environmental consequences are non-trivial.

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