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RIP LCD Displays. Invented: 1971 - Extinct: 2017

tomhudson (43916) writes | about 6 years ago

User Journal 40

Flat-panel LCDs, high-output solar cells, nuclear reactor control rods (extinct: 2017 due to the world's indium supply - currently at 6,000 tons, gone) - even galvanized steel (extinct: 2037 - world's zinc supply exhausted) - all gone. Rare-earth lasers? Ditto. Doped semi-conductors? Buh-bye. Automotive and cell-phone electronics, and pcs? Don't throw out that old P1 with the crt just yet ... 15 years from now, it may just be state-of-the-art, as newer boxes succumb to tin

Flat-panel LCDs, high-output solar cells, nuclear reactor control rods (extinct: 2017 due to the world's indium supply - currently at 6,000 tons, gone) - even galvanized steel (extinct: 2037 - world's zinc supply exhausted) - all gone. Rare-earth lasers? Ditto. Doped semi-conductors? Buh-bye. Automotive and cell-phone electronics, and pcs? Don't throw out that old P1 with the crt just yet ... 15 years from now, it may just be state-of-the-art, as newer boxes succumb to tin whiskers, lack of replacement parts, etc.

Even the Wall Street Journal is starting to "get it".

A Metal Scare to Rival the Oil Scare

Indium, gallium and hafnium are some of the least-known elements on the periodic table, but New Scientist warns that reserves of these low-profile minerals and others like them might soon be exhausted thanks to the demand for flat screens and other high-tech goods. Scientists who have tried to estimate how long the worlds mineral supply can meet global demand have made some gloomy predictions.

Armin Reller, a materials chemist at the University of Augsburg in Germany, estimates that in 10 years the world will run out of indium, used for making liquid-crystal displays for flat-screen televisions and computer monitors. He also predicts that the world will run out of zinc by 2037, and hafnium, an increasingly important part of computer chips, by 2017.

Researchers worry that a supply crunch in some metals and minerals could kill off promising new technologies. René Kleijn, a chemist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, says that a new design for solar panels that would make them twice as efficient as most current panels might not get built for lack of gallium and indium. Estimates of reserves vary widely, and scientists say it is difficult in some cases to accurately forecast demand, says New Scientists David Cohen. Whats more, it is possible that demand for some metals will plateau. Tom Graedel, a professor of industrial ecology at Yale University, found that per capita consumption of iron leveled off around 1980, suggesting that at some point people in technologically advanced societies might only need so much of any one metal. But Prof. Graedel notes that this hasnt been the case with copper, a crucial component of wiring and computer chips. He predicts that by 2100, global demand for copper might outstrip mineable supplies.

If the most dire predictions are true, recycling of rare metals will be the only way to manufacture some gadgets and machines as demand grows in the developing world. Mr. Kleijn says that a lot of copper could be freed up by replacing cities copper pipes with plastic ones. Hazel Prichard, a geologist at the University of Cardiff in the United Kingdom, also is developing ways to extract platinum, a vital component in catalytic converters and fuel cells, from the dust and grime of city streets. Apparently, urban grit contains 1.5 parts per million of platinum.

We run out of gallium and other rare earths.

The element gallium is in very short supply and the world may well run out of it in just a few years. Indium is threatened too, says Armin Reller, a materials chemist at Germany's University of Augsburg. He estimates that our planet's stock of indium will last no more than another decade. All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc. Even copper is an endangered item, since worldwide demand for it is likely to exceed available supplies by the end of the present century.

...

Gallium's atomic number is 31. It's a blue-white metal first discovered in 1831, and has certain unusual properties, like a very low melting point and an unwillingness to oxidize, that make it useful as a coating for optical mirrors, a liquid seal in strongly heated apparatus, and a substitute for mercury in ultraviolet lamps. It's also quite important in making the liquid-crystal displays used in flat-screen television sets and computer monitors.

