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Supplies of Rare Earth Elements Exhausted By 2017

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the they-don't-call-them-rare-for-nothing dept.

Earth 958

tomhudson writes "While we bemoan the current oil crisis, I ran across an editorial that led me to research a more immediate threat. Ramped-up production of flat-panel displays means the material to make them will be 'extinct' by 2017. This goes for other electronics as well. Quoting: '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 at the journal entry."

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eek! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028105)

The need for renewable materials gets new support from the FPS crowd. News at 11...

Re:eek! (5, Funny)

solitas (916005) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028497)

So that's it then: we HAVE to go discover Rare Moon elements, Rare Mars elements, Rare Ganymede elements, ad infinitum...

It's all a cunning plan by NASA to stay employed!
(do I really NEED to put a '/sarc' after this?)

extinction of zinc? (1, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028107)

We're a bit stuffed then, whilst zinc is a nice-to-have with electronic stuff, its reasonably important for the well being of humans. Is the story scaremongering, or are we all doomed?

Re:extinction of zinc? (5, Insightful)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028177)

We arent doomed, zinc will still exist, the amount we consume/need is fractional and exists all over the surface of the planet...

Its just not "farmable" in large amounts that way, therefore they say its "all gone" as far as electronics and such go...

Re:extinction of zinc? (2, Interesting)

a_real_bast... (1305351) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028195)

It's called "trace" in the diet for a reason. But I assume this is talking about easily exploitable ore deposits. And flat-panels dying off is bad, but no zinc removes a very nice battery-type [wikipedia.org] from electric vehicle research...

Re:extinction of zinc? (5, Informative)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028211)

that depends how much do you rely on goods that travel by ship on salt water?

Zinc anodes are used as an corrosion point for salt water. So Instead of eating the steel hulls in the ships Zinc anodes take the damage. On salt water boats they have to be replaced annually or more.

without zinc world wide shipping will come to a halt a decade later.

Scaremongering... (3, Interesting)

mi (197448) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028275)

The elements are not "destroyed" by being put into electronics — or anything else, that does not leave the planet. They don't disappear from Earth.

Re:Scaremongering... (4, Insightful)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028381)

They disappear in a usable format for electronics though. It will prove interesting to see what happens when it truly does disappear (I'm not sure if 2017 is an accurate date). Either we'll develop vastly different technologies, recycle somehow, somehow create the elements synthetically or mine the stuff from asteroids.

Recycling (4, Insightful)

Dan100 (1003855) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028111)

How many of this stuff can be recovered by recycling? In the EU, companies now have to recycle old electronic equipment [wikipedia.org], which will surely extend the availability of these materials.

Re:Recycling (5, Interesting)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028277)

Indeed, im not sure about all these -iums, which are no doubt toxic to us anyways... but zinc and copper is pretty easy to recycle, and in a decade, we might not need the -iums we (dont really) need now...

Especially if we upgrade all the phone and cable lines to optical, and recycle those trillion miles of copper, and as we move away from coin money (another debate unto itself) there's also that (both copper and zinc), replacing copper pipes with plastic, etc, etc, etc... although, all that plastic is also another debate.

Re:Recycling (4, Insightful)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028387)

I think were all right with plastic we can always 'grown' it from biofeuls once we sort out this pesky demand for oil thing.

Re:Recycling (3, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028409)

Exactly. This is just scaremongering. In the end, we have literally TONS of copper and zinc, and most of it is trivial to extract for recycling. If there becomes a large enough demand for it, the U.S. Mint might very well stop making pennies out of zinc, or stop making them altogether, leaving tons of zinc available for recycling. Then there's gazillions of miles of copper cable, copper pipes and tubing, etc. Much of it is already being recycled, in fact.

Add in the copper and zinc that can be pulled out of recycled electronics, old Duracell batteries (just kidding, there!), dismantled military hardware, etc., etc., plus copper deposits that haven't been found yet....Heck, not even 1% of the ocean floor has been explored.

