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Technology Hardware

Earth's Copper Supply Inadequate For Development? 838

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the sky-is-falling dept.
ScentCone writes "Pennies, pipes, untold miles of CAT5 - they tie up a lot of copper. Unlike abundant iron and aluminum, copper is relatively scarce. But it's vital to electricity generation/transmission, plumbing, and other uses central to a modern standard of living. Scientific American is providing a quick overview of the situation. They report the conclusion that there simply isn't enough available. Canada, Mexico and the US average 170kg of copper use per person, and the most generous estimates suggest that only 1.6 billion unused metric tons exist. More reclamation and use of fiber, wireless, and PVC helps - but won't be enough to cover the billions of people who don't yet live in highly wired/mechanized societies."
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Earth's Copper Supply Inadequate For Development?

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  • Indentured Childhood (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:42PM (#14501956) Journal
    When I was a kid, my dad made me spend hour after hour knocking the cores out of laminated transformers with a 15 lb. sledge so that the copper wire was free.

    I also had to sit and cut the plastic off of foot after foot of copper wire with a utility knife and leather gloves so we could recycle the copper wire for cash.

    At last, I can now put these valuable skills on my résumé! I just hope my career in technology doesn't come around full circle ...
    • Monster (Score:5, Funny)

      by Bimo_Dude (178966) <bimoslashNO@SPAMtheness.org> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:49PM (#14502058) Homepage Journal
      If this shortage is going to be as they say in the article, I could just see the ads for Monster Cable... "Our newest premium cable! New! Gold cable with copper connectors, just $199.99!"
      • Re:Monster (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rei (128717) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @03:28PM (#14503318) Homepage
        Just to nitpick the humor: copper connectors would be bad (the connectors are made of gold so that they don't corrode, not for its conductive properties; copper corrodes readily), and a wire made of silver would be far more reasonable (silver is much cheaper than gold and a better conductor).

        Really, though, I don't understand the big panic. So copper prices rise as the easily minable deposits get exhausted - and? There are replacement materials. There's silver for when you need great conductivity (better than copper), and there's aluminum for when you don't (and you can tolerate metal fatigue). There are many other metals that could be used in between the two, and many of the metals that are common in the ground but are hard to refine show signs of significant price reduction in the future.

        So the length of runs of wire that you can use become shorter. So it uses a little more power. So bandwidth capability decreases. Or, so people pay a higher price. Copper will never disappear; the shortage just means that people will have to turn to mining less rich/harder to refine deposits.

        So what?

        And who is to say that copper wire is going to continue to be in such demand? Optical fiber seems to be going into wider and wider use. More technology is turning to wireless communication. In short, I really don't see this as a huge issue. There have been shortages of various ores throughout all of recorded history. We'll cope just fine.
        • Re:Monster (Score:3, Funny)

          by slashname3 (739398)
          Hot damn! All those pennies I have been saving for years are going to be worth something. OH wait! They make those of zinc now don't they.

          Never mind.
        • Re:Monster (Score:4, Informative)

          by JWW (79176) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @04:01PM (#14503726)
          Also, another thing is that copper won't be used for wiring as much in the future. Many miles of the copper locked up in CAT 5 will pulled out and replaced by fiber (glass) for which we have an incredible abundance of raw material.
          • Re:Monster (Score:3, Funny)

            by tkw954 (709413)
            ...replaced by fiber (glass) for which we have an incredible abundance of raw material.

            Oh great! How long before they come to strip-mine my beach?

        • Re:Monster (Score:4, Informative)

          by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @05:00PM (#14504366) Homepage
          Connectors are not made of gold. in fact I dare people to find a supplier that has solid 14 karat gold connectors.

          They are Gold plated for marketing. a nickel plated connector is just as good as any gold plated connector with nearly the same corrosion resistance and certianly overall a better connector.

          My switchcraft solid nickel connectors are of much higher quality than any gold connectors sold.

          Gold connector = marketing to fool consumers.

          • Re:Monster (Score:3, Informative)

            by JDevers (83155)
            14 karat is actually a long way from pure gold (it is actually slightly more than half gold), I think you meant 24 karat gold (which is 99.99% gold).
          • Re:Monster (Score:3, Informative)

            by drinkypoo (153816)
            Gold also has the benefit that it is malleable and will produce a better connection, also it is softer so it will do less damage to connectors. Of course, it's all pretty irrelevant in the average (or even the average above-average) cabling environment and as such is all pretty irrelevant.
        • Re:Monster (Score:5, Informative)

          by ChrisMaple (607946) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @06:42PM (#14505154)
          The four best conductive metals at room temperature are (in order) silver (0.0163 ohm-meter), copper (0.0172), gold (0.0244), and alumin(i)um (0.0283). Not "many other metals in between the two". All other metals are worse than these four.
        • Re:Monster (Score:5, Informative)

