Metals have always been important in society, and with new technology always developing, certain metals will become even more important in the future.
This is a short guide identifying how to find out how much metal is left in the world, and also when we might run out of each one.
Summary – How Much Metal Is Left On Earth, & When We Will Run Out
There’s different types of metals – primary metals can be mined directly, but other metals are byproduct metals (that are a byproduct of mining other metals)
Some rare earth metals are a by product of mining other metals
Byproduct metals can sometimes have an expensive and difficult production/refining process to consider
Organizations like the USGS might keep data on the reserves of each type of metal left
Metal can obviously also be found above ground in products and materials that we already use, and can be recycled
There’s various factors that might impact how long it takes for each type of metal to run out in the future
Types Of Metals
Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between different types of metals and minerals.
Some metals are primary metals that can be mined on their own/directly.
But, there are other metals like cobalt that are more often a byproduct of copper and nickel mining/extraction.
This is important because these metals depend on other metals to an extent.
Another note is with rare earth metals which can also be a by-product of mining other metals, and can have an expensive and difficult production process (it’s relatively easy to find rare earth metals – but, it’s much harder to produce and separate them from each other).
So, not all metals have the same extraction/mining, and production requirements.
How Much Metal Is Left In The World (In The Earth)?
It’s hard to quantify above ground metal for different reasons and factors.
But, we can get an idea of how much in ground metal exists by looking at proven reserve numbers.
The USGS keeps estimates and data of proven reserve numbers, production rates and other information of different commodities each year in their reports.
You can check out the 2018 report, and newer reports at minerals.usgs.gov
As an example, Cobalt’s reserve and production numbers are:
– production in 2017 was 110 thousand tonnes (kt)
– with reserves of 7,100kt
Note that there is a difference between reserves (which are tested and proven), resources (which are still estimated to be out there but not tested and proven yet), and actual metal available to explore and extract (which we haven’t considered yet).
The above numbers are just reserve numbers.
When Will We Run Out Of Metal?
If we take Cobalt as an example, with the above reserve and production/consumption numbers, current Cobalt extraction could continue for 65 years using current reserves.
But, as mentioned, this is only based on current reserve numbers.
Reserve numbers always change when new explorations and testing are conducted, and there are other variables that can impact forecasts.
You might like to read these guides about the reserves/resources and supplies of metals and minerals: