Anyone with a Telegraph subscription?

This piece, can you copy it into the comments?

Are we in danger of running out of stuff?

29 thoughts on “Anyone with a Telegraph subscription?”

  1. It’s a question to vex both environmental campaigners and shareholders of multinationals alike: is the world about to run out of stuff?

    And by stuff, we’re talking about the elemental materials that fuel, construct, and otherwise maintain modern life as we know it.

    The mining industry has long warned of a looming depletion of key minerals. There are two key factors driving this.

    First, companies are not investing enough in new mines. China’s mega-boom at the start of this century spurred a huge wave of investment in output, followed by a painful crash in 2015. Mining bosses have been loath to commit big funds to new mines.

    Second, resources are hard to get at. Some are in remote areas with no infrastructure. Others are in countries riven by political instability.

    Bar chart with 10 bars.

    Years of sustained production based on current reserves
    The chart has 1 X axis displaying categories. Range: 10 categories.
    The chart has 1 Y axis displaying Years. Range: 0 to 400.
    View as data table.

    Chart graphic.

    How many years are left of key minerals?
    Years of sustained production based on currentreserves
    Platinum Group Metals
    End of interactive chart
    But just how long do we have until supplies run out? A team of researchers at the Raw Materials Group in Sweden recently crunched the numbers for The Telegraph. They took the amount of known reserves in the ground and divided it by annual rates of production.

    On this measure, copper has 209 years left; iron ore, used to make steel, has 154 years; and lithium, destined for batteries, has just 91 years. Cobalt fares slightly better, at 364 years.

    A little number crunching of data provided by BP reveals that oil has just shy of 50 years left, based on total proven reserves.

    If you think these numbers sound worryingly low, bear in mind they would be considerably higher if resources are included. These are sources of minerals that have been identified but are not yet economically viable to extract.

    Such resources could become viable if the price of commodities were to suddenly shoot up (say, on a looming shortage), or if new technology made them easier to reach. On this measure, there are many hundreds of years left of copper and oil supply, for example.

    Indeed the world is more likely to stop needing oil long before we actually run out of it. The International Energy Agency predicts oil demand will peak at some point after 2030 and decline by 40pc from current levels by 2050 as alternative fuel sources take hold.

    Resource depletion is only part of the problem. There are environmental considerations too, which will increasingly determine whether a mineral is viable to extract, regardless of its availability.

    Extraction of zinc, lead, gold and rare earths can be highly polluting, while aluminium production is energy intensive.

    Such considerations will push companies to seek to substitute one material for another, preferably one that is cheaper and greener – if such a substitute can be found (copper, for example, is so good at conducting electricity it is unlikely to be replaced any time soon).

    The challenge is profound, particularly as global demand for materials is only going to increase. A UN report earlier this year noted: “Over the past five decades, our global population has doubled, the extraction of materials has tripled and gross domestic product has quadrupled.”

    In the process, “the extraction and processing of natural resources … now accounts for more than 90pc of our biodiversity loss and water stress and approximately half of our climate change impacts”. Running out of stuff could be the least of our worries

  2. Wow, they’ve actually remembered the difference between reserves and resources – perhaps’s they’ve secretly been reading Tim’s work?

    They even talk about substitution effects, -although the example of copper isn’t great given historically aluminium has already been used as a substitute in wiring for certain purposes (not always with great effect).

  3. They make the distinction but they still get it wrong.

    Reserves are where we’ve proven that we can extract at current prices, current technology and make a profit. Resources – as measured by USGS and the numbers they’re using – are where we’re pretty sure we can at current prices, current technology, we’ve just not bothered to prove it yet. That is, we don;t need to wait for price changes for resources to become reserves. We’ve instead got to go spend the money to prove the contention.

    Their meaning of “mineral resource” is actually something closer to “total resource” which always is, given the size of the Earth, something vast.

    That is, yes, they distinguish between reserve and resource but get it wrong.

  4. The resource we will definitely run out of, and in fact may already be without, is common sense. One quick look at the bullshit most young people spout, the culture wars, XR, Labour being at 30% or more in the polls, the Democratic party in the USA – on a host of metrics we are already fucked.

  5. I though helium was the really worrying scarce element from recent media stories and so we should say no more mickey mouse balloons?

    Also (you will be able to tell I’m not a scientist) but as the lightest element it has a tendency to disappear and not hang around for recycling.

  6. “Helium’s the only non-radioactive being constantly generated on Earth among the elements.”

    If you say so. I’m mildly surprised that iron, or something of roughly its atomic number, isn’t.

  7. “While aluminium production is energy intensive”

    But, having made it, it can be recycled almost indefinitely, and at relatively low cost. It really irks me how many aluminium drinks cans just get thrown on the ground, when almost everyone has a recycling bin at home. Skinflints (like me), who know the value of such materials, pick them up and make occasional trips to the scrap man when I’ve gathered a few sacks full…

    “Historically aluminium has already been used as a substitute in wiring for certain purposes (not always with great effect)

    As a former telecoms engineer, I can vouch for that! Thick ally busbars are one thing, but 0.6mm wires in distribution cables were a bloody nightmare. After a few years of going brittle the faults they caused were horrendous. This only came about due to political sanctions in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which pushed the price of copper through the roof.

