While all of us are preoccupied with climate change and looking for renewable energy resources, the means to create these technologies might themselves be in jeopardy of running out! The renewable energy systems are meant to run on energy sources that don’t burn out, but the materials required to build and keep these massive infrastructures up and running might be on the brink of getting extremely rare.
This is stated by an international team of researchers led by Saleem Ali from the University of Delaware. Ali states that a range of technology minerals, which make up everything from laptops and cell phones, electric cars to solar panels and copper wiring, might be close to reaching alarmingly low levels.
The research team included experts from government, academic and industrial institutions from five continents, the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Australia and South America, and have published their findings in a peer-reviewed paper in Nature.
Ali, the paper’s lead author and Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor, said,
“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,”
The study highlights how the mining exploration is not close to the future demand for minerals. And our recycling of the materials is also inadequate to meet the future surge in demand due to the estimation of global population numbers reaching 8.5 billion by 2030.
Adding to the woes is our transition to a low-carbon society which requires huge amounts of metals and minerals to create “clean” technologies.
Most of the exploration investment is made in gold, which although, is very profitable, but is mainly used for jewelry. Industrial commodities like iron ore, silicon, copper, and lead, etc. are being neglected, leading to this vast difference between supply and demand.
Another problem is the common consumer misconception that these materials can be simply replaced by something else. But the fact there are very few commercially viable replacements for the traditional metals, if any.
The research team concludes that we require international coordination to focus on additional exploration investment efforts and the type of minerals that are found in different parts of the world through bilateral agreements between various countries.
“Countries where minerals are likely to be found may have poor governance, making it higher risk for supply. But production from these countries will be needed to meet global demand. We need to be thinking about this,” Ali said.
Better start sending those mobile phones to the recycling houses from now on!