Resource Snapshots

Resource Snapshots

Learn here in less than 2 minutes the key issues of the resource you are interested in:

  • Which industries and applications depend on them?
  • How are they produced?
  • What economic, environmental and social problems are encountered over the life-cycle?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • And where to read more?

The World Resources Forum Secretariat is pleased to present the series “Resource Snapshots”. You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of the resource you are interested in.

  • Which industries and applications depend on them?
  • How are they produced? 
  • What economic, environmental and social problems are encountered over the life-cycle? 
  • What are the alternatives? 
  • And where to read more?

We start the series with copper. Please see the contact details at the bottom for feedback.


Applications and use

Copper is considered the best and safest conductor of electricity and heat, thus mainly is used for electricity and energy applications (about 60%). Also it is widely preferred for wiring in buildings and in telecommunication. In most of the European countries copper is used for plumbing as well as for heating systems, because it’s durable and keeps its shape even under high temperature and high water-pressure. Due to characteristics such as resistance to water and corrosion, ductility, light weight and not least its typical colour it is often used by architectsEuropean Copper Institute (2011): A World of Copper. Online: http://www.eurocopper.org/copper/copper-application.html (last access: 19.04.2011)..

Metropolis Museum of science in Amsterdam

Mining

South America is the most important copper provider with its two leading countries in mining, Chile and Peru. The US and China also play a big role in the production as the third and fourth country in winning copperBritish Geological Survey (2011): World Mineral Production. Online: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/worldArchive.html (last access: 05.08.2011).. The state-owned Chilean Copper Corporation Codelco is the world’s largest copper producer and owns about 20 percent of copper reserves in the worldCorporación Nacional del Codelco (2011): La Corporación. Online: http://www.codelco.com/la_corporacion/fr_corporacion.html (last access: 19.04.2011)..

Reserves

In 2010 the world copper reserves were estimated to be about 630 million tons of which almost 40 percent are located in South AmericaU.S. Geological Survey (2011): Mineral Commodity Summaries – Copper. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/copper/mcs-2011-coppe.pdf (last access: 23.05.2011).. In the US almost as much copper is gained from recycling as from mining per yearCopper Development Association (2011): Environment. Online: http://www.copper.org/environment/homepage.html (last access: 20.04.2011).. Supplies for copper are decreasing due to steadily growing demand; in China the base metal (aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel, tin) consumption increased by 17 percent annual from 2000 to 2009.

Recent price developments

In only two years copper’s world market price rose from 5,150 $ per ton in 2009 to 9,493 $ per ton in April 2011[fn]World Bank (2011): Commodity Price Data. Online: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1304428586133/Pnk_0511.pdf (last access: 23.05.2011).[/fn]. In 2002 copper reached its lowest price since 1988 with 1,670 $ per ton in the U.S.[fn]U.S. Geological Survey (2010): Historical Statistics for Mineral and Material Commodities in the United States. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/ds/2005/140/ (last access: 23.05.2011).[/fn] and had its climax in February 2011 with a world market price of 9,868 $ per ton[fn]World Bank (2011): Commodity Price Data. Online: www.worldbank.org (last access: 23.05.2011).[/fn]. Although stocks have been declining in 2010, copper prices are not expected to continue rising since they are already over production costs at the moment. These high prices lead to increased use of alternatives such as aluminium[fn]World Bank (2011): Topical Annex. Online: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTGEP/Resources/335315-1294842452675/GEPJanuary2011TopicalAnnex.pdf (last access: 23.05.2011).[/fn].

Copper futures 1988-2011

Environmental problems

Mining copper causes significant CO2 emissions due to its high energy need. In Chile the copper industry records the highest GHG emissions in comparison to other industrial and mining branches. Another problem is the production of sulphur dioxide during the smelting process, about two tons SO2 are produced per ton of copper. Sulphur dioxide causes acid rain which destroys the environmentAlvarado, S.; Maldonado, P.; Barrios, A.; Jaques I. (2002): Long term energy-related environmental issues of copper production. In: Energy, Volume 27, Issue 2, p.183-196. .

Social problems

Copper wires

The production of copper emits silica dust particles that provoke various illnesses such as asthma or skin diseases. In Zambia for example a big migration to the cities is recorded which can be led back to the growing copper industry. For this reason shanty towns can be found in lots of Zambian cities (see also www.bized.co.uk/virtual/dc/copper/mufulira/issue1.htm).

Alternatives

Alternatives for copper depend on the application. Aluminium is considered as a substitute for copper in several applications, e.g. power cables and facades. Titanium can be used as an alternative for copper as a heat exchanging steel. Optical fiber can be an alternative in telecommunication applications. Plastics can be used for water and drain pipes as well as for plumbingU.S. Geological Survey (2011): Mineral Commodity Summaries – Copper. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/copper/mcs-2011-coppe.pdf (last access: 19.05.2011)..


WRF Resource Snapshot (1) has been compiled by Riccarda Sutter. She would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose for one of the coming WRF Resource Snapshots are also welcome. Riccarda can be reached at info@worldresourcesforum.org .


The World Resources Forum Secretariat continues the series “Resource Snapshots” with coal. You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of this fossile energy carrier.

Please see the contact details at the bottom for feedback.


Applications and use

Coal is one of the most important resources in producing electricity. About 40 percent of the world’s electricity demand are provided through coal[fn]U.S. Energy Information Administration (2011): Electric Power Monthly. Online: http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/epm_sum.html (last access: 08.08.2011).[/fn]. It is also used in steel, cement and aluminium production and as well as liquid fuel. Coal also finds use in the chemical and pharmaceutical sector and furthermore in the paper industry. There are a lot of things in which coal or coal by-products can be found, e.g. in soaps, dyes or plastics[fn]World Coal Association (2005): The Coal Resource – A comprehensive overview of coal. Online: http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/wca-publications/ (last access: 05.08.2011).[/fn]. In 2010 worldwide coal consumption has been at a number of about 7.3 billion tons[fn]BP (2011): Statistical Review of World Energy. Online: http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2011/STAGING/local_assets/pdf/coal_section_2011.pdf (last access: 04.08.2011). [/fn].

Mining

Two methods are applied in coal production: surface and underground mining. Leading country in producing coal is China, followed by the United States. Other important coal suppliers are India, Australia, South Africa, and Russia. These six countries are responsible for about 80 percent of global coal production, China accounting for 43 percent alone[fn]Höök, M.; Zittel, W.; Schindler, J.; Aleklett, K. (2010): Global coal production outlooks based on a logistic model. In: Fuel, Volume 89, Issue 11, p. 3546-3558.  [/fn]. The main part of mined coal stays in the producing country itself, just about 20 percent are available for the worldwide coal market[fn]World Coal Association (2005): The Coal Resource – A comprehensive overview of coal. Online: http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/wca-publications/ (last access: 05.08.2011).[/fn].

Reserves

Proved recoverable world coal reserves are estimated to be about 860 billion tons which are divided into bituminous coal (405 billion), sub-bituminous (260 billion), and lignite (195 billion). Almost 60 percent of these reserves are located in the U.S., China and the Russian Federation[fn]World Energy Council (2010): Survey of Energy Resources – Coal. Online: http://www.worldenergy.org/documents/ser_2010_report_1.pdf (last access: 04.08.2011).[/fn]. According to bp worldwide coal reserves will last for about 118 years at current consumption. But as global demand for coal is steadily growing – growth rate in 2010 was 7.6 percent – limitations are much stronger.

Recent price developments

From 1990 to 2003 the Northwest Europe marker price never exceeded 45 $ per ton. In 2008 the coal price on the Northwest European market reached its peak with 147.67 $ per ton due to the worldwide financial crisis. In 2009 it recovered to a value of 70.66 $ per ton, but in 2010 the Northwest European market coal price rose to 92.50 $ per ton[fn]BP (2011): Statistical Review of World Energy. Online: http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2011/STAGING/local_assets/pdf/coal_section_2011.pdf (last access: 04.08.2011). [/fn].

Environmental problems

 

There are several environmental problems that occur along the coal production chain.