Really. These people lack imagination.

copper (5, Insightful)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028121)

is by far the most serious in the above list. Ok, so flat panel manufacturers and researchers would have to pay top dollar, no biggie. But copper is going to get more and more crucial as the combined crunch of oil shortage and increased electrical demands are going to combine.

Re:copper (2, Insightful)

zarkill (1100367) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028223)

Maybe that's another good reason to stop making pennies.

Re:copper (1)

Karem Lore (649920) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028407)

Yeah, what else am I going to use to water cool my Processor...

Seriously though, have you not thought why the US (and others) are looking to return to the moon by 2012? Used all these resources, move on...

Karem

Re:copper (5, Informative)

SizzlinSaguaro (1314117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028483)

Copper is in no danger of being depleted, and probably none of the other elements listed. About 3 years ago, copper was barely $1 per pound, and most copper mines around here (S. Arizona) could operate at that price. In fact they could operate at about $0.40 per pound, albeit they would just be hanging on financially. Today, the price of copper is about $3.50 to $4.00 per pound, and they can't pull the stuff out of the ground fast enough. This has cause a couple of things to happen: Old mines are expanding, and new mines are opening up or being proposed. Eventually, this will probably lead to the price of copper to go back down as supply will catch up to demand.

Dont believe the hype (1)

Dskip2 (1316997) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028129)

This is completely wrong things recycle their selves over time. Thats how are Earth seems to work. Im just clearing this up but didnt they also say the world would end by 2012 any way =p

Re:Dont believe the hype (4, Informative)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028431)

no its not, there is no cycle for copper, zinc, etc they've just sat in rocks in mineral form since the earth was created and now are being used. If they are going to be recycled its got to be done by us!

Re:Dont believe the hype (1)

Dskip2 (1316997) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028489)

everything recycles overtime even though it would be a long period of time all natural things recycle back into the earths soil

Re:Dont believe the hype (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028463)

Im just clearing this up but didnt they also say the world would end by 2012 any way

Only for the Mayans. Everyone else will be ok because we didn't put an expiration date on our time recording devices.

What can and cant be done. (5, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028131)

They can dig tons of soil, call them ore, smelt them, refine them, separate the rare-earth material from all other contaminants, purify them and make LCD displays.

When an LCD display breaksdown, they won't be able to crush them into tiny bits, smelt them and recover the material? All it means is your 50" LCD monitor will have some significant residual value and you will sell the dead monitor for some money instead of throwing it in the dumpster.

Re:What can and cant be done. (5, Insightful)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028179)

And landfills will become valuable commercial property.

Re:What can and cant be done. (4, Insightful)

FLEB (312391) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028397)

Really, I've often wondered when "landfill mining" was going to take off as a viable enterprise, as the higher cost of materials justifies the complicated means.

Total ignorance of economics? (4, Insightful)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028135)

It would be mighty surprising if this chicken-little themed story was correct.

Most things when in short supply, their price goes up. People notice this and they either cut back on their use of the stuff, find a substitute, or go out digging for it.

We do have a terrible shortage of celluloid shirt collars, ivory piano keys, whale oil and pyramid shims. Who cares?

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (4, Funny)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028193)

find a substitute

I hear Quake 5 for the abacus is going to be awesome!

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (5, Interesting)

MrMr (219533) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028233)

Yep, clueless, check this story [idtechex.com]
The authors apparently do not realize that the available amount of Gallium depend on the price:
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

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (2, Insightful)

damburger (981828) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028267)

The only thing that can affect the amount of Gallium available on Earth is nucleosynthesis or a fairly sturdy asteroid impact.

Stop treating economics like its a theory of everything. Stop treating it like it is theory at all in fact, because it has as much in common with real science as reading tea leaves does.

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (5, Insightful)

dasunt (249686) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028419)

But the price of gallium will affect the availability of gallium in a form that humans find easily useable.

An increase in price means an increase in resources that can be devoted to extracting gallium and still leave the extractor with a profit.

An increase in price also means that alternatives that used to be more expensive could be less expensive now, which lowers demand for gallium.