As it happens, we are building a lot of flat-screen TV sets and computer monitors these days. Gallium is thought to make up 0.0015 percent of the Earth's crust and there are no concentrated supplies of it. We get it by extracting it from zinc or aluminum ore or by smelting the dust of furnace flues. Dr. Reller says that by 2017 or so there'll be none left to use. Indium, another endangered element - number 49 in the periodic table - is similar to gallium in many ways, has many of the same uses (plus some others: it's a gasoline additive, for example, and a component of the control rods used in nuclear reactors) and is being consumed much faster than we are finding it. Dr. Reller gives it about another decade. Hafnium, element 72, is in only slightly better shape. There aren't any hafnium mines around; it lurks hidden in minute quantities in minerals that contain zirconium, from which it is extracted by a complicated process that would take me three or four pages to explain. We use a lot of it in computer chips and, like indium, in the control rods of nuclear reactors, but the problem is that we don't have a lot of it. Dr. Reller thinks it'll be gone somewhere around 2017. Even zinc, commonplace old zinc that is alloyed with copper to make brass, and which the United States used for ordinary one-cent coins when copper was in short supply in World War II, has a Reller extinction date of 2037. (How does a novel called The Death of Brass grab you?)

Zinc was never rare. We mine millions of tons a year of it. But the supply is finite and the demand is infinite, and that's bad news. Even copper, as I noted above, is deemed to be at risk. We humans move to and fro upon the earth, gobbling up everything in sight, and some things aren't replaceable.

http://www.science.org.au/nova/newscientist/027ns_005.htm No more platinum for fuel cells.
http://blog.techfun.org/can-we-build-the-future

Fuel cells?

t has been estimated that if all the 500 million vehicles in use today were re-equipped with fuel cells, operating losses would mean that all the worlds sources of platinum would be exhausted within 15 years. Unlike with oil or diamonds, there is no synthetic alternative: platinum is a chemical element, and once we have used it all there is no way on earth of getting any more.

The price of indium has already gone up over 1500% in 3 years ... it's needed for that new generation of high-output solar cells, as well as lcd displays. Extinct by 2017.

Armin Reller, a materials chemist at the University of Augsburg in Germany, and his colleagues are among the few groups who have been investigating the problem. He estimates that we have, at best, 10 years before we run out of indium. Its impending scarcity could already be reflected in its price: in January 2003 the metal sold for around $60 per kilogram; by August 2006 the price had shot up to over $1000 per kilogram.

http://www.takeonit.com/compare.aspx?rightexpertid=3&leftexpertid=24

So, got horse and buggy?

NOTE: Also submitted the following summary as a story, since this is both "news for nerds" AND "stuff that matters":

While we bemoan the current oil crisis, this editorial led me to research about a more immediate threat. Ramped-up production of flat-panel displays means the material to make them, as well as other electronics, will be "extinct" by 2017.

The element gallium is in very short supply and the world may well run out of it in just a few years. Indium is threatened too, says Armin Reller, a materials chemist at Germany's University of Augsburg. He estimates that our planet's stock of indium will last no more than another decade. All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc. Even copper is an endangered item, since worldwide demand for it is likely to exceed available supplies by the end of the present century.

More links here.

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40 comments

Hi, Chicken Little (1)

Mustakrakish (1309263) | about 6 years ago | (#24015035)

When did the sky start falling this time?

Besides - there's a simple solution: Mine the Asteroid belt.

Re:Hi, Chicken Little (2, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24015501)

We've known that we had only 100 years of copper for a LONG time.

The problem is that back in the '60s and '70s, when the original "how much stuff do we have left" research was done, nobody could have predicted the home electronics boom. TVs used vacuum tubes and a few circut boards. Today's flat-panel displays are snarfing up so much indium that what would have been good for thousands of years, if it were just used in high-performance bearings, will be gone in 10. The appetite for big-screen TVS, LCD computer displays, etc., is HUGE.

It's not like there are indium mines .. While Indium Corp. talks about silver being present overall in higher concentrations in the earths' crust "and there's no shortage of silver", the concentration of silver varies highly, which makes it possible to mine it where concentrations are high. Indium doesn't follow the same "dispersal pattern."