Mining coal has visible impacts on the environment as it requires a lot of surface, removes big amounts of vegetation and destroys the soil[fn]Fthenakis, V.; Chul Kim, H. (2009): Land use and electricity generation: a life-cycle analysis. In: Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 13, Issues 6-7, p. 1465-1474. [/fn]. Mountaintop removal is one method of surface coal mining that is intensely discussed (see http://thelastmountainmovie.com/).
Various gases are produced in coal production processes, including the environmentally harming CO2 and methane. Furthermore sulphur and nitrogen oxides, which cause acid rain, are also emitted[fn]Miller, B. (2011): The Effect of Coal Usage on Human Health and the Environment. In: Clean Coal Engineering Technology, p. 85-132. [/fn]. As some countries draw a big amount of their electricity out of coal (e.g. 94 percent of Poland’s electricity come out of coal industry), methods for reducing coal’s impact on the environment must be found; a technology called CCS (carbon capture and storage) is one of them[fn]World Coal Association (2005): The Coal Resource – A comprehensive overview of coal. Online: http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/wca-publications/ (last access: 05.08.2011).[/fn].

Social problems

According to the Clean Air Task Force over 13,000 deaths per year in the U.S. can be led back to particle pollution caused by coal production[fn]Clean Air Task Force (2010): Death and Disease from Power Plants. Online: http://www.catf.us/coal/problems/power_plants/existing/ (last access: 29.04.2011).[/fn]. Working in coal mines is a dangerous business, particularly in underground mining accidents occur every now and then; in 2005 an explosion in a Chinese coal mine killed over 200 people. More than 5,000 people have been killed in mining accidents in 2004 in China, it accounts for 80 percent of deaths in mining accidents[fn]BBC News (2005): Chinese mine explosion kills 203. Online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4266179.stm (last access: 19.05.2011).[/fn].

Alternatives

Renewable energies such as wind, solar, and water power are alternatives to coal. Using renewable energy sources brings advantages such as lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Nuclear energy production can be an alternative to coal as well, but it carries a certain risk for humans and the environment, which became obvious at least in March 2011 with Fukushima. In cement production chemical wastes and waste fuels can be used as a replacement for coal[fn]Murray, A.; Price, L. (2008): Use of Alternative Fuels in Cement Manufacture: Analysis of Fuel Characteristics and Feasibility for Use in the Chinese Cement Sector. Online: http://ies.lbl.gov/iespubs/LBNL-525E.pdf (last access: 03.05.3011).[/fn].

Outlook

As climate change initiatives are on the rise, coal is increasingly discussed. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says coal consumption will rise up to almost 10 billion tons in 2035[fn]U.S. Energy Information Administration (2010): International Energy Outlook. Online: http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/ieo/index.html (last access: 05.08.2011).[/fn], but the high CO2 emissions that come along with coal use are aspects in disfavour of a growing use of coal. Furthermore security of supply is a matter of heated debate, as with growing consumption, reserves won’t last for 118 years. Speaking of supply, Europe may face problems since many European countries already are coal importers. Countries in Latin America and Africa will probably face shortages as they have hardly any coal reserves (except for South Africa)[fn]Dittmar, M. (2011): What does the future hold for nuclear power? In: A World of Science, Volume 9, Number 3, July-September 2011. Online: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0019/001938/193840e.pdf (last access: 09.08.2011).[/fn]. We can either protect the environment and future generations from dirty coal by reducing coal consumption and use it more efficiently or we continue like that, use up all coal and contribute even more to climate change.

 


WRF Resource Snapshot (2) has been compiled by Riccarda Sutter. She would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose are also welcome. Riccarda can be reached at info@worldresourcesforum.org .


The World Resources Forum Secretariat continues the series “Resource Snapshots” with aluminium. You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of this resource.

Please see the contact details at the bottom for feedback.


Applications and use

Aluminium Coil

In the car industry aluminium plays a big role as it can reduce the vehicle’s weight and energy consumption, but enlarge the load capacity due to its light weight. It is also applied in production of trains, aircraft and ships. Aluminium is a good conductor of electricity and heat, in relation to its weight even better than copper, therefore it is important in power transmission[fn]European Aluminium Association (2011): Applications. Online: http://www.eaa.net/en/applications/ (last access: 19.05.2011).[/fn]. Due to its characteristics such as light weight, durability, recyclability and resistance to corrosion aluminium is also applied in packaging and building[fn]U.S. Geological Survey (2011): Minerals Information – Aluminum. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/ (last access: 07.06.2011).[/fn].

Mining

Aluminium is one of the most abundant elements on earth, it does not occur alone but in compounds with other minerals. China is the lead country, with almost one third of worldwide aluminium production, followed by Russia and Canada[fn]British Geological Survey (2011): World Mineral Production. Online: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/worldArchive.html (last access: 05.08.2011). [/fn]. One of the most important raw materials in aluminium production is bauxite with an averaged alumina (aluminium oxide) percentage of 41 percent[fn]International Aluminium Institute (2008): Fourth Sustainable Bauxite Mining Report IV. Online: http://www.world-aluminium.org/cache/fl0000292.pdf (last access: 07.06.2011). [/fn].

Reserves

According to the UNEP aluminium reserves will last at least about 200 years at current production and consumption[fn]UNEP (2011): Manufacturing – Investing in energy and resource efficiency. Online: http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/Portals/88/documents/ger/GER_7_Manufacturing.pdf (last access: 07.06.2011). [/fn]. Guinea holds the largest bauxite reserves with 7,400 million tons, followed by Australia with 6,200 million tons and Vietnam, Jamaica and Brazil (all about 2,000 million tons)[fn]British Geological Survey (2011): World Mineral Production. Online: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/worldArchive.html (last access: 05.08.2011). [/fn]. Recycling is an important component in aluminium industry; 2.7 million tons have been recycled from scrap in 2010[fn]U.S. Geological Survey (2011): Mineral Commodity Summaries – Aluminum. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/mcs-2011-alumi.pdf (last access: 07.06.2011). [/fn].

 

Recent price developments

From 1986 until 2006 the aluminium price did not rise over 2,000 $ per ton with an exception in 1988 where the average price lay at 2,547 $ per ton and with 3,578 $ per ton in June the highest price from 1986 until today was reached. Since 2006 the price is usually over 2,000 $ per ton, although in 2009 the price was at 1,669 $ per ton on average[fn]Index Mundi (2011): Aluminum Monthly Price. Online: http://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=aluminum&months=300 (last access: 25.05.2011). [/fn].

Environmental problems

Ajka accident; Devecser, Hungary

One of the most important environmental impacts in the aluminium industry is the greenhouse gas emission caused by the high energy consumption in primary production. In the smelting process one ton of aluminium produces 1.6 tons CO2 at average and additionally an amount of PFCs (perfluorocarbons) that equals one ton of carbon dioxide[fn]International Aluminium Institute (2011): Greenhouse gases. Online: http://www.world-aluminium.org/Sustainability/Environmental+Issues/Greenhouse+gases (last access: 07.06.2011).[/fn]. Another gas emitted from smelters is sulphur dioxide which is one of the major causes for acid rain[fn]Environmental Literacy Council (2008): Aluminium. Online: http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/1013.html (last access: 19.05.2011).[/fn]. In October 2010 a devastating aluminium accident happened in Hungary. A dam from a red mud lake broke down and about one million cubic meters of the toxic sludge were spilled. The tide flooded three villages and left behind a toxic waste with a depth up to 2.5 meters in some places[fn]The Telegraph (2010): Hungary threatened by ‘ecological catastrophe’ as toxic sludge escapes factory. Online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/hungary/8043969/Hungary-threatened-by-ecological-catastrophe-as-toxic-sludge-escapes-factory.html (last access: 24.05.2011).[/fn].

Social problems

In Brazilian Amazonia the aluminium industry causes several problems. To supply the aluminium industry with sufficient energy, dams are being constructed. Often indigenous people have to move away due to the constructions. Furthermore increased immigration to Amazonian cities is recorded which leads to delinquency since there are not enough jobs[fn]Schäfer, S.; Studte, M. (2005): Aluminiumproduktion und Zivilgesellschaft in Brasilien [Aluminiumproduction and civil society in Brazil]. Online: http://aluwatch.net/documents/1/ALU_U_ZIVIL.pdf (last access: 24.05.2011).[/fn].

