Science and technology offer much potential for solving the challenges of future resource needs.
Article from resourceful: Issue 8, November 2015
Finding new resources through exploration
In recent decades a wide range of exploration technologies (GPS and space-based navigation systems, airborne gravimetry, and 3D reflection seismology) have been
developed that are able to map the surface and subsurface in greater detail and depth and at lower cost.
Advances in data processing will allow large and diverse data sets, for example, geochemical and a range of geophysical data, to be 'overlaid' revealing new associations. These new sources of supply (a focus of the Resourcing Future Generations Initiative) may only arise through sufficient investment and exploration ahead of time to meet the needs of future decades.
Improving output from mining and processing
Advances in technology and innovation will improve the efficiency with which we extract raw materials from the ground. However, known resources are finite and even the most efficient operations will not enable demand to be met solely through efficiency gains over the next two to three decades.
Recycling will contribute to resource supplies but for most metals, less than 25 per cent of metals production currently comes from recycled sources. Furthermore, there are considerable economic and energy-based challenges in recycling and considerable quantities of materials get 'locked up' in cars, buildings, and other infrastructure. The time for the technological and cultural change required for a circular economy with 100 per cent recycling is also significant.
Substitution of other materials
Substitution of metals by non-metals (i.e. bio-based resources and plastics) is possible in selected cases. However, such sources create their own challenges for sustainable development and are unlikely to meet the rising demand without significant technological innovation.