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Old 02-02-2012, 01:15 PM
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Default Recycling rates report by the UN

And my second post during the break (sorry I will not read replies for at least 1-2 weeks):

http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Po...s_110412-1.pdf

This is a PDF describing the state of recycling on a global scale. Look especially at page 20 ff, there are some graphics there with a periodic system of elements showing recycling rates.
For some very major elements especially related to the new "green" technologies and electronics, the recycling rates are below 1%. And for almost all elements, the amount of newly mined material going into production is much higher than the amount of recycled material.

Conclusion: In the forseeable future, mining will not slow down, despite all kinds of efforts of recycling. Because recycling is not really manageable for many elements, it is expensive, takes a lot of energy and most of all you cannot make more from it than you put in, but the production is exploding. If they even manage to get to 50% recycling it would be incredible, but I doubt that in that case you can get a tablet PC for some 100 $$...

Anyways - signing off again
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Old 02-03-2012, 04:03 AM
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A few points to consider: Not every 'recyclable material' is actually recyclable.

Is your old hardware made of gold, or just DIRT?
Quote:
Take two metals, rhenium and terbium. They're both worth around $5,000 per kg, or at least they both have been recently, even if they're not that price today. We recycle most rhenium we use and almost none of the terbium we use. Re is used in jet engines, along with nickel and cobalt. Come the end of the jet engine's life, we've three nice valuable materials and we dissolve the lot and separate it all to make new alloy. We're also scrapping our jet engines in nice centralised locations so we accumulate the stuff. The other use is alloys with platinum in oil refineries and yes, of course we recycle that stuff.

Terbium however is used for phosphors on CRTs and in compact fluorescent light bulbs. We're talking milligrammes per light bulb so we're back to wanting a million bulbs to get our kg worth perhaps $5,000. And the bulbs mustn't break or the Tb will be lost to the environment. Tb's Clarke number (prevalence in the Earth's crust) is 1.1 or so, meaning 1.1 parts per million. Our pile of lightbulbs isn't all that far away from the Tb concentration of the vegetable patch which is why we tend not to mine either for Tb. Rare earth ores (not rare, as we all know) can be 0.09% by weight to 0.9% by weight Tb, orders of magnitude higher than the lightbulbs and thus we get our Tb where it's easy and cheap, not from recycling.

Even metals that we think we really are seriously short of we don't recycle if our use of them is to disperse them. Tellurium really is rare, 0.001 ppm in the crust, and we use it to make solar cells of the First Solar type, Cd/Te. But we don't recycle the cells, not even the factory failures, for the Te content. That content is so low that it is still cheaper to go and process some more copper slimes (no, really, proper technical word!) and no, we're still not going to run out of the metal. For everyone forgets just how big the Earth actually is. Six times 10 to the 24 kg, some 2% of it is crust. At 0.001ppm Te in the crust, we've still got 120 million tonnes of Te and we're using 125 tonnes a year. Chuck it mate and get some new in.
Considering the fact that a lot of recycling processes are environmentally hazardous, it's a great thing for a lot of materials, particularly anything used in bulk that's easy to reprocess (e.g. metals, plastics, paper/card), but not for everything.
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Old 02-03-2012, 04:55 AM
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Oh yes I agree - some materials cannot be recycled, but that is a problem. Because eventually they will in a way run out. What I mean by that is, that the amounts of ores that have a content of these materials that are "orders of magnitude higher" in concentration than the trash or the "vegetable patch" will eventually decline. First the high quality ores are mined, then the more abundant second grade and third grade ores are mined that have much lower contents already, requiring larger mining operations in open pit mines. This is not specifically about the two elemtns mentioned in the post but generally true for a variety of elements that behave in a similar way. Eventually the mining will reach a point where you need huge mines to produce low grade ore that has to be refined with a cost and energy intensive process. The price rises, availability drops. So maybe there will always be enough Gold or Silver because these are often recycled to 97% or more and it may take a while until that 3% loss depletes the remaining reserves. But for those non-recyclable materials the problem starts sooner.

That calculation in the quote makes no sense because of the very same argument brought up in that article. Namely that while the average prevalence may be 1 ppm or 0.001 ppm, this precisely means that it makes little sense to mine just any bit of crust. So it does not really help if there are millions of tons of these elements in the Earth or Earths crust, if they are dispersed like that or if they are inaccessible. Some elements for example prefer to stay in the lower crust. What is important here is not the overall dazzling amount of this element in all of earth, but the amount that is recoverable in a reasonable way by mining ores that have a much above average concentration. These are rare. To dump total amounts of some element makes little sense. You could claim that humans have not used a tiny fraction of all the gold in the world because there is still so much left in tiny bits in the earths crust - but look at the effort that has to be done to get to even the relatively concentrated ores today.

For the TE example, mining Te at the average prevalence of 1 ppb (0.001ppm) this means that one is in the order of several billion tons of soil/rock that has to be processed to get these 125 tonnes per year.