  8. Hmm. OK, there is iron being generated. Well, I guess there is, would assume that it’s somewhere in the U and or Th breakdown pathway etc. As with lead and so on.

    The full qualification would perhaps be “the only” where our entire supply is being newly generated.

  9. Patrick–Twas ever thus. Victory for the good guys is always on a thin margin. God likes his fucking laughs.

    Jimmers–Absolute tripe.

    In the 1960′ s a load of crap was eco-talked about how there was not enough copper to give Africa telephone system as big as the US.


    1-That was a blank lie–there was.
    2- Since that time large new copper deposits have been found and copper recovery/re-use is easier/cheaper.
    3-Most copper functions can be done with abundant Aluminium–itself expensive despite being abundant until tech progress made it cheap.
    4- Then came fibre optics which now can carry millions of calls down wires with little copper
    5-Now itself made obsolete by satellites and mobiles and Skype etc.

    All of which means that Africa HAS a far larger number of phones than the USA in the 1960s–albeit many stolen or refurbished– most of them capable of vastly more than phones/TVs could do in the 60/70’s (anybody remember CEEFAX?).

    Your entire thesis is eco-rubbish I’m afraid Jimmers. Sorry.

  10. Your entire thesis is eco-rubbish I’m afraid Jimmers. Sorry.

    What? I copied and pasted the Telegraph article as requested.
    Always read the question carefully before answering…

  11. “-Now itself made obsolete by satellites”

    No. Satellite communication is a last resort. It is flawed by latency.

  12. He4 is generated by all the nuclear decays from K40 upward that produce alpha particles, so He4 is a renewable resource. Not so He3, as it’s primordial. The only source of new mid-table elements is fission of U and Pu isotopes. The only natural one is U235 with a pretty low natural fission rate. All the others are man-made.

    Ecks: There will still be a lot of demand for copper for electrical power use. Al won’t cut it in a lot of use cases. Also, optical fibre won’t be easily displaced for comms use. RF spectrum space is a finite resource, even with clever sharing technology like MIMO. So although the ‘last km’ for much comms may be wireless, there is still an awful lot of network infrastructure behind it. And as Gamecock says, sat comms have undesirable features like delay, and spectrum issues too. Virtually all global Internet goes over fibre in submarine cables.

  13. “No. Satellite communication is a last resort. It is flawed by latency”

    After spending hours on the phone to various TalkTalk Indian call centres, all of which were utterly useless, I was finally put through to their South African one. The difference was astonishing, not just in the competence of the lady I spoke with, but also in the near 1 second cumulative delay. It reminded me of when I used to call Australia quite a bit in the 80’s & 90’s. You really need to converse as if you’re using 2 way radio.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset

    @Dave Ward,

    IIRC Milton Keynes was cabled up using aluminium instead of copper which is why they had a nightmare rolling out ADSL and it became very popular for trialling wireless broadband and other technologies in the early days.

  15. Dennis, Climate-Change Denying Fruitcake

    None of this matters. Climate change is going to kill us all within 12 years.


  16. @ BiND – That sounds entirely plausible, since Bletchley Park (home of the WW2 codebreakers) was used by the PoTel/British Telecom training college. From memory, the first cables were pure aluminium which was terribly prone to corrosion and brittleness, subsequently it was changed to an alloy which was much better. However the bad reputation meant that even this went out the window when copper became more readily available again.

  17. You also have to be careful connecting aluminium conductors to copper conductors as you get contact electrolysis that decomposes the connection.

  18. Cheaper Al wires/cables vs Cu – if it was any good car makers, white & brown goods etc would be using it.

    As they’re not we can conclude it’s crap


    Thanks for text.

    Please post urls for the graphs images (I’m guessing .jpg isn’t paywalled)

  19. @BraveFart

    Hydrogen is the lightest element

    @Gamecock November 28, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    Spot on

    @Mr Ecks November 28, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    Doh. Having a blonde day?

  20. Pcar

    See if this works (ie if it’s not paywalled?):

    [ How natural resources are defined ]

    The chart before that one, “How many years are left of key minerals” (ie those unformatted numbers above) isn’t a jpeg, it’s created by a script as the page loads.

    Some of the values are narrated above, but for completeness: Gold, Oil and Platinum Group Metals, 40-50 years or so; Zinc 60; Lithium 90; Iron 150; Copper, Niobium and Nickel 200-250; and Cobalt 350+ (as “Years of sustained production based on current reserves”).

  21. Pcar: Alumin(i)um is used for high voltage electrical transmission lines – 400kV in UK. Copper seems to be used for 33kV, 11kV and 415V. Not sure about 132kV. The HV cables are made by wrapping layers of Al wires over a steel wire core for strength. The outermost layer is trapezoidal-shaped so the cable presents a cylindrical profile to the air flow. A helical profile that round wires gave caused oscillation problems on the Severn River crossing, in the 60s I think, due to vortex-shedding off the cables at certain wind velocities.


  22. @PF

    That works, thanks

    Classed as: SVG+XML Image and appears to be composed of three images

    OTT complication


    Thanks for info

  23. @TG

    Thanks to those nice people at IUPAC, septics have to learn to spell aluminium correctly, while we, in revenge, must revert to the original spelling of sulfur.

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