#1 consumer of indium - production of flat panel display..
#1 consumer of gallium - cell phone production.

Even this paper by Indium Corp [indium.com] , that tries to paint a rosy scenario, minimizes the problem with a bunch of hand-waving. Look at the table on page 5: indium sources and uses scenario. There was a world-wide shortfall in indium production in 2007 of 12 tonnes, 39 tonnes for this year, and 43 tonnes for next year. From a peak of 66 tonnes cumulative stocks in 2006 to only 10 tonnes this year, and next year's deficit not only wipes out the accumulated stockpile, but results in a serious shortfall.

Now go to the next table, on page 7 ... while there's still a cumulative surplus, we're seeing annual production not keeping up with demand, and the surplus is being drawn down. "Conveniently", the table doesn't look at 2010, where we will see the same situation as indium - a shortage in absolute terms.

Re:Hi, Chicken Little (1)

pythorlh (236755) | about 6 years ago | (#24018627)

Indeed. If this is true, it gives me hope for the space program doing something actually useful in my lifetime. I've been disappointed with both current missions as planned initiatives for a while. If we start needing metals that we can only get from space, we'll actually start going to space for more than a hobby.

Re:Hi, Chicken Little (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24021057)

The problem with space mining is that those rare elements are REALLY rare - its not like mining a comet for water, or an asteroid for nickel and iron. At 0.05 ppm, you'd need to mine 20 million TONS of asteroid to get 1 ton of indium - and we're using 1,281 tonnes nextyear just for flat-panel displays (1,555 tonnes total). So, 35 billion tonnes of asteroid == 1 year's supply, IF you get lucky on the type of asteroid, and IF recover 100% of the indium ...

That's a lot of "ifs".

It also explains the Fermi paradox. A civilization that leverages materials sciences to the extent that we have, cannot survive such a resource collapse.

We're also short on germanium [reuters.com] (i/r sensors, chips, fibre-optic cables, catalyst, solar cells, energy-saving lighting),

Re:Hi, Chicken Little (1)

pythorlh (236755) | about 6 years ago | (#24023417)

But isn't iridium more common in the asteroid belt? That's one of the reasons that the iridium layer is used to promote the comet theory of dinosaur extinction. Can't we expect at least some of these to be less rare in space?

Re:Hi, Chicken Little (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24023747)

I-n-dium, not i-r-i-dium :-)

Also, while not as rare in space (much of the earth's supply has been gravity-separated and is now locked in the core), it's useful for dating the meteor strike because it *is* rare. If it were all that common, just the 40,000 tonnes of dust that the earth naturally sweeps out of space every year [answersingenesis.org] would have buried any iridium "signature".

Re:Hi, Chicken Little (1)

eav (701231) | about 6 years ago | (#24030821)

The figure of 40,000 tonnes of dust per year from AIG has been shown to be incorrect. "Other recent estimates of the mass of interplanetary matter reaching the Earth from space, based on satellite-borne detectors, range from about 11,000 to 18,000 tons per year (67) [30-49 tons/day]; estimates based on the cosmic-dust content of deep-sea sediment are comparable (e.g., 11, 103)." Dalrymple, G. Brent. 1984. "How Old is the Earth? A Reply to Scientific Creationism" [talkorigins.org] Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Volume 1, Part 3, edited by Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites, April 30, 1984, pages 66-131

Meh. (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | about 6 years ago | (#24015121)

Some engineer will find a replacement- they always do;-)


THough it does remind me of a nightmare I once had where all the zinc disappeared. I couldn't call for help or even shoot myself! And this weird B-actor kept following me around and telling me everything that was gone...

Re:Meh. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24015685)

Some things just can't be replaced. Rare earths have interesting chemical and electrical properties, but they're called rare earths because ... well, they're RARE.

