Minerals I plan to hoard
I have a hobby of reading the police blotters in small town papers in search of the entertaining antics of petty criminals. Lately, I’ve noticed a uptick in a very particular crime: the theft of copper. With the price of copper hovering around $6,000 per ton, it’s no surprise people are grabbing it where ever ...
I have a hobby of reading the police blotters in small town papers in search of the entertaining antics of petty criminals. Lately, I've noticed a uptick in a very particular crime: the theft of copper. With the price of copper hovering around $6,000 per ton, it's no surprise people are grabbing it where ever they can find it, sometimes while it's still transmitting electricity. While thefts are a nuisance in the U.S., they can lead to major blackouts in countries like South Africa where miles of cable sometimes disappear in broad daylight.
High copper prices are no surprise. The stuff is included in just about every structure humans build or product we make. Asia is fueling the demand. And there’s a limit on supply. A team of Yale researchers, led by Thomas Graedel, recently determined that if you look for copper in the U.S., you’ll find “roughly a third in the ground, a third in use, and a third in the trash.”
So I began to wonder. What other materials do we take for granted now that will be in high demand in the near future? Here’s what I plan to start hoarding…
- Platinum – If we’re going to have a hydrogen economy, we’ll need lots of platinum. No one can agree how much we’ll need, but current technology requires 1 gram for every kilowatt of energy a fuel cell generates. If we wanted to convert all automobiles to fuel cell-power, some predict that we’d run out of platinum before replacing 1/4 of the world’s current fleet. Most platinum comes from South Africa and Siberia.
- Tantalum – Known as “Coltan” in Africa, this stuff is notorious as the mineral mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and used in every cell phone. In fact, it’s used in just about every small electronic device made, but it’s also found in Australia, Canada, Brazil, and China. Profits from Coltan mining in the DRC almost exclusively end up in the hands of the occupying Rwandan army according to the U.N. I think I’ll stick with hoarding other minerals for now.
- Zinc – Used to galvanize steel, Zinc is plentiful and available just about everywhere, but there simply aren’t enough producers and they aren’t coming online fast enough.
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