Economics isn't a perfect science, and it often heavily relies on imperfect data from a biased world. But I wouldn't put it in the same realm as reading tea leaves.

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (5, Interesting)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028443)

Stop treating economics like its a theory of everything.

The problem isn't economics, it's the idiots that try to invoke it in the way we see them doing here. The fact that the price of a commodity increases when it's in short supply doesn't cure the shortage or make it less of a problem; it merely allocates what supplies remain to those who are willing to pay the most. It's a manifestation of the shortage, not an explanation of it.

In a severe food shortage, yes, the price of food shoots up. People who can afford it continue to eat well (albeit at the expense of other things), but others starve. As far as your typical affluent conservative is concerned, the market has efficiently "solved" the problem.

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (2)

Fzz (153115) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028449)

The only thing that can affect the amount of Gallium available on Earth is nucleosynthesis or a fairly sturdy asteroid impact.

No, if it's really valuable enough we'll go and mine the asteroids or the moon or somewhere else where it's available. It does come down to economics.

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028475)

or, like with oil the new price makes it economically viable to extract it from more rocks thus increasing the amount of mineral gallium.

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (1)

elguillelmo (1242866) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028361)

People notice this and they either cut back on their use of the stuff, find a substitute, or go out digging for it [...] Who cares?

While you have a point there, consequences of scarcity are something to care about. And sadly enough, it's not as simple as just digging for them: export of coltan [wikipedia.org] has been blamed for fuelling war in the Congo.

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (1)

Wister285 (185087) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028427)

This is the heart of the matter. Things become more feasible as the landscape changes. Deep water offshore drilling, coal liquefaction, solar, and wind technologies were all prohibitively expensive five years ago. With crude oil pushing towards $150, that all changes and it becomes economically viable to use other technologies.

Unless water and oxygen start running out, I'm okay with us leaving our doomsday scenarios to the nuclear weapons disarmament folks.

Re:Total ignorance of economics? (1)

Riktov (632) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028457)

Actually, economically speaking, there is no shortage of celluloid shirt collars or those other items.

A shortage is defined as the condition where the available supply of an item is less than the amount demanded at the prevailing price. (And a surplus is the condition where the supply is greater than that demanded at the prevailing price).

Ivory piano keys are very expensive indeed, and few people demand them. But those that do are willing to pay the prevailing market price, and anyone who is willing to pay that price can find them.

In street terms, a good is in a state of shortage when it can't be found on store shelves and people are clamoring for it.

We're running out of 'X'! News at 11... (2, Interesting)

fprintf (82740) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028139)

Guess what, humans are using up precious resources in their inventive quest for more tools/toys/and other environmental "improvements". No sh*t we are going to run out of some of the more unique elements. But as usual, when something gets scarce, it gets expensive and we find other materials as a substitute.

Re:We're running out of 'X'! News at 11... (1, Flamebait)

damburger (981828) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028213)

You are one of these dolts who thinks austrian economics can overrule the laws of physics, aren't you?

The invisible hand isn't some sort of benevolent god-of-the-technological-harvests. Simply because there is a market for something does not mean that the universe will conjure it up for you.

Stop reading your ideology-sodden essays on how the market is The Best Thing EVAR and learn yourself some proper science.

Re:We're running out of 'X'! News at 11... (2)

Markspark (969445) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028283)

as a matter of fact, the same stance he takes, is what the scientific field takes on oil production, just google Peak Oil, and see what you come up with. Scarcity will drive prices, until they are replaced. And i for one don't worry too much about the copper, as in ten or fifteen years, we will probably see that replaced by carbon nanotubes.

Re:We're running out of 'X'! News at 11... (-1, Flamebait)

damburger (981828) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028365)

You are not qualified to speak for the scientific community. Whilst they do model the human consumption of oil economically (fair enough) the idea that the market will conjure up an alternative when it needs to is a pure libertarian fantasy.

Have no fear (4, Funny)

Bozzio (183974) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028143)

We still haven't even begun to use our Upsidasium supply.
Surely it will last us forever.