Alternatives

Neither aluminium reserves nor its price require alternatives but the energy use in production does. Aluminium production accounts for 3 percent of CO2 emissions within industry. Therefore fossil fuels should be substituted for renewable energy sources (e.g. hydro power)[fn]Allwood, J.M.; Cullen, J.M. (2009): Steel, aluminium and carbon – alternative strategies for meeting the 2050 carbon emission targets. Online: http://www.lcmp.eng.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/allwood-and-cullen-r09-davos.pdf (last access: 18.05.2011).[/fn]. In packaging alternatives can be plastic, glass, steel or paper. As far as transportation is concerned materials such as steel, magnesium and titanium can substitute for aluminium[fn]U.S. Geological Survey (2011): Mineral Commodity Summaries – Aluminum. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/mcs-2011-alumi.pdf (last access: 07.06.2011). [/fn].

Outlook

As mentioned before aluminium reserves are expected to last another 200 years, therefore there is no fear of scarcity at the moment. One issue that gives concern is the high energy consumption in aluminium production, especially since power costs are rising. Price forecasts estimate that aluminium prices might climb up to 2,900 $ per ton in 2012[fn]Financial Times (2011): Base metals – the sharp rise in the cost of energy has fuelled aluminium prices. Online: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d36e029e-84cf-11e0-afcb-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1NLfmnEZm (last access: 07.06.2011). [/fn].


WRF Resource Snapshot (3) has been compiled by Riccarda Sutter. She would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose are also welcome. Riccarda can be reached at  info@worldresourcesforum.org.


St. Gallen, July 2011. The World Resources Forum Secretariat continues the series “Resource Snapshots” with gold. You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of this precious metal.

Please see the contact details at the bottom for feedback.


Applications and use

About 78% of gold consumed each year is made into jewelry and thus it is the most common way gold reaches consumers.[fn]Scottsdale Bullion and Coin (2014). Top Six Common Uses of Gold. Online: http://www.sbcgold.com/blog/top-6-common-uses-for-gold/ (last access: 07.11.2014).[/fn]. Due to characteristics such as high ductility, robustness to many chemical reactions and good conductivity of electricity and heat gold is also used in industrial applications such as in the electrical sector, but also in the medical and dental domain. Scientists are working on new applications for gold, including nanotechnologies, water purification and energy efficiency.[fn]World Gold Council (2011): Technology. Online: http://www.gold.org/technology/ (last access: 07.11.2014).[/fn]. 

Mining

Round Mountain gold mine

Biggest gold producers are mostly in emerging and some rapidly growing economies such as China, Russia, South Africa, Peru, Mexico, Ghana and Indonesia where serious environmental and socio-economic impacts from the extraction activities are being registered.[fn]Gold InfoMine (2010). Top Gold Producing Countries. Online: http://gold.infomine.com/countries/ (last access: 07.11.2014).[/fn].  The US, Canada and Australia are also relevant producers in the gold industry. China was in 2012 the leading gold mining country.[fn]Forbes (2014). China Gold Production Rises. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2013/02/25/china-gold-production-rises/ (last access: 03.12.2014).[/fn]. with a production of 403 tons (about 13 percent of global gold production)3. Mining gold produces an immense quantity of waste; for producing one ounce of gold about 250 tons of rock and ore need to be removed.[fn]Larmer, B (2009): The Real Price of Gold. In: National Geographic, January 2009. Online: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/01/gold/larmer-text (last access: 07.11.2014).[/fn]. 

Reserves

Worldwide reserves of gold are 51,000 tons according to the USGS[fn]U.S. Geological Survey (2011): Mineral Commodity Summaries – Gold. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/gold/mcs-2011-gold.pdf (last access: 06.07.2011).[/fn]. Gold scrap is recovered and then remelted, therefore these reserves may last longer than some other finite mineral resources.[fn]Butterman, W.C.; Earle B.A. (2005): Mineral Commodity Profiles – Gold. Online: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2002/of02-303/ (last access: 05.07.2011).[/fn].

Recent price developments

The annual average price in 2009 was 973 $ per troy ounce and rose to over 1,400 $ per troy ounce in April 2011[fn]World Bank (2011): Commodity Price Data. Online: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1111002388669/829392-1304528907776/Pnk_0611.pdf (last access: 05.07.2011). [/fn].On the 8th of August the price for one troy ounce of gold topped 1,700 $[fn]Metalprices (2011): Current Primary and Scrap Metal Prices. Online: http://www.metalprices.com/ (last access: 09.08.2011).[/fn].Gold is seen as a safe commodity in financial and/or political crisis[fn]British Geological Survey (2011): World Mineral Production. Online: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/worldArchive.html (last access: 05.08.2011).[/fn], this explains why prices are rising currently since other forms of investment are becoming unpredictable.

Gold futures

Environmental problems

The use of highly toxic cyanide for ore processing is one of the main problems in gold production. In case of an accident the spilled cyanide kills all life in the watercourses it enters over a considerable distance. Cyanide can also reach the ground water and thus threaten human health[fn]Butterman, W.C.; Earle B.A. (2005): Mineral Commodity Profiles – Gold. Online: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2002/of02-303/ (last access: 05.07.2011).[/fn]. An other environmental problem is accumulated waste that is pumped into the sea (effluent) or piled in primary forest (rocks)[fn]Larmer, B (2009).: The Real Price of Gold. In: National Geographic, January 2009. Online: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/01/gold/larmer-text (last access: 05.07.2011). [/fn].

Social problems

Mine workers work under hazardous circumstances. Lethal accidents happen every now and then due to explosions, often caused by inexperienced workers and/or inadequate security measures[fn]Larmer, B (2009).: The Real Price of Gold. In: National Geographic, January 2009. Online: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/01/gold/larmer-text (last access: 05.07.2011).[/fn]. In August 2010 a copper-gold mine in Chile caved in and trapped 33 miners. They were all rescued in October after 69 days in the dark. UNIDO studies show that small-scale mines release a high amount of mercury which affects the workers’ and nearby population’s health[fn]Filho, S.R.P; Correa dos Santos, R.L.; Boese-O’Reilly, S. et al. (2004): Environmental and Health Assessment in two small-scale gold mining areas – Indonesia. Online: http://www.unido.org/fileadmin/import/44437_Environmental_and_health_assessment_Indonesia.pdf (last access: 05.07.2011).[/fn]. Another issue can be the relocating of local communities, such as in Rosia Montana, Rumania.

Gold

Alternatives

Many gold alloys which are used in electronics are being analysed so that they can provide the same performance with lower gold content. Possibilities for substituting gold are platinum, palladium and silver[fn]U.S. Geological Survey (2011): Mineral Commodity Summaries – Gold. Online: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/gold/mcs-2011-gold.pdf (last access: 05.07.2011).[/fn].

Outlook

Some argue that the gold price will rise due to growing inflation and decreasing GDP[fn]Barisheff, N. (2011): Gold Outlook 2011 – Irreversible Upward Pressures and the China Effect. Online: http://seekingalpha.com/article/245928-gold-outlook-2011-irreversible-upward-pressures-and-the-china-effect (last access: 05.07.2011).[/fn]. Many influences, such as geopolitical developments can influence the price developments.

In the last years a decline in gold production has been reported, according to Barrick this trend will continue. Furthermore it says gold’s scarcity value will increase[fn]Barrick Gold (2009): Here’s Why We Eliminated Our Gold Hedges, Just As The Marked Started To Peak. Online: http://www.businessinsider.com/barric-heres-why-we-eliminated-our-gold-hedges-just-as-the-metal-started-to-peak-2009-12#first-look-at-all-the-liquidity-out-there-1 (last access: 05.08.2011).[/fn]. Recycling will hold its share of supply, but generally expectations are that recycling rates will not significantly increase in the near future [fn]Butterman, W.C.; Earle B.A. (2005): Mineral Commodity Profiles – Gold. Online: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2002/of02-303/ (last access: 05.07.2011). [/fn].


WRF Resource Snapshot (4) has been compiled by Riccarda Sutter. She would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose are also welcome. Riccarda can be reached at info@worldresourcesforum.org.


