Looming shortage of key minerals

An international team of scientists from five continents is warning of a looming shortage in key minerals used to make electronic and green energy technologies.

The team studied supply-and-demand forecasts and lead times in finding and developing new sources of supply for minerals such as copper and iron ore, as well as for rare earth and exotic elements such as neodymium and iridium.

The pending shortages are caused by three factors, the researchers say.

First, the pace of exploration for these minerals isn’t keeping up with projected demand. The largest share of investment in mineral exploration is in gold, which is used mainly to make decorations.

Second, it takes a long time to bring a new resource deposit to market. The last big copper lode was discovered in 2002 and didn’t start sending copper to market until 2016. As a result, rising prices don’t necessarily increase supply in the short term.

Third, many of the minerals are found in countries led by unstable regimes, making steady supplies iffy, or by authoritarian governments that hoard the minerals for internal use or as political weapons.

Even a concerted effort at recycling old electronics won’t meet the demand rising with the world’s population, the group says.

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