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    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008
    Another scary story - the extinction of elements. Yeah, weird but true apparently.

    But now comes word that it isn’t just wildlife that can go extinct. The element gallium is in very short supply and the world may well run out of it in just a few years. Indium is threatened too, says Armin Reller, a materials chemist at Germany’s University of Augsburg. He estimates that our planet’s stock of indium will last no more than another decade. All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc. Even copper is an endangered item, since worldwide demand for it is likely to exceed available supplies by the end of the present century.

    Never heard of them? Maybe not, but you're using at least one or two of them right now, just reading this post:

    Gallium’s atomic number is 31. It’s a blue-white metal first discovered in 1831, and has certain unusual properties, like a very low melting point and an unwillingness to oxidize, that make it useful as a coating for optical mirrors, a liquid seal in strongly heated apparatus, and a substitute for mercury in ultraviolet lamps. It’s also quite important in making the liquid-crystal displays used in flat-screen television sets and computer monitors.

    As it happens, we are building a lot of flat-screen TV sets and computer monitors these days. Gallium is thought to make up 0.0015 percent of the Earth’s crust and there are no concentrated supplies of it. We get it by extracting it from zinc or aluminum ore or by smelting the dust of furnace flues. Dr. Reller says that by 2017 or so there’ll be none left to use. Indium, another endangered element—number 49 in the periodic table—is similar to gallium in many ways, has many of the same uses (plus some others—it’s a gasoline additive, for example, and a component of the control rods used in nuclear reactors) and is being consumed much faster than we are finding it. Dr. Reller gives it about another decade. Hafnium, element 72, is in only slightly better shape. There aren’t any hafnium mines around; it lurks hidden in minute quantities in minerals that contain zirconium, from which it is extracted by a complicated process that would take me three or four pages to explain. We use a lot of it in computer chips and, like indium, in the control rods of nuclear reactors, but the problem is that we don’t have a lot of it. Dr. Reller thinks it’ll be gone somewhere around 2017. Even zinc, commonplace old zinc that is alloyed with copper to make brass, and which the United States used for ordinary one-cent coins when copper was in short supply in World War II, has a Reller extinction date of 2037. (How does a novel called The Death of Brass grab you?)

    Zinc was never rare. We mine millions of tons a year of it. But the supply is finite and the demand is infinite, and that’s bad news. Even copper, as I noted above, is deemed to be at risk. We humans move to and fro upon the earth, gobbling up everything in sight, and some things aren’t replaceable.

    Of course, these elements are not really disappearing, but they are certainly not going to be in the ground any more. We'll have to salvage stuff we already use in order to make new things... Welcome to the world of scarce natural resources folks, you better start getting used to it.

    The full story is here:
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  2.  (2852.3)
    Amazing. It's strange to think that we're that close to the end of resources (at least without recycling).
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008
    It's terrifying isn't it? This is mostly due to things like this going completely unregulated since we first started pulling it out of the ground. Sure we checked to see if it was safe (sort of), then if we could make any use of it... At no point did we go "Hey Bob, these aren't renewable are they? Maybe we should cool it on the mining..."

    Again, a perfect example of our ignorance of all things in full effect.
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008
    I can see a future where we use eminent domain to take over upper middle-class neighborhoods to mine the landfills they were built upon.
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008 edited
    @williac Pillaging the middle-classes is sadly a very real thing. Here in the UK there is an epidemic of people breaking into houses and stealing all the copper piping they can get their grubby mitts on. This is due to the ever-increasing demand for and price of Copper (do you see the link?) and so the resale value of 'scrap' copper has gone through the roof, meaning that it is more profitable for a burglar to steal your pipes rather than you Television. This is especially inconvenient when the thieves don't bother to turn off the water-mains and flood your house causing thousands of Pounds-worth of damage.

    Welcome to the World of Tomorrow.
  3.  (2852.7)
    Here is an interesting and related link, from the New York Times. Concerning copper pennies and other low-value coins:

    So the penny will stick around. The real question is how to make it affordable. Sharply rising world prices in recent years for its components, zinc and copper, have made it a money loser. The same holds for the five-cent coin, made of copper and nickel.

