Although the earth's crust contains vast quantities of metals, extraction technologies and associated costs are inextricably bound to three fundamental geological factors - the amount of metal available in the earth's crust in each range of grades, the mineralogical form and chemical state of the metal, and the spatial distribution of the metal. The energy required to recover a given amount of metal increases substantially as grade declines. Most metal is produced from sulphide or oxide minerals, whereas most metal in the crust may be locked in the structures of the more refractory silicates. Recovery from silicate minerals could require orders of magnitude more energy than that used at present as also could exploitation of small, widely scattered or thin, deeply buried deposits. Although specific information on the fundamental factors is not available, each factor must in turn tend to further restrict exploitation. Independence of average grade and tonnage for many deposit types further reduces the availability of rock as a source of metal. In the long term, effects of these factors will be large increases in price for many metals. ?? 1977.