I hope the problem is clear - either the concentrated ores run out and supply drops at some point, or one keeps going until recovery from "ore" reaching the average concentrations in Earths crust is needed, which means vast amounts of processed materials.
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Old 02-04-2012, 01:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
Eventually the mining will reach a point where you need huge mines to produce low grade ore that has to be refined with a cost and energy intensive process. The price rises, availability drops. So maybe there will always be enough Gold or Silver because these are often recycled to 97% or more and it may take a while until that 3% loss depletes the remaining reserves. But for those non-recyclable materials the problem starts sooner.
In a few million years - potentially yes; longer for high recovery rate materials.

Quote:
That calculation in the quote makes no sense because of the very same argument brought up in that article. Namely that while the average prevalence may be 1 ppm or 0.001 ppm, this precisely means that it makes little sense to mine just any bit of crust. So it does not really help if there are millions of tons of these elements in the Earth or Earths crust, if they are dispersed like that or if they are inaccessible. Some elements for example prefer to stay in the lower crust. What is important here is not the overall dazzling amount of this element in all of earth, but the amount that is recoverable in a reasonable way by mining ores that have a much above average concentration. These are rare. To dump total amounts of some element makes little sense. You could claim that humans have not used a tiny fraction of all the gold in the world because there is still so much left in tiny bits in the earths crust - but look at the effort that has to be done to get to even the relatively concentrated ores today.
That would be true if rare earths were evenly distributed, but they aren't past the traces - if it's 0.0001ppm average, any random location could be orders of magnitude less. They still occur in specific locations the name 'rare' has nothing to do with abundance, but everything to do with the form they come in - grouped with other metals and each other.

Quote:
For the TE example, mining Te at the average prevalence of 1 ppb (0.001ppm) this means that one is in the order of several billion tons of soil/rock that has to be processed to get these 125 tonnes per year.
See above - that would be true if and only if the only way to get it was to mine the 'vegetable patch' metaphor in the article. However, that isn't the case.
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Old 02-04-2012, 05:00 AM
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In a few million years - potentially yes
* citation needed. What are the economically viable, high concentration resources for the nonrecyclable elements that are accessible to mining?
Unless you give me sources that show that there is plenty, I have to assume that there are only certain areas that have them and that their supply is limited. After all, everyone now is making a fuzz about the few places that are known to have them in concentrations high enough to actually mine them. And the latest report I looked at declared quite a number of them "critical" and in danger of running low - mostly because China dropped exports and there are not so many other places that can meet the demand right now - and there are not so many places that can provide them in future mining projects.
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Old 02-05-2012, 05:22 AM
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...again, you're missing the point of the 97% recovery rate - because the value is high, it becomes economical to recover it even from marginal sources, same for platinum.
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Old 02-07-2012, 07:25 PM
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No, sorry, but YOU are missing the point. I asked you specifically where you have that number from, that non-recyclable recourse will last for millions of years. No doubt, you can of course mine the "vegetable patch", but as you said, this is not what is going to happen. So naturally, the viable sources for these elements are areas that have concentrations that are of orders of magnitude higher than the average. But these places are limited.
In resource geology we learned about this whole process and indeed it is not that one day that resource "runs out" and there is no more, but very rapidly after the beginning of large scale mining for a material, within years or maybe decades, the concentrations of the element looked for in the ore that is mined drops by an order of magnitude. Copper was our illustrative example for that. A hundred years ago, it still made sense to actually build underground mines because the copper content of the ore was high. Nowadays, the only way to get to coppe ris by huge open pit mines because of the amount of ore you need to produce copper. Part of it is because of the increased demand, but another part is simply because there is less copper in the ore that is mined, thus one needs several times as much ore as in the old times. The same path is generally true for all resources from oil to gas, from cobalt to zinc. Always at first the most abundant ores are mined, then the ore gets less and less concentrated until you reach a limit of economically availability - at that point prices may rise, new technologies developed or the mine just shuts down. In any case it means that the mining operations then have to become larger and larger. It is a painstaking task to calculate the estimated resources, reserves and expenditures, which is part of why I did not choose to become a resource geologist back then, even though I made it to the point I could have written a final in that topic.
The constraints to this process - the "limits to growth" are two things - on one side is the economy - at some point the prices for something are so incredibly high that even though these prices do pay for some incredible mining efforts, it becomes not feasible anymore to use the product in a widespread manner. If oil goes up to $300 a barrel (that is about 3x the $100 mark that it was at shortly before the economic crisis), I doubt people would still hop in their cars to go shopping in town if they can also take a bike. If trace metals become so expensive that using them to make a computer means the computer costs $5000, people will not be able to buy these computers. So the scarcity of these products translates to prices above the level the general population can afford, not in that resource running out from one day to the next.
The other constraint is phyically/environmentally. At some point, even if it still pays off to do so in economical sense, the mining of less concentrated ores become incedibly destructive - in case of energy resources they even can become energetically infeasible (if you need more energy to mine them than you get back). The present day examples are again copper mines and also the tar sands mining operations.

Now you managed it again - I am giving a lecture when originally I wanted you to prove your point and not write a whole page about geology, because I think you would find it pretty hard to make your point conclusively that "mineral resources will last for millions of years"
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"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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