A mineral resource is defined as an accumulation of material from either within or on top of the earth’s crust, which is naturally present in such a form and in sufficient quantities to make economic mining of it worthwhile. The minerals can be present as either solid, liquid or gas. (USGS, 2001, p.
191). Mineral resources are essential to our modern lifestyles, from their use in construction and manufacturing to agriculture, and their importance in sustainable development of our economy. Without them, the industrialised societies we know today would cease to exist.
Mineral resources are divided into two classes: metallic mineral resources (gold, silver, titanium, lead, aluminium, etc.) and non-metallic mineral resources (stone, gravel, sand, gypsum etc.) (Marshak, S.
2012, p.503).The financial worth of mineral resources depends on a variety of different aspects such as the current market value, distance from the mine to the area where it will be sold, the extent of the minerals use, the energy required to extract it and its concentration and quality. In this essay I will explore these aspects along with the influence of form, availability and accessibility in further detail.The greater the demand for goods manufactured from mineral resources, the more viable it becomes to source and extract these minerals to accommodate the growing needs of today.
There is a diverse spectrum of industries such as agriculture, medicine, food, transport, construction, energy & technology that rely heavily on the use of mineral resources. According to the British Geological Survey: In the UK, the average person uses in one year, over ten tonnes of minerals (Survey, B. 2017). Everyday we take for granted our consumption of minerals such as the metal in our cutlery to the realisation of needing fuel to power our vehicles.Chemical and physical properties of minerals are key determinants for the applications of minerals. Titanium for instance, has a low density along side a thin oxide layer on its surface which makes it resistant to corrosion.
These characteristics make titanium useful in aircrafts and hip joints (‘Aluminium and Titanium’, 2014). Another example is the different fractions of crude oil. Smallest hydrocarbon chains, including gasoline for cars and naphtha for chemicals, are the most favourable because they are volatile, have a low boiling point and flow and ignite easily.
Mineral resources take geological timescales to form. As a society, we are consuming them faster than they can be replaced so essentially, they are non-renewable and prices are ever increasing. Not only are we utilising mineral resources at an alarming rate, but also in vast quantities and without thinking about their sustainability. There are not enough current accessible resources to sustain our future needs.
Therefore we will not be able to continue to use them in the same way or for the same purpose. It is vital that mineral resources must be conserved for essential use such as in medicine. Consequently, we must concentrate on both improved extraction of minerals and advanced manufacturing methods that reduce the demand for these. It is possible that we could substitute certain minerals which are on the British Geological Survey’s ‘risk list’, such as rare earth elements, with other more abundant and cost efficient ones. (Survey, B.
2017). For example: neodymium is used in some of the world’s strongest magnets. These magnets are used in computers, wind turbines and other technologies. It is critical to find a substitute containing the same unique characteristics of this rare earth element, such as the mixed iron cobalt oleate complex. (Lotteni, E.
et al, 2016). These types of discoveries will ensure that prices should relatively remain affordable and stable as there won’t be such a tight limit on abundance.An important factor to consider when evaluating the economic significance of a mineral resource is the method of extraction. There are primarily three mining approaches used to extract minerals. These include underground mining, surface (open-pit) mining and placer mining.
Choosing which method to use relies upon a number of factors including the structure of the deposit, the region in which it is found, the durability of the rock, the ore grade and not to mention overall cost of equipment and energy for the mining process. (Frank, D. et al, 2005.
p1-7).Underground mining involves drilling and blasting the rock to intrude and ultimately isolate the valuable mineral ore from its neighbouring waste rock. This method of extraction is expensive so it is only beneficial for high grade metallic ores which occur in deep veins. On the other hand, lower grade metal ores located nearer the crust are quarried by cheaper surface mining to keep profits at a maximum.
Some treasured minerals are mined from sediments in existing river beds, dunes and beach sands by placer mining (Frank, D. et al, 2005). Placer mining is responsible for more than 50% of the world’s titanium. (Kesler, S.E, 1994. p391).Minerals like sand are straightforward to mine. They are found in simple form that requires little modification to obtain it in it’s required structure.
This requires far less energy, labour and finance in comparison to rare earth metals like aluminium that need a lot of electricity to separate them from their ores. Once an ore has been discovered, a feasibility study is made to determine the likely quantity, purity, environmental restoration and overall extraction costs. This is then compared to current and predicted market values of the product over the lifetime of the mine. (Survey, B. 2017).For metallic minerals like gold, purity is the determinant factor for economic value. A smaller quantity of gold with a higher carat is worth more than a larger amount of low grade material.
The financial worth of non-metallic minerals like sand, however, are based upon quantity.The availability of mineral resources greatly influences it’s economic value. If a mineral is in limited short supply and concentrated only in a particular geographic region, then the price will increase. There are also transportation fees and import taxes that have to be considered.