Re:Have no fear (5, Funny)

jeiler (1106393) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028221)

I'm setting up a massive stockpile of unobtanium against the day that it becomes useful.

I have a secret supply (2, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028157)

I just put my little bottle of indium oxide in the safe. But, to be on the safe side, perhaps I should buy shares in OLEDs, or interference displays, or indeed any of the new technologies coming along.

Had the transistor not come along, doubtless by now the computer industry would have run out of the molybdenum for vacuum tubes.

Re:I have a secret supply (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028337)

actually vacuum tubes were depleting our reserves of vacuum. By the time they went out of use, there was no vacuum left on earth! Some proposed mining vacuum from deep space, but it wasn't practical.

Glass Fiber Will Solve Copper Problem (1)

curmudgeon99 (1040054) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028161)

Though the point of the article is well taken, I think worrying about copper is unnecessary. As we replace copper wire with glass fiber, that will free up lots of the stuff.

Re:Glass Fiber Will Solve Copper Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028249)

You'll change your tune when we start running out of beaches as they use that up to make the glass!

Re:Glass Fiber Will Solve Copper Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028293)

You're trying to get a rise out of this post, yeah? Or just being extraordinarily IT-centric?

Re:Glass Fiber Will Solve Copper Problem (1)

oryan_dunn (998842) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028363)

While this may work for data cables, it wont work inside actual devices (not until the optical processors are produced) and definitely wont work for electrical cables.

Re:Glass Fiber Will Solve Copper Problem (1)

curmudgeon99 (1040054) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028423)

True enough--but consider the volume of copper needed to travel miles versus millimeters inside an integrated circuit. If you eliminate the bulk transfer of electrons via copper wire, you free up vast quantities of copper.

World without zinc? (3, Funny)

jayhawk88 (160512) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028181)

NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! Come back, zinc, come back!

*Whew*, it was just a dream. Thank goodness I still live in a world of telephones, car batteries, handguns [*bang*!] and many things made of zinc.

Rare Earth Elements? (5, Informative)

srjh (1316705) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028183)

Apparently Gallium isn't a Rare Earth Element [wikipedia.org].

Actually, neither is Hafnium, Indium, Zinc or Copper. Does the article have any connection to the rare earth elements at all?

supply and demand - no real problem (0, Redundant)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028185)

A nice scare story, but flawed. As the amount of a material declines, the price goes up. That makes it more economical to extract it from more expensive sites/ores and also makes prospecting for more sources worthwhile.

We saw this with oil scares (it's all going to run out/there's only 25 years supply) in the 70's and 80's. We'll see it with pretty much every other resource as it makes a nice, juicy story. In practice the price may well go up, but we'll live with it or maybe find cheaper alternatives

Re:supply and demand - no real problem (5, Insightful)

damburger (981828) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028347)

Shut up, shut up, shut up.

You should be modded redundant because this is now the third time in this discussion I've had to tear down this ideological pop-economic BULLSHIT.

The market doesn't govern the physical universe. At all. The amounts of material and energy present on Earth are in no way related to the laws of supply and demand. The universe is indifferent to your over-applied, unfalsifiable theories. Applying your (almost certainly feeble) understanding of economics implies the universe responds like a rational actor, an idiotic notion that underpins most religion and superstition.

Sometimes 'cheaper alternatives' just don't exist. This is why your precious markets have never got to grips with spaceflight. The markets reaction has always been "Wait till it is cheaper" on the assumption that all technology gets cheaper - ignoring the fact that there is a physical constraint on what you must do to get into orbit. The required delta-V isn't going to change just because it would be financially efficient for it to do so.

If you are a true economist, then fuck off and play with your stock markets and leave actual science to actual scientists.

Re:supply and demand - no real problem (2, Insightful)

Mortiss (812218) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028481)

Both sides should get a grip! While it is clear that economy does not magically conjure materials in demand it is merely a human made factor that creates incentives for use of not so easy to extract sources of the materials as well as research into possible alternative. TRue it is a human invention but so what, it works.

