Thursday, September 8, 2022

Metals Here, Metals There, Metals Everywhere

What do most environmentalists and techies have in common? Metals. Whether you are trying to save the planet from greenhouse gases or just really like to have the latest phone from that certain fruit-named company and a self-driving electric car from that one car company whose CEO also likes to shoot stuff into space, you are likely a consumer of a lot of metals, many of which you may never have even heard. So, you are a consumer of metals, so what?

Well, metals must be mined. Wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars, cell phones, and hundreds of other consumer items that we, as a society, rely on for our daily lives, would not function without a wide array of metals that are mined all across the world. Chances are that unless you grew up in a mining family, you are probably not openly excited about the idea of someone mining in your back yard or near your favorite fishing spot. While it is true that mining done poorly can have devastating environmental and social consequences, the hard truth is that mining is a necessity for the technological advancements required to sustain our growing global population of nearly 8 billion people. Some of the so-called “battery metals,” which include metals such as lithium and cobalt, are expected to have their annual demand increase by more than 400% in the next 25 years. These increases in demand cannot be sustained from current mining operations.

You may be wondering what the purpose of this ramble about metals is and why I am writing about this topic on an entrepreneurship blog. My reasons are two-fold. First, as someone that studies rock and minerals, I do not think that the general public knows enough about how much of the world’s natural resources we need to mine in order to meet global demand. Second, there is the issue of sourcing. Given the ubiquity of metals in so many of the products we use every day, entrepreneurs need to carefully consider the source and availability of the inputs that they are using in their latest and greatest products.

I challenge you to pick your favorite gadget and do a quick internet search to see what metals are used to make it. Chances are, you’ll find more rare metals in it than you would expect. If nothing else, you will have some good random facts to share with a stranger at the next cocktail party you attend.

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