Let's look at zinc, which isn't a rare earth. Less than 20 years, an we won't have galvanized steel. That means that metal fencing will either have to be coated with plastic, or made from aluminium. What about structural steel used in bridge structures and skyscrapers? "Structural aluminium" doesn't have the same strength per unit of cross-section, which means a whole new design process.

Even something as common as roofing nails ... zinc-coated steel.

Re:Meh. (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | about 6 years ago | (#24018679)

I may be cynical, but I do have faith in human ingenuity. We have difficulty in understanding how Stonehenge or the Pyramids could have been built because we have so much engineering technology available that we cannot think of a solution without it. If and when the precious metals either run out or are too cost prohibitive, someone will find a way around them. Not necessarily as an LCD display, but a display nonetheless. That is the important bit, and that is what I have faith in.

The Zinc thing, BTW, was a Simpson's film-reel with Troy McClure;-)

Re:Meh. (1)

ces (119879) | about 6 years ago | (#24022413)

Not necessarily as an LCD display, but a display nonetheless.

See plasma, OLED, FED, or electronic paper.

Re:Meh. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24022657)

OLEDs have a few problems - like that they degrade really quickly (organic ... hmmm, maybe we should say they "rot"), and they also use rare earths - indium tin okide is the most common anode. We're running out of indium ...

As for FED/SED, it's been promised every few years since 1999 ... maybe by 2007, or when they get the patent problems worked out.

Electronic paper is probably the best bet.

Is the sky falling? (1)

ces (119879) | about 6 years ago | (#24022371)

With all of these materials I predict a few things will happen:
1. Currently uneconomic sources will be exploited.
2. Exploration for new sources will increase.
3. Ways to either use less per unit product or alternative technologies not requiring said rare element will be developed.
4. Recycling to recover material in old and worn out items will increase. (Mine the garbage dumps!)

That might not be enough in all cases, but I'm fairly optimistic this will avoid any dire shortage of say zinc or copper.

For example what is the concentration of say iridium in seawater? At what point does it become economic to start processing seawater in order to extract it?

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

ces (119879) | about 6 years ago | (#24022453)

Gack, I mean indium, not iridium.

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

plover (150551) | about 6 years ago | (#24022759)

1 and 2 will drive up the costs of the minerals by orders of magnitude. 4 will yield very little material and change the equation by very little, as that supply is finite (and known.)

What this means is the cost of any of these devices will soon skyrocket. So buy that 52" LCD for $2,300 now, because in five years it'll have to go for $23,000. And at $23,000 per flat screen TV (especially in this economy,) the world's supply of indium should last another hundred years.

Of your options above, 3 is probably the best case scenario. But don't hold your breath. Historically when breakthroughs like these have been made, they've been made by using "new" elements in novel ways, (such as indium.) All the easy ways with common minerals have been tested, which is why they ended up using the rare earth elements in the first place.

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24023069)

I think we'll see the emergence of flat-plate vacuum-tube displays. Heavier than LCDs, they would be scalable to larger sizes than conventional CRTs. Of course,they'll also be energy hogs (though not as much as conventional CRTs), but you can't have everything ..

Re:Is the sky falling? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24030353)

...what makes you think 4 will yield little material? Think of a rubbish tip as a highly concentrated mine for very rare materials, with a series of advantages: we built them (so we know where they are), we know what's in them (so we don't waste time trying to extract something that isn't there) and they constantly replentish themselves as people throw stuff away! The only reason we don't mine them now is because it's cheaper to just get the rarer elements from the byproducts of other processes. Scaremongering and other claims that we will "run out" of certain elements are ludicrous - the earth is a closed system, so short of blasting elements into space there's no way to lose them (as long as they're not radioactive); we just move them from mines into dumps.

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24038507)

More than half the current supply of indium is from recycling - in other words, we have a maximum limit beyond which all the indium will be "locked into" devices that are currently in use, and we're half-way there already.

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

ces (119879) | about 6 years ago | (#24034053)

1 and 2 will drive up the costs of the minerals by orders of magnitude. 4 will yield very little material and change the equation by very little, as that supply is finite (and known.)