St. Gallen, August 2011. The World Resources Forum Secretariat continues the series “Resource Snapshots” with phosphorus. Ideally, we will shift from importing phosphate rocks to using renewable phosphate fertilizers (such as human excreta and biomass) in the future because this would provide more security to countries that are not rich in reserves. You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of this precious resource.

Please see the contact details at the bottom for feedback.


Applications and use

Currently, 90% of phosphorus demanded globally is used in food production[fn]Cordell, D.; Drangert, J.; White, S. (2009): The Story of Phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. In: Global Environmental Change, Volume 19, Issue 2, p. 292 – 305. Online: http://www.agci.org/dB/PDFs/09S2_TCrews_StoryofP.pdf (last access: 29.07.2011).[/fn]. Phosphates, the oxidised and most common form of phosphorus, is used as a fertiliser in modern agriculture to promote plant growth, increase crop yields and replenish the nutrients of the soil after crops have been harvested[fn]Cordell, D. (2008), The Story of Phosphorus: missing global governance of a critical resource, Preliminary findings from 2 years of doctoral research. Paper prepared for SENSE Earth System Governance, VU University Amsterdam, 24th-31st August, 2008. Online: http://phosphorusfutures.net/files/DCordell_SENSEpaper.pdf (last access 03.08.2011).[/fn]. It not only enhances the health of plants but also that of humans and animals: phosphates are used in vitamin supplements for humans and animal feed supplements. Phosphorus is also vital in the manufacturing process of various products such as steel electroplating, toothpaste, detergents and soft drinks[fn]Lifton, J: Feeding the World’s Hunger for Phosphorus. Online: http://www.resourceinvestor.com/News/2011/6/Pages/Feeding-the-Worlds-Hunger-for-Phosphorus.aspx (last access: 30.07.2011).[/fn].

Mining

Historically, phosphorus was not mined as the amount of phosphorus that occurred naturally in soil, organic matter like manure and even human excreta- common in areas of the world like Asia- was sufficient for crop production[fn]Mårald, E. (1998) I mötet mellan jordbruk och kemi: agrikulturkemins framväxt på Lantbruksakademiens experimentalfält 1850-1907, Institutionen för idéhistoria, Univ Umeå.[/fn]. However, in order to facilitate the rapid population growth and food demand we have experienced in previous decades, phosphorus is now mined from phosphate rock by strip mining techniques[fn]UNEP (2011): Phosphorus and Food Production. Online: http://www.unep.org/yearbook/2011/pdfs/phosphorus_and_food_productioin.pdf (last access: 02.08.2011).[/fn]. It is important to note that the current system of mining is relatively inefficient as significant losses occur throughout the system. For example, although humans consume about 3 MT of phosphorus annually, the amount of phosphorus mined for foot production is 5 times this amount (14.9 MT)[fn]Cordell, D. (2008), The Story of Phosphorus: missing global governance of a critical resource, Preliminary findings from 2 years of doctoral research. Paper prepared for SENSE Earth System Governance, VU University Amsterdam, 24th-31st August, 2008. Online: http://phosphorusfutures.net/files/DCordell_SENSEpaper.pdf (last access 03.08.2011).[/fn].

Reserves

The situation with phosphorus reserves is similar to that of oil and other non-renewable resources in that the rate of global production of phosphate rocks will eventually peak and then decline. The exact time as to when this peak will occur is widely contested- some suggest that this could occur by 2034[fn]Cordell, D.; Drangert, J.; White, S. (2009): TheStory of Phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. In: Global Environmental Change, Volume 19, Issue 2, p. 292 – 305. Online: http://www.agci.org/dB/PDFs/09S2_TCrews_StoryofP.pdf (last access: 29.07.2011).[/fn] (see figure on the left) whereas an IFDC study suggests that there will not be a peak phosphorus event within the next 20-25 years, mainly because reserves have been re-estimated at 65,000 MT instead of 16,000 MT[fn]Cordell, D.; White, S.; Lindström,T. (2011): Peak phosphorus: the crunch time for humanity? http://www.thesustainabilityreview.org/2011/04/peak-phosphorus-the-crunch-time-for-humanity/ (last access: 02.08.2011).[/fn].

Although the timing of the production peak is uncertain, there is no denial from the fertilizer industry that the quality of the existing phosphate rocks is declining while the energy required to process and transport phosphate fertilizers is increasing[fn]Cordell, D. (2008), The Story of Phosphorus: missing global governance of a critical resource, Preliminary findings from 2 years of doctoral research. Paper prepared for SENSE Earth System Governance, VU University Amsterdam, 24th-31st August, 2008. Online: http://phosphorusfutures.net/files/DCordell_SENSEpaper.pdf (last access 03.08.2011).[/fn]. Furthermore, it is argued that the important period to acknowledge when the high quality and highly accessible reserves are depleted, not when 100% of the reserves are depleted because reserves that are of low quality will be uneconomical to mine and process[fn]Hubbert, M. K. (1949) Energy from fossil fuels.[/fn]. Currently, the bulk of these reserves can be found in Morocco/ Western Sahara as seen in the figure below.

Recent Price Developments

The demand for phosphorus has been rising in the recent decades and will continue to do so due to the increasing popularity of meat and dairy-based diets as well as the expansion of the biofuel industry (which was sparked by the concern over oil shortages and climate change). The biofuel industry is in direct competition with food production as the process of obtaining biofuel requires grains, productive land and phosphorus fertilisers. Hence it is not surprising that in 2007, a clear rise in phosphate rock demand and price due to ethanol production was observed[fn]Cordell, D.; Drangert, J.; White, S. (2009): TheStory of Phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. In: Global Environmental Change, Volume 19, Issue 2, p. 292 – 305. Online: http://www.agci.org/dB/PDFs/09S2_TCrews_StoryofP.pdf (last access: 29.07.2011).[/fn]. A year later, the global food crisis struck, causing the price of phosphorus to increase by 700% within a 14 month period[fn]Minemakers Limited (2008): “Australia’s Mineral Supercycle Company!” Online: http://www.minemakers.com.au/downloads/080428AmendedInvestorPresentation.pdf (last access: 02.08.2011).[/fn]. The price did decline after the shock, but it has been steadily rising since March 2010 as shown in the figure below.

Environmental problems

The environmental problem usually associated with the use of phosphorus is eutrophication (the excessive development of vegetation) as phosphorus leaks from agricultural areas into the waterways[fn]CEEP (2011): Detergent phosphates : a sustainable detergent component. Online: http://www.ceep-phosphates.org/files/Document/phosphates1_engl.pdf (last access: 02.08.2011).[/fn]. However, these environmental problems are not only present in the end-of-life phase of phosphorus use but also in the processing, transportation and production of phosphorus. Processing and transporting phosphate fertilizers from the mines to the farms relies on cheap fossil fuels[fn]Cordell, D.; Drangert, J.; White, S. (2009): TheStory of Phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. In: Global Environmental Change, Volume 19, Issue 2, p. 292 – 305. Online: http://www.agci.org/dB/PDFs/09S2_TCrews_StoryofP.pdf (last access: 29.07.2011).[/fn]. Furthermore, the production of the phosphate fertilizers results in significant carbon emissions, radioactive by-products and heavy metal pollutants as well- for example, each ton of phosphate processed from phosphate rock generates 5 tonnes of phosphogypsum, a toxic by-product of phosphate rock mining.

Social problems

As a result of the recent price spike of phosphorus and the sustained high prices, many poor farmers around the world do not have access to the phosphate fertilizer market. Furthermore, due to low purchasing power and access to credit, farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa- where fertilizers are most needed- have to pay 2-6 times more than what European farmers pay for phosphate fertilizers. Another issue is the inequity in the distribution of phosphate rocks- although every country requires phosphate to facilitate food production, the majority of phosphate rock reserves are currently controlled by only three countries, China, Morocco and the US.