Re:supply and demand - no real problem (2, Interesting)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028499)

The real question isn't when we'll run out of oil (or other non-replenishable goods), but if we'll be forced to use horses and carts before we reach the point where the alternatives are preferable over oil.

We just have to wait (1)

zygotic mitosis (833691) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028187)

The sun will forge some more and send it off through the void... Oh, wait, we're impatient and hardly recycle what we've already used.

Maybe not all bad (3, Informative)

gijoel (628142) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028191)

Looks like asteroid mining is about to take off.

Of course someone is about to shoot me down for this as I don't know the concentrations of gallium, Indium and other metals in the average asteroid.

Re:Maybe not all bad (2, Insightful)

spike1 (675478) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028447)

Sod the asteroids...
We've got a huuuuge chunk of something derived from the same material as our planet a few hundred thousand miles away. Why go millions when the moon is right on our doorstep?

Re:Maybe not all bad (1)

zehaeva (1136559) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028485)

I was looking for one sane person to bring this up. we only have so much of everything down here, but there is so much more up there. maybe, someday, when my great grandchildren are grown up they will start plopping these suckers down into the Australian outback and start mining!

Mining asteroids (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028493)

*mines veldspar*

Gone? (4, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028201)

Something tells me that "the world's supply" of these elements isn't actually going down. Unless Ye Olde Alchemical Procefes (sorry, Mr. Stephenson) are actually transmuting, say, indium, into gold... it's just a question of where the elements are. Which is to say that I'm sure there's lots of it sitting right there in landfills, probably easier to get to than it is when bound up in 100 tons of rock and dirt in a mine. I mean, we didn't ship THAT much of the stuff to Mars yet, did we?

Or, if the point is that all of these elements are bound up in in-use devices, and always will be, then that's another matter. But I'd be a bit surprised to find that we've actually touched even close to all of the deposits available. Just the cheap ones. And recycling will probably be cheaper than, say, mining it on the moon or the ocean floor.

off base ^ 99 (3, Informative)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028203)

First of all, the "rare earths" are not all thst rare.

Secondly, none of the elements mentioned in the sd story are in any way even near to being a rare earth, i.e. an element in that row of the periodic table.

And of course it's unlikely we will "run out" of anything, or that it will matter. Things seem to turn up when the price goes up, or we find substitutes.

Otherwise, the story was okay.

Re:off base ^ 99 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028495)

Yea But right now, we will run out off stuff because the OS's are not linux for those long haul things as in that moderate a hundred of these then a glass of heineken could not be like a guinness and Linux could actually be used by some guy to create more JVC, widescreen TVs

DOES IT RUN LINUX? you ....

And this is where the beginning of (4, Interesting)

Rooked_One (591287) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028207)

mining our landfills will begin...

It was going to have to happen eventually. One thing i've always thought to myself is, that if the earth is here 50,000 years from now and some cognitive being starts exploring, everything will be told in our landfills... They may not be able to know what we did at this time, but they will know the materials we used - at least Styrofoam ;)

Used up elements (1)

BasharTeg (71923) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028209)

How exactly are these elements "used up"? Yes, they might be more expensive to recover, but it's not like they're exhausted by their use. Unless we're shooting them into space, or changing them via nuclear fusion/fission, the elements aren't gone. You know, matter cannot be created or destroyed and all that? I'm no chemist, but as far as I learned chem in high school and college, we still haven't found a chemical way to transform one element into another element (alchemy?).

So basically what is really going to happen is these rare elements are going to get much more expensive because they will have to be recovered from what we're using them for. That's not great, but it's not "element extinction".

Buried as inaccurate.. oh wait Slashdot.

OftLoG (4, Insightful)

rindeee (530084) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028215)

Every few weeks we have to endure this kind of drivel. Doom and gloom to sell news, get grant dollars, whatever. Last week's scare mongering wearing thing? Just trot out the latest manbearpig. In cases such as this, past performance IS a pretty good indicator of the future. We, mankind, make improvements, overcome shortfalls, etc. OLEDs will surpass LCDs in price/performance. Then the next. And the next. And so on. I'm damn sick of the media (ALL of the media be it online, print, radio, conservative, liberal, "Fair and Balanced", whatever) basing 95% of their reporting on sensationalism to pump up non-news.