Sand and gravel are abundant in large quantities almost everywhere, so they are quarried at locations near to where they will be sold, thus reducing costs. Fuels have low production costs but are present in abundant quantities in only a few geographical deposits in the world. As such, they are required to be transported across seas to the country of retail where they are then refined. Copper and nickel have both large mining and processing expenses, and as such are exported to the market country as refined metals. (Survey, B. 2017).
Varieties of mineral reserves occur in specific locations throughout the world. Their presence requires precise geological conditions to enable their formation. Some mineral resources are located on private land or nature conservation areas meaning they cannot be extracted. Even when access or possession of land for mining minerals is obtained, there is always the need for planning permission and nearby residents may object. Some regions have an abundance of mineral deposits whilst others have little or none. This has led to a global market in the trade of minerals, with availability being just one factor affecting prices. Political instability, civil war, famine, natural disasters and infrastructure are all examples of factors which ultimately affect costs.
For instance, highly desired minerals, such as coltan, are mined in poor, low economically developed war zone countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Coltan is used in touchscreen electronic devices and because of the rapid advances in modern technology our need for this mineral is growing exponentially. By example, one kilogram of coltan can sell for over 100 US dollars. (BBC, 2017). Large quantities of coltan are present in the DRC’s national parks. Although these deposits can be easily surface mined, there is a conflict due to some of the areas being designated world heritage sites. Additionally, these mines are often controlled by rebel militia groups whom use the generated profits to finance civil wars.
Ultimately, such guerrilla groups can both exploit mineral wealth and affect global pricing. (Hayes, K. et al, 2003. p13).
The natural distribution of minerals throughout the world is shown in Figure 1. A general trend is that minerals often occur along plate boundaries and at rifts and hot spots. This is because these locations are dynamic. The concentration of mineral deposits in these locations is evidence of historic volcanic and hydrothermal activity that allowed for the formation of the minerals. The plate boundaries encouraged the movement of rocks to the near surface which then became the source of large mineral deposits. Precious minerals like gold and diamond are naturally present in west African coastal regions, whereas lead and zinc are most common in Europe.
The demand for precious minerals has allowed developing nations an opportunity to exploit these poorer African countries where large mineral deposits exist. Invariably, labour costs are substantially lower than in the developed world. Worldwide demand and pricing structures can lead to immoral and corrupt practices where workers are often at risk of disease or injury through a lack of appropriate safety measures. A need to balance extraction and production costs with the global market are a challenge that mining companies need to meet if profits for shareholders are to be maintained. Figure 1: Map showing the major mineral resources of the world. (Mrdata.usgs.gov.
2017).There is a constant need to identify the presence of mineral deposits throughout the world in sufficient quantities, and in circumstances where extraction costs are deemed acceptable. Technological advances are enabling more accurate identification and a better understanding of areas where mineral deposits may be found. The development of equipment and techniques to mine in areas previously considered impracticable can lead to reduced costs.The prices of minerals are constantly fluctuating in accordance with the state of the current economy and the abundance of resources we have available.
As shown in figure 2, from 2000 until today oil prices have levelled out to a constant rate of production in comparison to its previous dramatic increase. This could be because of the 2008 recession which meant that people had less disposable income to spend on luxury items like diamonds so their production decreased so not so as much oil was needed to manufacture these goods. A sharp increase in production occurred in the 1980s because of a boom in inventions of modern electronics. There is a close correlation between the world’s population with the graph trends of mineral production.
The world’s population has doubled from approximately 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion by 2000. Likewise oil, copper and diamond productions all closely follow this trend. Figure 2: Change in world population since 1960 compared to the increased production of oil, copper, and gem diamonds (based on data from the US Geological Survey) (Kesler, S.
et al, 2015).The viability of extracting mineral resources is dependant upon many factors. Major considerations may be obvious and include mining and extraction costs, transportation and refining the raw materials. However, other less obvious factors play a big part in determining the viability of mineral extraction. The local and global demand for minerals balanced against the scarcity are important factors which determine commodity prices. Whereas production costs remain fairly stable and predictable, the demand for certain minerals has exploded with the advances of electronic devices that require these materials. The subsequent effect on price thus makes economic production of such minerals, that were previously considered unviable, to now be cost-effective. In future, the technological advances in personal electronics will only serve to exacerbate demand for certain minerals.
New techniques may alter which minerals are sought after and thus affect pricing and the viability of extraction/production. The ability to understand and anticipate this changing demand will no doubt serve to enhance the finances of regions of the world where minerals are present in high quantities. Those minerals which are considered ‘valuable’ are likely to be ever changing.