Managing raw materials scarcity: safeguarding the availability of geologically scarce mineral resources

M.L.C.M. Henckens

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Will the earth be able to keep on providing future generations of sufficient mineral resources, given the growing world population in combination with a growing GDP per world citizen?

The research objectives were:

To find out what geological scarcity means, which mineral resources are geologically scarce and how can the concept of sustainable rate of extraction be made operational
To enable soundly-based recommendations to be made on whether humankind needs an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of geologically scarce mineral resources and, if so, to identify the key elements of such an agreement.

Geological scarcity reflects the amount of extractable mineral resources in the earth’s crust compared to the extraction rate of that mineral resource. Not all minerals are equally scarce from a geological point of view.
According to this study, the resources of nine out of sixty five investigated minerals will be depleted within about 200 years from now. See Table 1.

In this study the following operational definition for the sustainable extraction rate of geologically scarce mineral resources was used: the extraction rate of a mineral is sustainable if a world population of 9 billion people can be provided with that resource for a period of 1000 years, assuming that the average per capita consumption is equally divided over the world’s countries. Based on this definition we investigated for which of the 65 mineral resources the extraction needs to be reduced and by how much. The conclusion is that extraction reduction is needed for 15 of the 65 mineral resources investigated. See Table 1.
Table 1 Depletion period and extraction reduction (relative to 2010) necessary to achieve a sustainable extraction rate of the 15 geologically scarcest mineral resources

We investigated for four scarce mineral resources (antimony, zinc, molybdenum, and boron) whether their extraction rate could be reduced to a sustainable level without losing any of the services they currently provide. The conclusion is that this is feasible on the basis of existing knowl how and technology.

But maybe future generations do not need to worry whether enough mineral resources will be safeguarded for them, because the price mechanism of the free market system might lead to an automatic, timely, and sufficient conservation of geologically scarce mineral resources. Our investigation makes clear that the historical price development of a resource that is geologically scarce does not significantly differ from the price development of an abundant resource. Although we expect that the price of a resource will eventually increase, this may only be at the moment that the resource is nearly depleted and little remains for future generations. Therefore, it is recommended to follow a precautionary approach, to ensure that geologically scarce mineral resources will remain available for future generations.

Based on the findings of the current research it is recommended to create an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of geologically scarce mineral resources.
Key elements such an agreement are:

A system for setting annual extraction quota of the selected mineral resources and the allocation of these quota to the resource countries
A system of compensation of resource countries by user countries for reducing the extraction of geologically scarce mineral resources.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Driessen, Peter, Primary supervisor
  • Worrell, Ernst, Supervisor
Award date17 Oct 2016
Print ISBNs978-90-393-6628-8
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2016


  • Mineral resoures depletion
  • Sustainable extraction rate
  • Future generations
  • International agreement


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