Alternatives

Unlike oil and other non-renewable resources, there are currently no substitutes for phosphorus when it peaks[fn]Jasinski, S.M.,(2006), Phosphate Rock, Statistics and Information US Geological Survey.[/fn]. However, phosphorus can be recycled by projects such as urban mining that aims to recover phosphorus from human excreta and urine. This project yields an urban fertilizer that has a phosphate content of 16% and significantly lower heavy metal content compared to current fertilizers[fn]Schmundt, H. (2010) Experts Warn of Impending Phosphorus Crisis. Online: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,690450,00.html (last access: 09.08.2011).[/fn]. However such alternatives cannot replace phosphate rock in any significant way. In addition, the required physical and institutional infrastructure would take decades to implement[fn]Cordell, D. (2008), The Story of Phosphorus: missing global governance of a critical resource, Preliminary findings from 2 years of doctoral research. Paper prepared for SENSE Earth System Governance, VU University Amsterdam, 24th-31st August, 2008. Online: http://phosphorusfutures.net/files/DCordell_SENSEpaper.pdf (last access 09.08.2011).[/fn].

Outlook

Ideally, we will shift from importing phosphate rocks to using renewable phosphate fertilizers (such as human excreta and biomass) in the future because this would provide more security to countries that are not rich in reserves. Although there are ways to recover phosphorus, it is clear that we will also have to adopt a more sustainable approach towards using phosphorus especially as our population is growing- hence food demand will only increase in the future. One way to do so is to encourage diets that contain fewer phosphorus-intensive foods; it is estimated that meat based diets can result in the depletion of up to twice the phosphorus compared to a vegetarian diet[fn]Schmid-Neset, T., Bader, H., Scheidegger, R. & Lohm, U. (2005) The Flow of Phosphorus in Food Production and Consumption, Linköping, Sweden, 1870-2000, Department of Water and Environmental Studies, Linköping University and EAWAG Department S&E Dübendorf. [/fn]. Furthermore, the global phosphate scarcity must be addressed in the major debates on global food security and environmental change in order to create policies that will facilitate responsible, global management of phosphorus resources.


WRF Resource Snapshot (5) has been compiled by Natasha Chan. She would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose are also welcome. Natasha can be reached through info@worldresourcesforum.org.


St. Gallen, August 2011. The World Resources Forum Secretariat continues the series “Resource Snapshots” with phosphorus.Ideally, we will shift from importing phosphate rocks to using renewable phosphate fertilizers (such as human excreta and biomass) in the future because this would provide more security to countries that are not rich in reserves.You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of this precious resource.

Please see the contact details at the bottom for feedback.


Applications and use

Lead is a very soft, highly malleable, low-melting and ductile base metal that is very resistant to corrosion but tarnishes upon exposure to air [fn]Lead Uses, International Lead Association. Online Access: http://www.ldaint.org/lead-information/lead-uses (last access: 12.08.2011) [/fn]. The primary application of lead is in batteries; currently, the battery industry consumes approximately 71% of the world’s lead, as shown in figure 1. Furthermore, lead is the second densest common metal (after gold), making it an effective sound barrier and shield against X-ray. Hence lead is commonly used in the production of computer and television screens- the addition of lead helps to shield the user from radiation. Lead is also used as the traditional base metal for organ pipes, in electrodes in the process of electrolysis, a colouring element in ceramic glazes and in projectiles[fn]Lead- Pb. Online Access: http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/pb.htm#ixzz1TyAFJGjn (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn]. When lead is mixed with other metals, it can form alloys such as pewter and solder which is important in rubber production and oil refining. However, its use as a petrol additive has declined significantly due to the gradual introduction of lead-free petrol worldwide[fn]Lead Fact Sheet, Australian Government Geoscience Australia. Online Access: http://www.australianminesatlas.gov.au/education/fact_sheets/lead.jsp (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn].

Mining

Lead metal can be classified as either primary or secondary. Primary lead is produced directly from mined lead ore whereassecondary lead is produced from scrap lead products (such as automobile batteries) which have been recycled[fn]Lead Information, LDA International. Online Access: http://web.archive.org/web/20070827030846/http://www.ldaint.org/information.htm (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn]. Total annual production is approximately 8 million tonnes, half of which is primary lead[fn]Mineral Commodity. Online Access: http://www.c-tempo.org/market/Mineral_Commodity.pdf (last access: 10.08.2011)[/fn]. It is rare to find pure deposits of lead in nature though. The majority of the deposits are mixtures of minerals[fn]How Products Are Made: Lead. Online Access: http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Lead.html (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn]hence lead ore is usually obtained as a byproduct of other metal mining such as zinc, silver or copper- in fact, lead ore is a main source of silver and contributes substantially towards the world’s total output. The most common lead ore is galena (PbS), which contains 86.6% lead. Other common varieties include cerussite (PbCO3) and angelsite (PbSO4)[fn]Lead Background Data, International Lead and Zinc Study Group. Online Access: http://www.ilzsg.org/static/backgroundinfo.aspx?from=2 (last access: 11.08.2011)[/fn].

 

Reserves

Total estimated global lead reserves are 85 million tonnes[fn]Lead- Pb. Online Access: http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/pb.htm (last access:12.08.2011)[/fn]. The country with the most lead reserves is Australia, followed by the United States, China and Canada- between them, they account for more than half of the world’s primary production of lead[fn]Lead Information. Online Access: http://web.archive.org/web/20070827030846/http://www.ldaint.org/information.htm (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn]. Other countries that are prominent producers of lead include Mexico, Peru, Russia and Kazakhstan[fn]How Products Are Made: Lead. Online Access: http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Lead.html (last access: 11.08.2011)[/fn]. It is interesting to note that lead supply can be greatly affected by lead prices- the general trend is that the higher the price of lead, the greater the supply. This is due to the fact that half of the lead consumed comes from recycled lead. For example, when lead prices are high, there is a greater incentive to collect scrap metals which increases the supply of lead.

Recent Price Developments

The sharp increase in the price of lead between 2006 and 2007 was mainly due to a supply deficit of lead at the time[fn]Can the price of lead continue to defy gravity? Online Access: http://www.moneyweek.com/investments/commodities/can-the-price-of-lead-continue-to-defy-gravity-this-year (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn].After that period, lead prices started to fall gradually because global lead supply shifted from a deficit to a surplus at the end of 2007[fn](2008 Annual Report on Lead Market, Asian Metal Ltd. Online Access: http://www.asianmetal.com/report/en/2008qian_en.pdf (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn]. However, the shift in the balance of lead supply coincided with the global financial crisis which exacerbated the falling prices greatly as seen in the graph below. This is because the automotive industry (which is closely linked to the lead industry as lead is used to make car batteries) was severely impacted by the downturn and base metals prices fell in general as global production contracted. Since mid-2009, lead prices have hovered between USD 1,674/tonne – USD 2,719/tonne, which is a smaller range in comparison to the initial months following the global financial crisis. Although there has been an upward trend in lead prices in the past year, it is unlikely that there will be any substantial price increases as lead inventory levels have been at a record high[fn]Lead To Average US$2,550/tonne in 2011, Emerging Markets Monitor. Online Access: http://www.emergingmarketsmonitor.com/file/96420/lead-to-average-us2550tonne-in-2011.html (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn].

Environmental problems

Lead and lead compounds are generally toxic pollutants that cannot be broken down; they can only be converted into other forms. Historically, the major sources of lead emissions have been from fuels in motor vehicles (such as cars and trucks) and industrial sources.In the past few decades, several measures have been taken to decrease the amount of lead pollution in the world. For example, leaded gasoline has been banned in most areas of the worldexcept for a few countries in South America, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East which has led to a 94% decrease in levels of lead in the air decreased by between 1980 and 1999[fn]Lead in Air, US Environmental Protection Agency. Online Access: http://www.epa.gov/air/lead/ (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn]. Furthermore, metal plants are collecting sulphur dioxide (a major byproduct of the smelting process in lead processing and the primary cause of acid rain) as it is released and converting it into sulphuric acid[fn]How Products Are Made: Lead. Online Access: http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Lead.html (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn]. However, the effort from metal plants to reduce the amount of air pollution from lead processing by filtering the fumes from processing has not been as successful. Lead particles are still reaching the atmosphere- this is an issue that must be tackled in the future as animals and plants that are exposed to lead suffer from an array of health problems[fn]Lead in the Environment and Health. Online Access: http://www.agius.com/hew/resource/lead.htm (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn]. Furthermore, lead not only accumulates in individual organisms but also in entire food chains, making it a particularly dangerous chemical to have in nature both in the short and long term[fn]Lead- Pb. Online Access: http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/pb.htm (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn].