Well given the run up in prices already for these materials we will probably see the effects of #1 and #2 in a few years (both tend to have a bit of a lead time). As for #4 it really depends on how much recycling is being done now.

What this means is the cost of any of these devices will soon skyrocket. So buy that 52" LCD for $2,300 now, because in five years it'll have to go for $23,000. And at $23,000 per flat screen TV (especially in this economy,) the world's supply of indium should last another hundred years.

Funny thing is even with the huge increase in indium prices we've seen LCD costs continue to drop.

Of your options above, 3 is probably the best case scenario. But don't hold your breath. Historically when breakthroughs like these have been made, they've been made by using "new" elements in novel ways, (such as indium.) All the easy ways with common minerals have been tested, which is why they ended up using the rare earth elements in the first place.

Hmm, from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] :

Due to high cost and limited supply of indium, the fragility and lack of flexibility of ITO layers, and the costly layer deposition requiring vacuum, alternatives are being sought. Carbon nanotube conductive coatings are a prospective replacement. These coatings are being developed by Eikos and Unidym as a lower cost, more mechanically robust alternative to ITO. PEDOT and PEDOT:PSS are manufactured by AGFA and H.C. Starck. PEDOT:PSS layers are in use (though they degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation and have other disadvantages). Other alternatives are eg. aluminium-doped zinc oxide. Cambrios, founded in 2002 by Drs. Angela Belcher of MIT and Evelyn Hu, has a wet-processable transparent conductive film alternative for ITO.

No idea if any of this will ever be practical but there apparently is at least research going on. Thankfully the alternatives don't seem to be overly dependent on rare earths. To the extent they are used they are mostly a catalyst.

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24022763)

Since most of these materials are produced as byproducts of other materials processing, we have to *locate* other sources first ...

Unfortunately, it's not even a case of economics - there's only so much of it available on the planet, no matter how much you're willing to pay for it.

As for recycling - recycling is the only thing that's kept us out of having a shortfall of indium this year, and it wont be enough to deplete existing stockpiles next year.

As for using less, we do have some (expensive) alternatives. But how do you substitute for something as basic as zinck, which isn't a rare earth? The move from galvanized steel to aluminium is going to be VERY expensive, and unfortunately, aluminium still corrodes (aluminium oxide mlecules are larger than aluminium, so aluminium forms a coating of aluminium oxide. Iron oxide molecules, on the other hand, are smaller than iron, leading to gaps in the iron oxide surface layer that encourage still more oxidation).

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 6 years ago | (#24035823)

Unfortunately, it's not even a case of economics - there's only so much of it available on the planet, no matter how much you're willing to pay for it.

Well, the relative amount of materials isn't a case of economics. It's merely an initial condition of our part of the universe. But the solution to this problem is purely market-driven and hence purely a case of economics. As the price of these materials goes up, more supply will open up because more Earth-based resources will become economic to mine. Eventually, space-based resources will become economic to mine as well. Further, the higher price creates incentives to use this material and potential substitute goods in a more efficient manner. It works even in the case where there is no of the resource to be had.

Everything is finite in extent. Markets have been dealing with scarcity for thousands of years. People have been dealing with scarcity for millions of years. Whatever problems the relative scarcity of these materials cause, we will find a solution to it in a reasonably efficient manner.

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

FreakWent (627155) | about 6 years ago | (#24037975)

The book is called the "politics of scarcity" and it's old.

Re:Is the sky falling? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 6 years ago | (#24040795)

Which one? I'm surprised just how many books with that title exist out there.

Go to the source. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24031379)

Read the original article in New Scientist.
Those predictions are based on a model where every human on the planet (~6.5 billion) had a consumption rate that was half of the average US citizen today (~300 thousand).

The 2017 date of 'extinction' for indium and hafnium is when Reller effects of new technologies on demand on that model. Unfortunately, I can't find the primary source of his study to get a less obscured view of his findings/conclusions.

