Sunday, March 23, 2008

Peak Minerals

Peak oil is slowly seeping into the public consciousness, although it hasn't yet gotten the recognition that global warming has. Dramatic increases in food prices have brought the issues of food scarcity and trade offs between food and biofuels to the fore. But the production capacity for other minerals has not been studied extensively.

Now an Australian study by Dr Gavin Mudd in conjunction with the Mineral Policy Institute has taken an exhaustive look at Australain mining data and given some hard statistical evidence for peak production of minerals.

The report, the first to ever compile quantitative evidence on various mining trends, shows that ore grades continue to decline, solid wastes are increasing exponentially, and economic resources for many key strategic minerals such as coal and iron ore appear to have plateaued; some minerals such as gold and copper have gradually increased over time but this is proving harder to maintain as ore grades decline and deposits move deeper.

Another study by Ugo Bardi and Marco Pagani of the University of Florence, Italy, examined the world production of 57 minerals reported in the database of the United States Geological Survey. Of these, eleven has clearly reached peak production and are now declining. Several more may be peaking or be close to peaking. Furthermore the Hubbert model for peak oil seemed to fit these other minerals as well.

U.S. imports of these minerals continue to grow. Some alternative energy technologies such as fuel cells require rare minerals. Any planning for the future that does consider resource limitations is certain to fail. Conservation and recycling of these minerals--efforts that will need to be planned in to any future use--are the only ways around an otherwise disastrous collapse.