Social problems

The primary social problem associated with the production, use and disposal of lead is lead poisoning. Like animals and plants, human beings are also affected by lead poisoning. In fact, lead poisoning is the oldest recorded occupational disease[fn]Lead in the Environment and Health. Online Access: http://www.agius.com/hew/resource/lead.htm (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn]and lead is one out of the four metals that can have the most damaging effects on human health. It can enter the human body through uptake of food (65%), water (20%) and air (15%); lead can even enter a foetus through the placenta of the mother which causes serious damage to the nervous system and the brains of unborn children. The effects of lead on the human body include damage caused to the kidneys, liver, brain and nerves; reproductive disorders; seizures; mental retardation; behavioural disorders; lowered IQ in children; high blood pressure and an increase in heart diseases[fn]Lead In Air: Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Online Access: http://www.epa.gov/air/lead/health.html (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn].Long term exposure to even the tiniest amount of lead can have detrimental health effects. Hence, the main priority of lead producers with regards to health and safety is to protect their workers from being exposed to lead[fn]Health and Environmental Research. Online Access: http://www.ldaint.org/UserFiles/File/FS_ENV_R&D.pdf (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn].

Alternatives

There are alternatives to lead but they differ depending on the original application of lead. For example, plastics have substituted the use of lead in building construction, electrical cable covering, cans and containers. Other metal oxides such as zinc and titanium oxide have replaced the use of lead in oil and water based paints. More recently, tin has replaced lead in solder for the electronics industry as well as new or replacement potable water systems in the U.S.[fn]Lead Prices. Online Access: http://www.metalprices.com/FreeSite/metals/pb/pb.asp (last access: 11.08.2011)[/fn]- this is due to the health effects of lead poisoning. With regards to the most important application of lead, rechargeable batteries, there have not been any approved substitutes to lead due to safety concerns[fn]Applications: Electric Vehicle, Advanced Lithium Electrochemistry. Online Access: http://www.aleees.com/application/application_vehicle.htm (last access: 12.08.2011)[/fn].

Outlook

On the supply side, it is predicted that there will still be a surplus of lead in 2011 and 2012. However, forecasts indicate that this will not be a significant surplus, at least in 2011, due to the closure of several lead mines in Australia (following the floods and cyclone Yasi) as well as the reduction in the production of lead in China[fn]Lead To Average US$2,550/tonne in 2011, Emerging Markets Monitor. Online Access: http://www.emergingmarketsmonitor.com/file/96420/lead-to-average-us2550tonne-in-2011.html (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn]. With regards to lead supply in the long term, an article in the New Scientist states that the supply of lead is estimated to run out in 42 years based on the use rates of lead before 2007[fn]How Long Will It Last? New Scientist 194 (2605): 38-39. May 26, 2007[/fn]whereas environmental analyst Lester Brown suggests otherwise- using an extrapolation of 2% growth per year, lead could run out within 18 years[fn]Brown, Lester (2006). Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 109. ISBN 0393328317[/fn]. However, this does not currently pose as a severe issue given then lead recycling rates are extremely high in comparison to other base metals. On the demand side, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has recently ordered almost 1,000 lead-acid battery producers to suspend production temporarily- some even permanently. This will have some impact on the lead industry given that China’s battery production accounts for about 80% of the country’s domestic lead demand as well as 45% of global lead demand[fn] Sykora, A, Chinese actions to support aluminum but hurt lead prices. Online Access: http://www.wikinvest.com/wikinvest/api.php?action=viewNews&aid=2869481&page=Commodity%3ALead&format=html&comments=0 (last access: 13.08.2011)[/fn].


WRF Resource Snapshot (6) has been compiled by Natasha Chan. She would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose are also welcome. Natasha can be reached through info@worldresourcesforum.org.


St. Gallen, November 2011. A water secure world is the key in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Neither food or energy security, nor economic growth will be sustainable if water is not managed well[fn]ResponseAbility Alliance (2011): THIRST Things First. Online: http://www.responseabilityalliance.com/html/thirst_things_first.html (last access: 11.08.2011).[/fn]. 

In July 2010 the UN General Assembly declared the access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right[fn]United Nations (2011): Water for Life. Online: http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml (last access: 09.08.2011).[/fn]. Due to climate change and growing population, demand for water is growing and it is now more often handled as a commodity, than as a human right[fn]Barlow, M. (2008): Life, Liberty, Water. In. YES!, Summer 2008. Online: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/a-just-foreign-policy/life-liberty-water (last access: 27.07.2011).[/fn].

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Irrigation

Applications and use

Without water, life on earth would not exist; it is indispensable in various domains. Water plays a big role as renewable resource in not only energy production but also in agriculture. Water is used in many different ways in industry: for heating and cooling, as a solvent or as raw material. For growing economies, water is essential as it is a necessity for any form of urban life, such as drinking water, drainage or irrigation[fn]UNESCO (2009): The United Nations World Water Development Report 3 – Water in a changing world. Online: http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/wwdr3/ (last access: 26.07.2011). [/fn]. Water efficiency plays a big role in economic, social and environmental issues.

 

Resources

Most of the water on Earth is found in the ocean, a staggering 97%, while only 3% is found in freshwater. The biggest part of freshwater – almost 70% – is held in glaciers and icecaps. The other 30% of it is ground water. Only a very small percentage of freshwater (0.3%) is contained in surface water i.e. rivers and lakes[fn]U.S. Geological Survey (2011): Earth’s Water Distribution. Online: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/waterdistribution.html (last access: 16.06.2011). [/fn].

Reserves

An amount of 1.4 billion km3 water exists on earth. Since most of earth’s water is contained in oceans and the majority of freshwater is not easily accessible, only about 200,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater are usable for ecosystems and humans which is less than 0.01% of all water on earth[fn]UNEP (2008): Vital Water Graphics. Online: http://www.unep.org/dewa/vitalwater/article5.html (last access: 26.07.2011). [/fn]. The amount of water on earth does not change, but its quality does and we are responsible to not pollute earth’s water until it gets unusable for us and the planet[fn]Clarke, T.; Barlow, M. (2003): The Battle for Water. In: YES!, Winter 2003-4. Online: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/whose-water/the-battle-for-water (last access: 27.07.2011).[/fn].

Environmental problems

Eutrophication

Agriculture, sewage (mainly from urban areas) and atmospheric deposition are main polluters in freshwater and oceans. One of the problems in oceans are corals. Corals are very sensitive ecosystems therefore they can suffer from diseases, declined growth and reproduction due to pollutants[fn]National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2010): Coral Reef Conservation Program – Pollution. Online: http://coralreef.noaa.gov/threats/pollution/ (last access: 05.05.2011).[/fn]. Coral reefs are home to various organisms, such as sea turtles, jellyfish and shrimps, hence any harm to the corals would have a direct and threatening effect on such organisms[fn]U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2011): Coral Reef Protection. Online: http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/habitat/coral_index.cfm (last access: 02.05.2011). [/fn].

Furthermore, another big problem in oceans is marine debris. Wildlife is threatened by it and often even dies because it either mistakes the plastics for food or gets itself entangled in the lump of plastic. An average of over 330,000 pieces of plastics per km2 have been collected in the great pacific garbage patch[fn]Greenpeace (2006): Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans. Online: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/plastic_ocean_report/ (last access: 02.05.2011).[/fn].

However, in freshwater, eutrophication is the most common problem. Almost 90% of biotopes in the Baltic Sea were threatened in 1998 due to reduction of area and quality caused by pollution and eutrophication[fn]UNESCO (2009): The United Nations World Water Development Report 3 – Water in a changing world. Online: http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/wwdr3/ (last access: 26.07.2011).[/fn]. Another problem in freshwater is oxygen depletion, but it occurs as well in coastal areas, e.g. the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Social problems

Water quality can play a significant impact in human health; every year an estimated number of 3 million people die through water-related illnesses such as malaria and yellow fever[fn]UNEP (2007): Global Environment Outlook 4 – Water. Online: http://www.unep.org/geo/GEO4/report/GEO-4_Report_Full_en.pdf (last access: 04.08.2011). [/fn]. The problem occurs mainly in rural-based regions that lack sufficient water infrastructure and access to proper water supplies.

