Monday, February 10, 2014

The Mineral Question: how energy and technology will determine the future of mining

My work on the problem of mineral depletion is reported mainly in the upcoming book "Extracted", published by Chelsea Green (click here for a description). At the same time, I am also publishing more in-depth examinations of the depletion question in scientific journals. Here is a recent one published in "Frontiers in Energy Systems and Policy". The title "The Mineral Question" echoes Jevons's 1866 paper titled "The Coal Question." Jevons examined coal depletion in light of the principle of diminishing returns and this paper of mine does the same for the general depletion problem. In the end, it is all a question of net energy (or "energy return on energy invested, EROEI). The diminishing EROEI of fossil fuels is spilling to all sectors of the economy, including the mining industry, causing increasing costs which add up to the problems caused by the depletion of high grade ores. There follows the abstract, to read the full paper (open access) click here

Front. Energy Res., 24 December 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fenrg.2013.00009

The mineral question: how energy and technology will determine the future of mining

  • Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Universit√† di Firenze, Firenze, Italy
Almost 150 years after that Jevons (1866) published his paper “The Coal Question” a debate on mineral depletion has been ongoing between two main schools of thought: one that sees depletion as an important problem for the near future and another that sees technology and human ingenuity as making depletion only a problem for the remote future. Today, however, we have created intellectual tools that permit us to frame the problem on the basis of physical factors, in particular on the basis of thermodynamics. The present paper examines the problem of mineral depletion from a broad viewpoint, with a specific view on the role of energy in the mining and production processes. The conclusion is that energy is a fundamental factor in determining how long we can expect the supply of mineral resources to last at the present prices and production levels. The rapid depletion of our main energy resources, fossil fuels, is creating a serious supply problem that is already being felt in terms of high prices of all mineral commodities. Technology can mitigate the problem, but not solve it. In a non-remote future, the world’s industrial system will have to undergo fundamental changes in order to adapt to a reduced supply of mineral commodities.

Click here to read the full paper "Frontiers in Energy Systems and Policy"


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)