Natural Resource Economics - Perpetual Resources Vs. Exhaustibility - Trend Towards Perpetual Resources

Trend Towards Perpetual Resources

As radical new technology impacts the materials and minerals world more and more powerfully, the materials used are more and more likely to have perpetual resources. There are already more and more materials that have perpetual resources and less and less materials that have nonrenewable resources or are strategic and critical materials. Some materials that have perpetual resources such as salt,stone, magnesium, and common clay were mentioned previously. Thanks to new technology, synthetic diamonds were added to the list of perpetual resources, since they can be easily made from a lump of carbon. Another form of carbon, synthetic graphite, is made in large quantities (graphite electrodes, graphite fiber) from carbon precursors such as petroleum coke or a textile fiber. A firm named Liquidmetal Technologies, Inc. is utilizing the removal of dislocations in a material with a technique that overcomes performance limitations caused by inherent weaknesses in the crystal atomic structure. It makes amorphous metal alloys, which retain a random atomic structure when the hot metal solidifies, rather than the crystalline atomic structure (with dislocations) that normally forms when hot metal solidifies. These amorphous alloys have much better performance properties than usual; for example, their zirconium-titanium Liquidmetal alloys are 250% stronger than a standard titanium alloy. The Liquidmetal alloys can supplant many high performance alloys.

Exploration of the ocean bottom in the last fifty years revealed manganese nodules and phosphate nodules in many locations. More recently, polymetallic sulfide deposits have been discovered and polymetallic sulfide "black muds" are being presently deposited from "black smokers" The cobalt scarcity situation of 1978 has a new option now: recover it from manganese nodules. A Korean firm plans to start developing a manganese nodule recovery operation in 2010; the manganese nodules recovered would average 27% to 30% manganese, 1.25% to 1.5% nickel, 1% to 1.4% copper, and 0.2% to 0.25% cobalt (commercial grade) Nautilus Minerals Ltd. is planning to recover commercial grade material averaging 29.9% zinc, 2.3% lead, and 0.5% copper from massive ocean-bottom polymetallic sulfide deposits using an underwater vacuum cleaner-like device that combines some current technologies in a new way. Partnering with Nautilus are Tech Cominco Ltd. and Anglo-American Ltd., world-leading international firms.

There are also other robot mining techniques that could be applied under the ocean. Rio Tinto is using satellite links to allow workers 1500 kilometers away to operate drilling rigs, load cargo, dig out ore and dump it on conveyor belts, and place explosives to subsequently blast rock and earth. The firm can keep workers out of danger this way, and also use fewer workers. Such technology reduces costs and offsets declines in metal content of ore reserves. Thus a variety of minerals and metals are obtainable from unconventional sources with resources available in huge quantities.

Finally, what is a perpetual resource? The ASTM definition for a perpetual resource is "one that is virtually inexhaustible on a human time-scale". Examples given include solar energy, tidal energy, and wind energy, to which should be added salt, stone, magnesium, diamonds, and other materials mentioned above. A study on the biogeophysical aspects of sustainability came up with a rule of prudent practice that a resource stock should last 700 years to achieve sustainability or become a perpetual resource, or for a worse case, 350 years.

If a resource lasting 700 or more years is perpetual, one that lasts 350 to 700 years can be called an abundant resource, and is so defined here. How long the material can be recovered from its resource depends on human need and changes in technology from extraction through the life cycle of the product to final disposal, plus recyclability of the material and availability of satisfactory substitutes. Specifically, this shows that exhaustibility does not occur until these factors weaken and play out: the availability of substitutes, the extent of recycling and its feasibility, more efficient manufacturing of the final consumer product, more durable and longer-lasting consumer products, and even a number of other factors.

The most recent resource information and guidance on the kinds of resources that must be considered is covered on the Resource Guide-Update

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