The Rarity of Rare Earth Metals

I’ve often (well, not that often – those who know me know I think about these things, though) pondered how limited our supply of metal is. We have a finite source of oil, yet we never hear any discussion about the limited supply of tantalum or copper. According to The New Scientist, the problem is a real one.

Armin Reller, a materials chemist at the University of Augsburg in
Germany, and his colleagues are among the few groups who have been
investigating the problem. He estimates that we have, at best, 10 years
before we run out of indium. Its impending scarcity could already be
reflected in its price: in January 2003 the metal sold for around $60
per kilogram; by August 2006 the price had shot up to over $1000 per
kilogram.

Uncertainties like this pose far-reaching questions. In particular,
they call into doubt dreams that the planet might one day provide all
its citizens with the sort of lifestyle now enjoyed in the west. A
handful of geologists around the world have calculated the costs of new
technologies in terms of the materials they use and the implications of
their spreading to the developing world. All agree that the planet’s
booming population and rising standards of living are set to put
unprecedented demands on the materials that only Earth itself can
provide. Limitations on how much of these materials is available could
even mean that some technologies are not worth pursuing long term.