Re:OftLoG (1)

Wister285 (185087) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028351)

I totally agree. Early Americans faced dilemmas that were not unlike what we face today. One example was what to do about the fact that they were tearing through their timber stock for many uses, especially heat. Solution? Burn coal!

Acting as if we have to sustain ourselves with our current technologies only is absurd. Technology advances for a reason!

Good news (0, Flamebait)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028219)

This means that the vast majority of society, the parasites who know nothing other than consume, consume, consume, will finally wither and die on the vine. As the world's overloaded infrastructure breaks down, governments will either disintegrate into anarchy, or police states. The trick will be to live in a country that chooses anarchy. Only then will people have the perspective to realize what a mess that they've voted into existence, and perhaps start again on better footing. A little revolution now and then, is a healthy thing.

Time to crack open the old dumps (2, Insightful)

haplo21112 (184264) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028231)

At some point and it seems that point is soon, we are going to have to crack open all those old landfills. Think of how much has been tossed in there before we really started to pay attention to reuse.

Re:Time to crack open the old dumps (1)

stalky14 (574130) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028343)

Absolutely. Landfill mining is going to be big in the middle to latter half of the century. Keep in mind that with the exception of things that get burned up (like oil), none of this stuff has "disappeared" from the earth. It has simply been moved to another location. I've got to pick me up some Waste Management stock one of these years for my retirement.

Matter assembly (2, Interesting)

Xelios (822510) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028243)

Sounds like it's about time to invest more money into molecular nanotechnology [wikipedia.org]. It's still decades off, but most resources on this planet won't last forever. It's never too early to start planning for the future.

One has to wonder how many of the world's problems could be solved if we'd just invest the money for the Iraq war into R&D instead. The research will still take time, but at least it'll get done.

I wasn't aware we were sending Iridium into space (4, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028253)

All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc.

We are of course not shooting our rare Earth elements into space, they won't be gone, they will be sitting in waste dumps in China and elsewhere.

Maybe the headline should have been "We will be mining landfills by 2017 for Rare Earths."

Heard it before (4, Insightful)

gaijin_ (134592) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028259)

A frew decades ago the supply of copper seemed to run out. This resulted in a large hike in copper prices that made the copper in AT&T's wires in the US more valueble than the stocks of the entire company. Then a bunch of people opened new copper mines that extracted copper ore that was not profitable to extract at the earlier lower price.

Then the price fell again, but to a higher level than it was before.

This is what happens with all kinds of raw materials. The price goes up, but the supply doesn't try out.

Oil has the same tendency, the oil that they have started digging now is much more expensive to get out of the ground than the 20$ a barrel they used to dig out a few years ago. (Ofcause the oil fields that were profitable at 20$ a barrel are now astronomically profitable at 130$ a barrel!)

Re:Heard it before (-1, Flamebait)

damburger (981828) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028455)

Why does this crap keep getting modded 'Insightful'? Presumably its by fellow armchair economists who agree that the atomic composition of the Earth responds to supply and demand. Retards.

Sensationalism (1)

Wister285 (185087) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028279)

This sounds like a sensationalist story. There's a difference between "uneconomical" and "unavailable". Didn't people think we were going to run out of oil by now? The difference is that you can't go dig a well with your pickax and shovel in your backyard anymore. You have to do deep water offshore drilling or extract it from oil sands. There is even coal liquefaction technology.

The shortage of metals is something that we will deal with in one way or another. Fiber optics replace copper for telecommunications, composites can replace metals in certain applications, and so forth. What we need to look at is when it is economically viable to make the switch. The free market is much more efficient than people give it credit for. It will do its job one way or another.

hmmm, tell the metal dealers about this (2, Interesting)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028285)

apparently the metal dealers, the guys whose livelyhood depends on knowing what's up with metals, they don't know that these elements are kaput.

a little googling shows that Hafnium you can buy on the internet, no sweat, at about $12 a gram. Many times cheaper than HP printer ink.