    In the last federal fiscal year, it cost the Mint 1.67 cents to make each of the roughly eight billion pennies it churned out. In other words, taxpayers paid more than $130 million for coins valued at only $80 million. Looked at another way, even your opinions have become more expensive. It costs about 3 cents to put in your 2 cents.

    The finances of the nickel are even grimmer. Each 5-cent piece cost 9.5 cents to make last year. So more than $120 million was spent to produce about $65 million worth of that coin.


    These losses cannot be sustained, says Edmund C. Moy, the Mint’s director. “You can’t lose money on two of our big products and hope to have a long-term viable organization,” he said.

    Mr. Moy wants Congress to give his agency more flexibility to “determine the metal content of the coins at any given time,” depending on shifting world prices, which have declined somewhat of late. One idea being considered is a copper-coated penny with a core of steel instead of zinc, as is now the case.
  4.  (2852.8)
    Here in the UK there is an epidemic of people breaking into houses and stealing all the copper piping they can get their grubby mitts on.

    Same here. Although brand new housing developments are more likely to get broken in to, as they rarely ever have security watching the place. The scrap yards are not supposed to take any suspicious "cut" piping, but they do.
  5.  (2852.9)
    It's strange to think that we're that close to the end of resources (at least without recycling).

    I was going to say, this is pretty shocking, but surely to get more gallium we'll end up mining tips and extracting it from broken lcds? Is there really some process by which we irreversibly lose these elements forever? Surely all we've done is to extract them from natural locations and place them all in a refined state in larger quantities in less places? I'm willing to bet that recycling them is expensive, but I'd be surprised if it was impossible, and attaining these materials in the first place doesn't sound cheap.
  6.  (2852.10)
    Here in the UK there is an epidemic of people breaking into houses and stealing all the copper piping they can get their grubby mitts on

    It's not just breaking into houses, in Plymouth brass plaques from a war memorial were stolen.
  7.  (2852.11)
    I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Helium is running out.

    Bang goes my dream of airships everywhere.

    Continuing on the theme of recycle value - my car was stolen (for the last time, don't ask) purely because while it was an old heap of junk* it was worth a fair bit to the scrap yards. It's gotten so bad that there are specific police teams for dealing with this crime**.

    (*But a well loved 15 year old heap of junk)
    (**Although I had the anti-terrorist squad out looking for my car because of what was in it)
  8.  (2852.12)
    meth addicts and juggalos ( i know, i know thats a pretty big venn diagram) get busted for stealing copper all the time in phoenix. especially mesa and the westside, if you happen to know the areas of the valley thats not shocking.
  9.  (2852.13)
    'Juggalos' - pardon my ignorance, but isn't that something to do with the Insane Clown Posse?
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008 edited

    ICP probably not; probably reference to the more criminal gangs using that name in the area.

    edited - need to read the article before I post about them.
  10.  (2852.15)
    @Spiraltwist I'm guessing that it's the American version of 'chav'. It's just that ICP was the first place I ever heard the phrase, and then not again until the last three weeks or so where it seems to be popping up all over the place.
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008 edited
    there is a specific breed of ICP fans in the phoenix area that are ghetto as fuck and always strung out. not all of them, but most of the ones i manage to run into...
  11.  (2852.17)
    Yes - Last ICP concert I went to was in Austin years ago. It was wild as fuck, outdoors and in the middle of winter.

    That's what I've read on them - we don't seem to have too much of a problem here, that I know of. Sorry you run into the asshole version of them.
  12.  (2852.18)
    haha, its cool. i only seem to run into them at convenience stores and such, with the exception being one who is a hardcore kid that is actually cool that i hang out with at shows. and HE hates the stereotypical juggalos moreso than anyone i know!

    now back to people stealing useless shit to sell: i used to work for a doctor whom was married to a public defender. she said her most frequent cases were for people stealing loading pallettes to sell back to shiping companies. weird.
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008
    Right next to a Starbucks drive-through:
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2008
    @Reynolds What on *earth* did you have in your car?! - Also on a side note: I know someone who used to LARP with you back in the day, apparently. It's a fucking small world.