The model is informative: deposits of these materials will be exhausted eventually. And, with the model as an indicator, it will be sooner rather than later as demand for them increases globally. However, the sky is not falling just yet.

Kewl, we'll be out of everything... NOT (1)

crovira (10242) | about 6 years ago | (#24033191)

The "surface" of the earth is running out, but there's a lot of earth besides the surface.

Most of it is even molten too so it runs around lifting tectonic plates and causing earth quakes.

The place to 'mine' will be in 'hot spots' where the earth's magma upwells, (like in Hawaii,) where the volcanic fields are just waiting for someone to get greedy enough.

Re:Kewl, we'll be out of everything... NOT (1)

HeroreV (869368) | about 6 years ago | (#24035611)

Forget oil pumps, the future is all about magma pumps. Hot gold they'll call it. Rising oceans will seem like child's play when the continents start sinking, but that's okay because we'll have plenty of material to build new continents.

Re:Kewl, we'll be out of everything... NOT (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24038753)

The place to 'mine' will be in 'hot spots' where the earth's magma upwells, (like in Hawaii,) where the volcanic fields are just waiting for someone to get greedy enough.

Come and listen to the story 'bout a man named Jed,
Poor mountaineer, barely kept his fam'ly fed.
And then one day he was shootin' at some food,
When up from the ground came a bubblin' crude ..
Magma, that is, molten rock, California FaultJuice.

The first thing you know, ole Jed's a Millionaire,
But after taxes and the EPA his wallet was threadbare,
So he ended up with Ellie May renting out her snatch,
'Cuz that's the only resource you renew with just a bath.

Now poor ole Jed's in the joint doin' time,
Them Revenuers own his soul 'till 2199,
But Jed would rather sit and rot in a San Quentin cell,
'Cuz granny's got her shotgun and she's gonna give him hell.

So the lesson you learn is really very plain,
The more things change, the more they stay the same,
Some days it ain't worth tryin' ta get 'ahead,
You're better off to turn around and go right back to bed.

Y'all come back now, hear?

And THIS is how we will colonize space (1)

jr76 (1272780) | about 6 years ago | (#24033367)

People keep on forgetting that profit was the prime motive in people colonized and crossed the world.

As these products become more and more rarefied, the more and more it will become lucrative to get ships out in space to mine asteroids, and hell, even MARS for Indium, Zinc, Platinum, Gallium, Hafnium, you name it. If one thing this solar system is chalk full of, and that is places to mine.

I do believe in human ingenuity and if we run out of these things on Earth, we're going to look for it in the nearest other places to find it, and WILL find it, with enough time and effort.

In the meantime, though, prices will rise and recycling firms will be probably a good investment, at least in the near-term future.

Re:And THIS is how we will colonize space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24036979)

Mining in space would be a great idea... if we had the resources to research it, get there, set up a mining operation, and bring the materials back. If we're on a course to be all but out of a lot of these things in the foreseeable future, all of that isn't going to happen.

Re:And THIS is how we will colonize space (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24038825)

And of course, human nature being what it is, if we had the resources to do it, we'd be going "well, it isn't that urgent since we have all these resources." The masses are like the grasshopper in the Aesop's Fable. They won't listen to the ant. Unfortunately, in this case, both the grasshopper and the ant die.

Re:And THIS is how we will colonize space (1)

FreakWent (627155) | about 6 years ago | (#24037957)

can you cite a source for your claim that it wasn't nationalism, pride, arrogance or religion that motivated people to explore and colonise?

Re:And THIS is how we will colonize space (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24038859)

In the case of the Irish, it was economics - they couldn't buy food.

In the case of the puritans, it was because everyone was so frigging fed up with them ...

In the case of the french, english, and spanish, it was political spheres of influence

In the case of Glag, it was because Ungh made fun of his cave drawings. Everyone hates an art critic.

Re:And THIS is how we will colonize space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24053183)

SURE we will. We'll just pack up our shit and go there on a wish and a prayer too.