Child carrying water in refugee camp

It is known that approximately one billion people do not have access to safe sources of drinking water and more than the double – 2.5 billion people – live without improved sanitation[fn]United Nations (2008): The Millennium Development Goals Report. Online: http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2008/MDG_Report_2008_En.pdf (last access: 30.07.2011).[/fn]. As water is crucial to food production, drought/lack of water can cause severe famines, as in the Horn of Africa at present. Stream-flow modifications, e.g. damming, also cause social problems as the example in Bangladesh shows. There the livelihoods and nutrition of up to 30 million people have declined because of stream-flow modifications[fn]UNEP (2007): Global Environment Outlook 4 – Water. Online: http://www.unep.org/geo/GEO4/report/GEO-4_Report_Full_en.pdf (last access: 04.08.2011). [/fn]. Water can also cause political conflicts, especially in arid areas such as the Jordan River Basin.

Outlook

Demographic changes are closely linked to the future development of water use. World population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050[fn]United Nations (2011): The World Population Prospects – The 2010 Revision, Press Release. Online: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Other-Information/Press_Release_WPP2010.pdf (last access: 10.08.2011).[/fn] and increased water use will come along. Firstly, the fact that world’s food production needs to double to meet future food demand[fn]Global Water Partnership (2010): The Urgency of Water Security. Online: http://www.gwp.org/en/The-Challenge/The-Urgency-of-Water-Security/ (last access: 11.08.2011).[/fn] will enhance water demand significantly, because agriculture accounts for about 70% of global water withdrawal[fn]FAO (2011): Aquastat – Water use. Online: http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/water_use/index.stm (last access: 11.08.2011).[/fn]. Secondly, it is estimated that 70% of the world population will live in cities by 2050[fn]United Nations (2009): Economic and Social Council – World Demographic Trends. Online: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/pop970.doc.htm (last access: 11.08.2011).[/fn], which raises the need for sound management of urban waste and water.

Water management is the key in all areas of development, whether this is food security, poverty reduction, or economic development.


WRF Resource Snapshot (7) has been compiled by Riccarda Sutter. She would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose are also welcome. Riccarda can be reached at info@worldresourcesforum.org.


The World Resources Forum Secretariat is pleased to present the series “Resource Snapshots”. You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of the resource you are interested in.

Please see the contact details at the bottom for feedback.


Silver is a precious metal that has various fields of application. With a percentage of almost 50 percent of world’s demand the industrial sector is the largest consumer of this resource.[1] Since silver has the highest thermal and electrical conductivity it is used in plenty of electrical applications, contacts and switches. Two important electrical applications of silver are the preparation of thick-film pastes and multi-layer ceramic capacitors. Within the industrial sector silver is also used for the manufacturing of digital video and compact disk, mirrors, cellophane and batteries.[2]

Another source of consumption is jewelry and silverware. In 2010 when gold prices were going up silver was more often substituted for gold in jewelry. Furthermore, is used for coins and medals as well as for photography. In the past, there has been a phasing out of the use of silver in circulation coins. Since the year 2000 there was a decline in the use of silver for photography because of the emergence of digital cameras.[3]

In 2010 the world silver consumption was 32,900 t in total. This equals a 15% increase from 2009.3 In terms of countries, the United States are the largest consumer of silver in 2010 with a percentage of 21.6% of total consumption. The United States are followed by China, Japan and India.[4]

                                                                                                                         Picture:Use of silver in different sectors. Source:http://www.silverinstitute.org

Sources and Mining

The most important source of silver production is mining. Other sources are recycling, government’s official silver stock sales and private investors’ sales. In Nature, silver is quite rare and has an average abundance of .07 parts per million in the crust of the earth. The occurrence of silver is concentrated in small but scattered deposits. The metal does not often occur in its pure state but is obtained from mining ores. Silver is mined in two ways: Ores that contain native silver and silver sulfides are primarily extracted in order to obtain the silver. However, silver is more often extracted as a by-product of zinc, lead, gold or copper mining.[5] In 2011 the world top silver producer by country are Mexico (4’500 t), China (4’000 t), Peru (4’000 t), Australia (1’900 t) and Chile (1’400 t).[6]

Reserves

The world silver reserves are estimated to be around 530’000 t. The countries with the largest silver reserves are Peru (120’000 t), Poland (85’000), Chile (70’000) and Australia (69’000).[7] Over the past ten years there was a steady increase in silver mine production. Even though mining companies were excavating more and more silver, the mine production could not meet the demand. Therefore, this gap has to be closed by reusing scrap silver. However, recycling silver is difficult for three reasons. First, the amount of silver used in some applications is very small. Second, other applications that contain Silver such as solar panels have a long life cycle. Third, a great deal of silver in computers, cell phones and TVs is discarded.[8]

Recent price developments

There was a sharp increase in the silver price during the last decade. Starting at around 5$ per ounce the price for silver rose and reached its peak in 2011 at almost 50$ per ounce. Reasons for the soaring price are increasing investment interest and the rise in the demand of the industrial sector.7 Afterwards its price fell and was around 33$ in September 2012.

Silver price in Dollar since 2000. Source: http://www.finanzen.net/rohstoffe/silberpreis/Chart

Environmental problems

The silver mining and production process can be harmful to the environment. Silver and its associated minerals contain sulfur. During the mining process this sulfur can be released to water and air which causes acid rain and acid drainage. In addition, the mining process of gold-silver ores often requires cyanide which poses the risk of a cyanide spill to the environment. 5 Furthermore, smelting is used to separate silver from other metals which causes the release of heavy metals such as lead, copper and zinc into the air. In Mexico for example mining sites were strongly polluted and river sediment showed a strong contamination with iron, lead and zinc. Wild plants and also edible plants such as lettuce absorb those metals, posing a threat to the environment and society.[9] Hence, a properly applied mining process is needed in order to avoid these environmental effects.

Another environmental problem that occurs in the silver mining process is the emission of mercury. Mercury amalgamation has been used to concentrate and extract silver from other ores. This technique caused a severe mercury contamination of the environment which is seen as one of the worst anthropogenic impacts on the environment. At the beginning of the 19th century mercury emission declined because this technique was replace by the above mentioned cyanidization. But for some individual miners mercury amalgamation is still a cheap and reliable techique.[10]

Social problems

As mentioned above, silver is often mined as a by-product of other metals such as zinc, copper or lead. Analysis has shown that about 75% of extracted silver is mined as a by-product. Therefore, silver mining is often prone the same social impacts as metal mining in general. Although large-scale mining operations has some positive social impacts and leads to a boost in economy activity in the beginning, it is also prone to several negative social impacts. First, mining processes can have a hazardous impact on the nearby community and its livelihood. If left untreated, chemical solution such as cyanide or mercury seeps into groundwater used for drinking and washing. Second, in many cases communities have to be displaced in order to build a mining site. This forces the people to leave the region they are economically and emotionally attached to. Third, in regions where a new mining site is built a boomtown scenario can occur. In a boomtown scenario the level of crime, violence, alcohol abuse, depression and prostitution increases. Other social impacts are social conflicts due to migration and the problems that occur in case of a mine closure.[11]

Alternatives

Digital imaging and film with lower silver content may be used to reduce silver consumption. Tantalum and titanium can replace the silver used in surgical pins and plates. In terms of flatware, stainless steel can be used as an alternative for silver. Mirrors and reflecting surfaces may be made with aluminum and rhodium instead of silver. For some applications there also exist non-silver batteries.[12]

Outlook

In recent years the photovoltaic industry emerged and has become a substantial user of silver. The use of silver for photovoltaics is expected to further increase. Silver is also expected to be increasingly used in computer systems, batteries, conductive inks and medical applications. The demand for antimicrobial silver that is used in keyboards, pens and telephones is expected to increase. Therewill also be a further decline in the use of silver in photographic applications.[13]

 

Natural Silver Nugget, Source: http://images-of-elements.com/silver.php


WRF Resource Snapshot (8) has been compiled by Fritz Beglinger. He would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose for one of the coming WRF Resource Snapshots are also welcome. Fritz can be reached at info@worldresourcesforum.org .


