It’s not exactly unusual to see some environmental type running around screaming because mineral reserves are about to run out. The Club of Rome report, the EU’s “circular economy” ideas, Blueprint for Survival, they’re all based upon the idea that said reserves are going to run out.
They look at the usual listing (USGS, here) and note that at the current rate of usage reserves will run out in 30 to 50 years. Entirely correct they are too. It’s the next step which is such drivelling idiocy. For the claim then becomes that we will run out of those metals, those minerals, when the reserves do. This being idiot bollocks.
For a mineral reserve is, as best colloquial language can put it, the stuff we’ve prepared for use in the next few decades. Like, say, 30 to 50 years. That we’re going to run out of what we’ve got prepared isn’t a problem. For we’ve an entire industry, mining, whose job to to go prepare some more for us to use.
I even wrote a book about all of this.
So, here’s an example of the point. Rare earths, lovely stuff. And there’s a lot of that lovely stuff in the remains and leftovers of other mining operations. I can quite happily point to vast lakes of stuff containing rare earths, hundreds of millions of tonne of stuff containing hundreds of thousands of tonnes – millions maybe. And we do know that a byproduct of phosphate mining is gypsum, and in that gypsum there will be rare earths. Florida has mountains of this stuff – although there’s also a certain amount of radium in that. In South Africa:
But there’s still 35mln tonnes of gypsum left on those stacks, containing an estimated 210,000 tonnes of rare earths, an estimate based on a grade of 0.6% TREO from Sasol’s grab sample assays, which has the highest percentage of neodymium-praseodymium in the rare earth basket in the world, at around 30%.
It will now be up to Rainbow to prove up the quality of that resource, which it intends to do with an auger drilling campaign which will be initiated shortly.
“This project now comes into its own,” says Bennett. “We plan to drill these gypsum stacks and get them to inferred and then measured and indicated, and possibly even a reserve, within 12 months.”
Note that. A mineral reserve is something created by the mining company. Created by measuring, testing, test extracting and proving that the mineral can be processed, using current technology, at current prices, and produce a profit. Proving that this is not just dirt but is in fact ore.
Mineral reserves are things we humans make, not things that exist. The question about resources availability isn’t what’s in mineral reserves at all then. It’s what is there out there that we can make mineral reserves from?
The environmentalists are starting from the wrong assumption. Ho Hum.