We are SO FAR away from being able to 'mine in space' that it's not even funny. We are flat-out going to run out of the energy to do so too, and sooner then you think.

I see little point to humans mining the planets and asteroid belts to further their destructive ways anyway. By then, this planet we call home will be an acidic hot spot too poisonous to live on.

The EROEI to 'mine in space' is so upside down now that it's only a hope and a prayer in never-never-going-to-happen land.

space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24038089)

The one thing that private space exploration has been lacking is a fiscal motive. Here it is. These metals can be found on asteroids.

Gallium Levels... (1)

Kalgash (158314) | about 6 years ago | (#24122305)

http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/gallium/mcs-2008-galli.pdf [usgs.gov] Global reserves of gallium are some 1 million tonnes. Global production is around 100 tonnes. (from timworstall.com) http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/indium/mcs-2008-indiu.pdf [usgs.gov] Indium has many alternatives (although some are technically inferior).

Re:Gallium Levels... (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24127603)

"Gallium occurs in very small concentrations in ores of other metals. Most gallium is produced as a byproduct of treating bauxite, and the remainder is produced from zinc-processing residues. Only part of the gallium present in bauxite and zinc ores is recoverable, and the factors controlling the recovery are proprietary. Therefore, an estimate of current reserves that is comparable to the definition of reserves of other minerals cannot be made."

If you're not digging up the primary metal ore (bauxite/aluminium or zinc), you don't get to treat the "byproducts" in the first place.

Reply from my blog (1)

webhat (558203) | about 6 years ago | (#24171365)

I reposted part of your story on my blog and mused on what we could possibly do to solve or work round the problem. Somebody posted this reply:
Craig Says:
July 13, 2008 at 1:33 am

It would look like we were in trouble were it not for the false premise that rare earths are running out.

There are two companies in Canada with rare earth resources who are looking to develop them around 2012. 1 Australian producer started mining this year with a resource base of 20 years. Another is slated for construction starting from 2009 with production in 2010. Thereâ(TM)s another mob in africa looking to develop resources over there. The Dubbo zirconia project has rare earth minerals as well which are expected to be extracted. Then there is the Olympic dam mine which will become the largest copper/gold mine in the world, has rare earths which are recoverable as a byproduct, which whilst not recovered at the moment, will be recovered in the future if your promised runout eventuates.

http://webhat.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/rare-elements-exhausted-lets-make-them/#comment-105 [wordpress.com]

Re:Reply from my blog (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24171823)

I had already read about the Canadian development. It doesn't change much - we can only extract economically if it's a byproduct of other resource extraction, because it costs a lot of $$$ to mine those millions of tons of rock.

There is the argument that, as scarcety increases, other deposits will become economical to exploit, but that "band of exploitability" is tied to the cost of energy to remove them - and we all know where *that* is heading.

There are very few areas where indium is worth mining just for itself, under any price scenario, and even then, it's really, really wasteful.

Re:Reply from my blog (1)

webhat (558203) | about 6 years ago | (#24173427)

What did you think of my Nucleosynthesis idea?

Re:Reply from my blog (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24176293)

I think the idea of "imitating" atoms, which sounded whacky at first, holds more hope. More info on artificial atoms [wikipedia.org] , here - scroll down page [iitk.ac.in] .

Simplified definition here [sussex.ac.uk]

quantum dot An isolated groups of atoms, numbering approximately 1,000 to 1,000,000, in the crystalline lattice of a semiconductor, with the dimensions of a single dot measured in nanometres (billionths of a metre). The atoms are coupled quantum mechanically so that electrons in the dot can exist only in a limited number of energy states, much as they do in association with single atoms. The dot can be thought of as a giant artificial atom having light-absorption and emission properties that can be tailored to various uses. Consequently, quantum dots were being investigated in applications ranging from the conversion of sunlight into electricity to new kinds of lasers.

If we can apply this same technology to common materials (think quartz, for example), we wouldn't have to worry about shortages.

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