Last updated March 15, 2017 at 2:48 pm
The world is hungry for minerals and that hunger is growing by the day. The rise of technology and consumer devices as well as the move to a carbon-neutral economy is placing ever-increasing demands on the supply of metals, rare-earths and other products of mining. But there is no coordinated plan for the exploration and exploitation of the world’s mineral resources. So today’s edition of Nature publishes a call for the need to plan our mining future.
Professor Saleem H. Ali, former Chair in Sustainable Resource Development at The University of Queensland and now Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware (USA), says that metals and minerals were needed for laptops, mobile phones, electric cars, solar panels and household copper wire. However, he cautions, there were no international supply assurance mechanisms for these metals and minerals.
“There are treaties on climate change, biodiversity, migratory species and even waste management of organic chemicals, but there is no international mechanism to govern how mineral supply should be coordinated.” he said.
Professor Ali claims in the report that mining exploration was not keeping up with future demand for minerals, and recycling would not be able to meet the demand either. “Companies are responding to short-term pricing signals for stock value rather than long-term demand horizons.” he said. He also claims that many countries where rare minerals are likely to be found have poor governance adding an extra risk for supply.
Professor Ali and his co-authors are calling for a solution that could empower nations to plan for mineral scarcity through international governance mechanisms. “This means we need global resource governance and a sharing of geoscience data to address supply issues,” he said.
The Copper Example
Copper is an excellent case study of the need to plan the mining of this metal into the future. Demand for copper is increasing because of its use in electrical equipment and wiring. Total world production of copper is about 18 million metric tons per year and the global demand for copper is estimated to be 36 million tonnes annually by 2019. The shortfall will be made up by recycling and it has been estimated that at least 80% of all copper ever mined is still available having been repeatedly recycled.
If you look at the huge copper deposit at Prominent Hill in the north of South Australia, the scale of the supply problem comes into sharp focus. The latest estimate of the amount of copper at Prominent hill is around one and three quarters million tonnes. That’s enough copper to satisfy world demand for just over two and a half weeks. To put it another way, we need to find 20 copper deposits the size of Prominent Hill every year just to keep up with demand.