[1] U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] (2012): Mineral Commodity Summaries. Online http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/silver/mcs-2012-silve.pdf (last access: 11.09.2012

[2] Ibid.


[3] National Resources Institute (2003). Towards an Ethical Jewellery Business. Online http://projects.nri.org/nret/ethicaljewellery.pdf (last access: 13.09.2012)


[4] Guthrie, D. (2010). The Environmental Impact of Mining Metals and Gemstones. Online http://business.gwu.edu/dean/files/reports/circa-report-2010.pdf (Last access: 12.09.2012)

[5] Lacerda, L.D. (1997): Global Mercury Emissions from Gold and Silver Mining. In: Water, Air and Soil Pollution, Volume 97, p. 209 – 221.


[6] U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] (2012): Mineral Commodity Summaries. Online http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/silver/mcs-2012-silve.pdf (last access: 11.09.2012)

[7] Clark, J. (2011). Are we running out of silver?. Online: http://dailyreckoning.com/are-we-running-out-of-silver/ (last access: 11.09.2012)


[8] Krech, S.; McNeill, J.R.; Merchant, C. (2004). Encyclopedia of World Environmental History. Volume 3, Issue O-Z. Routledge: London.

[9] Statista (2012): Major countries in worldwide silver mine production from 2009 to 2011 (in metric tons). Online: http://www.statista.com/statistics/264640/silver-production-by-country/ (last access: 11.09.2012)


[10] The Silver Institute (2011): The Silver Market in 2011. Online: https://www.silverinstitute.org:443/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/thomson-reuters-gfms-2011-intrim-silver-market.pdf (last access: 10.09.2012)

[11] Thomson Reuters GFMS (2012): World Silver Survey 2012: A Summary. Online: https://www.silverinstitute.org:443/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/wss12sum.pdf (last access: 10.09.2012)

[12] U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] (2012): 2010 Minerals Yearbook. Onlie http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/silver/myb1-2010-silve.pdf (last access: 11.09.2012)

[13] Statista (2012): World’s top silver consumers in 2010, by country and region (in percent of total silver consumption). Online: http://www.statista.com/statistics/216121/top-world-silver-consumers-as-percentage/ (last access: 11.09.2012)

The World Resources Forum Secretariat is pleased to present the series “Resource Snapshots”. You can learn in less than 2 minutes the key issues of the resource you are interested in.

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Sources, Applications diamonds picture& Characteristics

Diamond crystals are formed deep within the earth mantle where carbon is exposed to extreme pressure and very high temperatures. They are conveyed to the earth’s surface through kimberlite and lamproite pipes (volcanic pipes composed of magma). Diamonds can be mined in four different ways, including open-pit mining, underground mining, alluvial mining and offshore mining.[1]

Diamonds, source: mining.com

Around 50% of mined diamonds are used in the jewelry business.[2] Due to their unique carbon composition and shining appearance, diamonds have always been perceived as very powerful stones. The word “diamond” derives from the Greek word “adamas” meaning unconquerable or invincible.[3] It is therefore no surprise that diamonds are used, in combination with other precious metals such as Gold or Silver, for engagement or wedding rings.diamond jewellery

The remaining diamonds, so called “bort” stones, are used for industrial applications including cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing.[4] Industry values diamonds for their superlative physical qualities including exceptional hardness, thermal conductivity and optical dispersion. With a score of 10 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale, diamonds reach the highest possible ranking, making it one of the hardest natural substances on earth.[5] Diamonds are also one of the best heat conductors with a melting point of over 3500°C.[6] Finally, diamonds are famous for their luminescence, having a refraction rate of nearly 2.42.[7]

Fine diamond jewelry, source: cerebrodegordo.com

Economic dimension[8]

In 2010 the world diamond production resulted in a volume of 133 million carats (carat is a unit of weight, one carat = 200 milligrams) equaling a value of $12 billion. The main diamond producing areas are Africa (mainly South Africa and Botswana), Russia, Canada and Australia. The USA is still the largest consumer of diamond jewelry but is followed by the fast growing diamond jewelry markets in China and India. India is also the largest diamond jewelry manufacturer with a manufacturing volume of $28 billion.

There exists no official set of diamond prices. Prices are rather set by major diamond producers. Yet, indexes exist, where price developments can be analyzed and forecasted. As can be seen from the graph below, rough-diamond prices showed a steady growth trend of about 3 percent per year. In 2008, due to the economic crises, diamond prices dropped dramatically. In less than three years, however, diamond prices recovered to reach their former level and are supposed to increase in the future.

 

Diamonds diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental dimension[9]

Diamond mining can have severe impacts on the environment. In general, diamond mining starts with a “gold rush”. As a result, trees and vegetation are often hastily cut down to clear the area for excavation and making space for shelter and roads for transportation. These processes tend to accelerate deforestation and eventually lead to the erosion of the earth’s surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diamond mine, source: huffingtonpost.com

During mining operations, local water quality can be affected as sediments from operations end up in ground water which has negative effects on aquatic plants and fish species. According to the World Diamond Council, however, diamond mining does not use hazardous material for extraction, unlike other industrial processes and types of mining.[10] Mining operations are accompanied by frequent noise pollutions which can disturb local bird species and lower air quality due to the high amount of dust that is evaporated through operations.

One of the most lasting environmental damages occurs by abandoned mine sites. After several years of mining operations, the affected sites are often characterized by large tracts of degraded land. Without proper land reclamation initiatives, these areas are lost for other uses, e.g. agriculture. Especially for poor African states like Sierra Leone, where approximately 75% of the land area is used for mineral exploration, land degradation has severe effects on the national food supply. Low agricultural productivity combined with a rapid population growth can eventually lead to social instability.

Social dimension

The film “Blood Diamond” (2006) with Leonardo DiCaprio raised awareness for the civil war that raged in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. Like the film described, diamonds both financed and fueled the conflict that lead to thousands of deaths. The Southern African diamond-producing states initiated therefore the Kimberley Process in 2000 in order to control the trade of conflict diamonds throughout the value chain. In 2003 the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was established by United Nations in corporation with the diamond industry and civil society organizations.[11] According to the World Diamond Council, 99% of diamonds are nowadays sold from conflict free sources.[12]

The diamond industry together with the help of the Kimberley Process has also helped to stabilise fragile countries and support their social and economic development.[13] Ensuring legal export of diamonds had significant positive effects on local economic activities and increased the national foreign exchange earnings. Nevertheless, diamond mining has also negative social effects, especially on the local communities near mining sites. Some communities have to be displaced in order to build a mining site. The loss of their land is often accomdiamonds on handpanied by a loss of cultural heritage sites. Other social impacts include social conflicts due to migration of mine workers, unemployment in case of a mine closure and health and safety risks during mining operations (especially for informal diamond diggers).[14]

Diamonds extraction, source: pro-share.net

Outlook

An alternative to natural diamonds are synthetic diamonds that are produced by artificial processes. According to Ali (2011), there exist two key methods for making synthetic diamonds: [15]

  • High-Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT)
  • Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)

Graphite stone is converted into diamonds using the HPHT method. It uses fewer ingredients and is usually faster than CVD making it more suitable for industrial diamond production. CVD involves the use of a hydrocarbon gas mixture. The better control of the properties of the diamond may be one reason for its increased use in gemstone manufacturing.

The social dimension of diamond production (working conditions, social conflicts) may be easier to control using synthetic diamonds. Environmental indicators are, however, more difficult to compare. For example, energy usage varies considerably depending on the geographic location of a mine and the technologies used to mine diamonds and to produce synthetic diamonds.

The future supply of diamonds is expected to rise by up to 23 million carats from 13 new mines by 2020. The global rough-diamond demand is also expected to increase due to a recovery of private consumption levels in developed countries combined with an expanding middle class in China and India.[16]

 


WRF Resource Snapshot (9) has been compiled by Sascha Bianchi. He would greatly appreciate corrections, suggestions or other remarks, which could improve this document. Suggestions for which other resources to choose for one of the coming WRF Resource Snapshots are also welcome. Sascha or his colleagues can be reached at info@worldresourcesforum.org .