The specter of mineral resource scarcity has been repeatedly raised as a concern because ever-growing populations with seemingly insatiable appetites for minerals place claims against a finite resource endowment. This report analyzes how technology has helped to ease resource constraints, and uses case studies of aluminum, copper, potash, and sulfur minerals to identify the effects of technology on resource supply.
In spite of heightened demand for and increased loss of resources to environmental policy and urbanization, mineral producers historically have been able to continually expand production and lower costs. Specific production increases for the years 1900-98 were: aluminum (3,250 percent), copper (2,465 percent), potash (3,770 percent), and sulfur (6,000 percent). For the same period, constant-dollar (1998) prices decreased: aluminum (90 percent), copper (75 percent), potash (94 percent), and sulfur (89 percent).
The application of technology has made available mineral deposits that were previously overlooked or considered non-viable. Using technology, producers can meet the demand for stronger, energy-efficient, more environmentally safe products with less physical material. Technologies have been developed to increase the amount of materials recycled and remanufactured. Technology development can occur in breakthroughs, but most often advances incrementally. Technological development is driven by the profit motive.