Geological processes take millions of years to create mineral deposits, but humans are mining those deposits as if they were renewable.
Could we ever completely exhaust some of the mineral and metal resources that underpin 21st century infrastructure and lifestyles, be it gold, iron, rhenium or selenium?
Will the minerals run out 50 years from now?
By some estimates, our over-consumption of some metallic minerals could exhaust the supply in 50 years or less.
Iron is the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Most of the iron is “trapped” in the depths, and only a small fraction reaches the Earth’s outer layer in the form of iron ore.
It is estimated that in 2022 there will be about 180 billion tons of raw iron ore on earth, with a total iron content of about 85 billion tons. It sounds like a lot, but it won’t last forever.
In the book “Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization” (Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization), Mr. Lester Brown – environmental analyst, founder of the US Earth Policy Institute – makes a big claim: iron ore may last 2062 out by.
Similarly, he predicted that other important minerals such as lead and copper could also be depleted in the coming decades.
However, many argue that Mr Brown is being extreme given the situation. Other researchers say the metal shortage is likely much lower than Mr Brown’s “sensational” estimate.
Moreover, according to him, it is possible to recycle iron as well as its derivatives like steel. That is, the deposits of metals in the earth’s crust are not all.
A 2021 study argues that one major metal at risk of being completely depleted in 100 years is copper.
Six other resources that are likely to be exhausted in about 100–200 years are antimony, gold, silver, bismuth and molybdenum. And nine resources have decay periods of 200 to 1,000 years: indium, chromium, zinc, nickel, tungsten, tin, rhenium, selenium, and cadmium.
Drilling Deep into the Center of the Earth: Caution!
according to science page IFL ScienceMany scientists believe that we have only exploited the surface of the earth. Most current mines are only 300 meters deep in the Earth’s crust.
However, minerals can be found at greater depths. As technology advances, it is likely that we will be able to tap into these deeper reserves.
However, the question is, can we get them in a way that doesn’t harm the planet or the people?
“Mineral resources present in the earth are not to be confused with reserves – they are mineral resources that are quantitatively and economically extractable. The environmental and social impact of mining operations deep in the earth need to be considered,” Louise Fontebotte , said Professor Earth Sciences at the University of Geneva (Switzerland).