World rapidly running out of rare minerals needed to manufacture cell phones and mobile devices

Scientists warn that the minerals needed for technologies such as cell phones and mobile devices may run out in the next few decades. A new study gathered experts from various government, industrial, and academic groups across five continents who suggested that unless there exists a universal sharing of geoscience data, we will soon face challenges in technology mineral supply. There is a high potential for manufacturers and suppliers of electronic gadgets to run out of the materials they need to maintain their business.

In theory, there are enough global reserves to meet the world demand until 2050. Researchers share their doubts, however, suggesting that the rapid growth of technology has pushed the global demand for minerals to dangerous levels. Consumers need to realize that there are few alternatives available for minerals required for electronics. Additionally, these minerals are often difficult to recycle.

Advancing technologies and improved healthcare have allowed for people to live longer. The world demand for minerals has increased to support the number of people on this planet. In particular, due to the growing technological advancements, minerals that are the main ingredients for certain technologies such as solar panels, copper wiring, laptops, mobile devices, and electric cars, have become very popular.  Already, geophysicists are evaluating the mineral supply and demand, accessing its capabilities in the 21st century.

Analysts determine three factors affecting the economic outlook:

  • Determined use of the mineral (that is, industries that are reliant on these reserves);
  • Percentage of the population who consume these commodities;
  • How much of these minerals each person uses.

Technology Materials: Unstable Resource

Gold and diamonds are the two biggest precious commodities that are being mined. These resources are usually sold the way oil and gas are. That is, there are global channels that are utilized.

In contrast, commodity metals like iron ore and copper – which are used in electronics – are typically sold through individual deals. There are nuances involved which trigger price fluctuations. Investors often have to gauge the market several times in a day to determine profitability. Companies have to deal with various challenges and often stop mining due to a lack of economic viability. Those that do pursue their track are forced to increase their prices in order to maintain relevance.

Reports say it takes around 10 to 15 years for a mineral exploration to yield minable deposits. Furthermore, it is estimated that early exploration efforts yield only 10 percent of viable commodities. Businesses need to be patient, but even then, the ratio between usable excavation and the time spent looking for these minerals is troubling. Couple this with the fact that the last major copper discovery was found in Mongolia 15 years ago and was only able to produce limited amounts of the mineral in late 2016.

The 2016 USGS report on mineral commodity is another noteworthy survey to consider. Over the last four years, total mine production has lessened. The difference in amounts initially appear to be negligible but the current trend suggests that fewer minerals are being mined while the demand is steadily increasing.

There is also the additional factor of geopolitics. “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,” says Saleem Ali, the study’s lead author.

The Domino Effect

Leaders must recognize the high risk of an economic collapse should the world mineral demand not be met. Global challenges can be seen. Not only can this lead to dramatic price increases but can affect energy production as well. Alternative energy sources, like solar power for example, are still dependent on mineral resources for their infrastructure.

The researchers offer two solutions. The first is that their results would empower nations to plan for mineral scarcity by collaborating with organizations focused on sustainability. Secondly, that this would lead to improved transparency among nations and develop a global sharing system of mineral data.

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