 

Another reason to fund NASA (1)

You2 (1318015) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028295)

Hey, great idea, let's get off this planet before we die of overpopulation, the moon is ripe to be mined, mars will do fine after some teraforming. Once April 2063 has passed, then we will have faster than light travel and we can colonize planets outside the solar system.

Just make some more! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028301)

Time to put the finishing touches to my fission reactor...

1 Build fission reactor
2 Add Hydrogen
3 ...
4 Profit!

How much of Earth have we explored? (1)

ionymous (1216224) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028315)

Currently when we mine for material, aren't we really just scratching the surface of the Earth?

The Earth's crust is about 10 miles thick.

Are all the "rare earth elements" only up at the surface where we mine?

I'm guessing we've actually mined a tiny fraction of 1% of the planet.

I think of oil in the same way. I have no scientific data, but my guess is that there is a huge amount of undiscovered oil waiting all over the world. Just because we haven't found it doesn't mean it isn't there.

Solution: Solution! (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028331)

Hint: Most smelting processes are not perfect at extracting their goal and they leave behind "tailings". Some simple math will show when it's profitable to run the tailings again through the process. It's happened before and will likely happen again. No sweat, and no running out. Just higher prices for miniscule amounts of certain elements.

W/E! If this was your first clue that it's... (1)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028341)

time to get off this rock, then you've been:

          1) Under one
          2) Drinking the wrong kind of Kool-Aid®
          3) Convinced of your "Devine Right" of supremacy
          4) Distracted by {pick one} American Gladiators / Britney / Lindsay / Paris / America's Got Talent
          5) All of the above

Personally, I blame the politicians for squandering the lead we had in space, starting in the 1970's.

No Doubt Caused By Global Warming (1)

littlewink (996298) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028355)

What idiot editor let this subject get posted? Hasn't anyone taken an economics class:

Indium becomes scarce - price of indium rises - people recycle indium; people seek substitutes for indium - technological breakthrough allows substitution of dirt (well, ok, silicon) for indium - indium prices plummet; dirt prices rise - indium hoarders bemoan price drop, cannot give away their supplies.

Sheesh!

It's not THAT rare... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028371)

How convenient that we can find most of this stuff in abundance throughout the solar system.

Now it's only a matter of mining it.

get your ass to Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24028375)

Despite being called rare earths these elements almost certainly exist in comparatively large quantities elsewhere in the solar system. With the advent of space travel the earth doesn't have to be a closed system any more. Sure, it's prohibitively expensive now but so was transatlantic flight at one point.

Re:get your ass to Mars (1, Redundant)

damburger (981828) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028401)

Its been said you could pile up gold bricks on the moon and it would still be a huge loss bringing them back. This isn't going to change, unless you somehow think that the required delta-V is going to respond to market forces, and I've already had to tear some fool a new one for that.

Space will never be profitable, so to look to space we need to look beyond profit.

They're not gone (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028461)

It's not like these materials are gone. They just need to be extracted from the cell phones, laptops, etc that are being sent to landfill sites. As for copper, there's tons of in the old wiring of buildings. For example, the company I work for recently moved our servers and ran a bunch of new network cables. All the old ones are no longer being used, but they're still all there.

carbon carbon carbon (2, Interesting)

Gearoid_Murphy (976819) | more than 5 years ago | (#24028491)

there's work underway to replace the light emitting components of flat panel displays with carbon nanotubes [physorg.com]. Carbon nanotubes are much better conductors of electricity [wikipedia.org] than copper. Graphene (flat carbon) could potentially replace silicon [wikipedia.org]. the nanotubes are also incredibly strong, potentially replacing steel and concrete as a building material. Seeing as carbon is so good for making tubes, it could replace the entire internet [wikipedia.org] AS WELL!!!!!!
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