The calculations are crude - they don't take into account any increase in demand due to new technologies, and also assume that current production equals consumption. Yet even based on these assumptions, they point to some alarming conclusions. Without more recycling, antimony, which is used to make flame retardant materials, will run out in 15 years, silver in 10 and indium in under five. In a more sophisticated analysis, Reller has included the effects of new technologies, and projects how many years we have left for some key metals. He estimates that zinc could be used up by 2037, both indium and hafnium - which is increasingly important in computer chips - could be gone by 2017, and terbium - used to make the green phosphors in fluorescent light bulbs - could run out before 2012. It all puts our present rate of consumption into frightening perspective....
The US now imports over 90 per cent of its so-called "rare earth" metals from China, according to the US Geological Survey. If China decided to cut off the supply, that would create a big risk of conflict, says Reller.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Malthus for President
Scary stuff: an article from New Scientist on the precarious state of the world's mineral reserves. The article's behind a paywall, but you can find the text here: