Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mineral reserves of the world may not last long.

Known reserves of minerals may not last long.
by
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

The use of minerals has been instrumental in raising the standard of living of mankind. The names of the minerals and their products have been used to christen various eras of civilization, such as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Nuclear Age. The sophisticated world of today is largely the result of the enlarged use of minerals, whether it be as fertilizer for food, coal, petroleum, natural gas and atomic energy as sources of power, or countless other necessities of life, like automobiles, aero planes, ships, modern communications and a host of chemicals which are derived from the use of minerals.

Minerals thus form a part and parcel of our daily life. Since the beginning of this century the use of minerals has been greatly diversified and expanded. Their consumption has shown an unprecedented increase, year after year. It has been estimated that the quantity of mineral consumed in the last 70 years even exceeds the aggregate quantity consumed in previous human history. The sharp rise in consumption has accelerated attempts in continuous search for locating new deposits and even deeper probe into the womb of the earth and the ocean beds.

Minerals do not occur where we want them to be nor deposits become assets unless explored and developed. Experience shows that no country possesses adequate resources of all minerals. Several countries are practically devoid of mineral wealth and many have inadequate resources.
Since the future of humanity depends on mineral resources, we must understand that these resources have limits; our known supply of minerals will be used up early in the third millennium of our calendar. Furthermore, modern agriculture and the ability to feed an overpopulated world is dependent on mineral resources to construct the machines that till the soil, enrich it with mineral fertilizers, and to transport the products. As geologists, we cannot tell you that mineral resources are finite. The presently available resources were created by earth processes and after we exhaust them, more will develop in a few tens of million years, which is not in human lifespans.
Though minerals are essential for the continued industrial development, as well as for industries, the minerals often does not last long. A mineral property is a wasting asset. The reserves in a mine are continuously decreasing. It is not like agriculture where crops can be raised again and again on the same land. Some authorities apprehend that the known reserves of minerals may not last long and most of them will exhaust well within 100 to 200 years. Even the minerals which are relatively plentiful will become extremely expensive because of the depletion of large, rich and easily accessible deposits of these metals.

This prediction has got some validity in respect of expendable minerals like petroleum, and non-expendable metals like tungsten, tin, lead, zinc and mercury. In the book “Limits to Growth” by the club of Rome a great apprehension has been shown about the life of many minerals. They have calculated the life of various minerals deposits by dividing the known reserves by the total consumption at a static rate and came to the following conclusions:

Aluminium: 100 years
Chromium : 420 years
Coal : 2300 years
Cobalt: 110 years
Copper: 36 years
Gold : 11 years
Iron : 240 years
Lead: 26 years
Natural Gas: 38 years
Petroleum: 31 years
Zinc:
23 years

Though these predictions are old but it looks true to some extent with the existing knowledge of the reserves. A reserve of many minerals has improved due to establishment of new reserves. But the danger still exists due to the reckless mining of certain minerals like Iron, Coal etc. in many parts of the world especially in Jharkhand state of India, where Iron ore mining is done illegally and in an unscientific way.

We are now reaching limits of reserves for many minerals . Human population growth and increased modern industry are depleting our available resources at increasing rates. Although objections have been made to the Rome Report of 1972, the press of human growth upon the planet's resources is a very real problem. The consumption of mineral resources proceeded at a phenomenal rate during the past hundred years and population and production increases cannot continue without increasing pollution and depletion of mineral resources. The geometric rise of population has been joined by a period of rapid industrialization, which has placed incredible pressure on the mineral resources. Limits of growth in the world are imposed not as much by pollution as by the depletion of natural resources. As the industrialized nations of the world continue the rapid depletion of energy and mineral resources, and resource-rich less-developed nations become increasingly aware of the value of their raw materials, resource driven conflicts will increase.
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