          by redneckHippe (744945) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @08:05PM (#14505706) Homepage
          As an electrican I can tell you that you can replace all the Cat5 you want with fiber and all the audio cables with whatever; it probably won't make dent in the supply. Aluminum has been proven unsuitable for residental wiring years ago and I have never seen a motor or generator with anything other than copper wound stators. All generating stations regardless fuel used generate electricity using genertors. While transmission lines might use aluminum and steel the transformers in the substations certainly use copper windings. Not to mention all the factories around the world that have literally millions of electric motors that are constantly burning out and need to be replaced or rewound. Autos, trucks and machinery all have copper wiring for thier electrical systems. We also have how many homes and commerical buidings being built and upgraded? Not to mention the appliances(microaves,fax machines copiers, tv's ,stereo's toasters ...) that we use every day. I think we depend on copper more than we realize. RH
    • Off Topic (Score:3, Funny)

      by lonb (716586) *
      Didn't Homer make Bart do that too? Oh wait, that was grease reclamation [snpp.com].
    • Thank you. I'm glad you didn't just burn off the insulation like some people do. Recycling is a good thing, and I'm sure the energy spent by you doing this was a pain in the ass, but copper is a valuable element in its own right. I've heard of too many people burning insulation off of copper to reclaim it.
    • The company I work for accomplishes much the same thing by taking the copper cores from TVs and Monitors as well as cables and selling them to local scrap yards. Damn shame they wont take the 50lb+ transfomers we regularly get in as anything but iron scrap.

      Recycling of our old copper products is really the way to look here. Not only does it lessen the drain of our limited copper supply, which is good for everyone, but it lessens the impact on the environment of copper strip mining which releases unthinka
      • Hopefully copper wire counts as "Eletrical Equipment", then in the EU it might be illegal to dump it under the WEEE directive, and companies will have to recycle.
    • You had gloves??? Some kids get all the luxuries.

      I just had to learn to strip wire without cutting myself.
  • by Anarke_Incarnate (733529) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:42PM (#14501962)
    They are Zinc, at least that is the predominant ingredient in their composition
    • by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:45PM (#14502000) Homepage Journal
      One of my insider mining newsletters that I subscribe to just mentioned how zinc might end up being the most rare material in the coming years. One guy said that pennies made before 1971 are worth more than 1c in copper, and that the newer pennies might soon be worth much more than 1c due to their high zinc content.

      Time to horde pennies maybe.
      • Pennies must go! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:52PM (#14502099) Journal
        Yet another reason to get rid of this useless coin. Add this to:
        Nobody uses them.
        They are dangerous to children when swallowed, due to the zinc (unlike all other US coins)
        And let's face it, Lincoln already has his picture in enough places!
        (Ok, done ranting now...)
        • I completely agree. Round to the nearest nickel and call it a day. You can't buy anything with a penny so its existence pointless.

          While we're at it, get rid of the dollar bill. Most people don't realise this, but the government could save over $400 million per year by elliminating it. There's several reasons for this but the big one is that dollar bills have a short life span (about 13 months) and people would switch to dollar coins ($2 useage might increase a little but probably not much). Paper money
          • Re:Pennies must go! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Thangodin (177516) <elentar@symp a t ico.ca> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @02:20PM (#14502462) Homepage
            The reason that pennies exist is so that taxes can be collected on small purchases. The government gets billions over dollars in revenue--and we get pennies...
          • by Cyberax (705495) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @02:55PM (#14502899)
            May be you should print more durable bills?

            For example, we have 10 roubles bill in Russia (about $0.3) and it has 3 years lifetime. Next bills are 50 roubles and 100 roubles and they are MUCH more durable than dollar bills. I usually carry money in my pocket (along with my keys and driving license) without wallet and it doesn't cause any problem.
            • First, dollar bills are extremely durable. Our currency is traded more frequently than Russian currency and that's why it has a shorter lifespan. The U.S. Treasury goes to great expense to produce it's currency and the testing process is extremely rigorous. They mangle, spindle, wet, and wet the bills, they simulate leaving them out in the sun for a year, etc. They pass these tests easily.

              Second, it doesn't matter since the dollar coin has an average life span of 20 years. So even if they trippled the
          • Re:Pennies must go! (Score:4, Informative)

            by spankfish (167192) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @03:04PM (#14503014) Homepage
            Australia replaced its dollar note with a coin in 1984, and the $2 note with a coin in 1988. If I recall correctly, 1 and 2 cent coins were not actually eliminated in the 1990s, but some law was passed whereby retailers had to round to the nearest 5 cents, and people could change their 1 and 2 cent coins for real money at the bank. They soon dropped out of usage.
          • by The Spoonman (634311) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @03:23PM (#14503268) Homepage
            While we're at it, get rid of the dollar bill.

            Noooo! They did that in Canada, and now I have to give the strippers either loonies [wikipedia.org] or toonies [wikipedia.org]! I wanna slip paper into those g-strings, dammit! :)
        • Re:Pennies must go! (Score:5, Informative)

          by ozbird (127571) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @04:03PM (#14503756)
          Agreed, and while you're at it replace your $1 notes (and the rare $2 notes) with coins!

          In Australia, we phased out our 1c and 2c coins about 15 years ago; I think it was mainly a cost-saving measure - and nobody wanted to deal with piddly small change. (The remaining coinage contains between 75% and 92% copper, depending on the denomination, so that fact the 1c and 2c coins were copper is coincidental.)

          The $1 note was replaced with a $1 coin in 1984, and the $2 note was replaced by a coin in 1988. Again, I believe it was a cost-saving measure - the low denominations had a high turnover rate from wear (like the US $1 note), coins are much more durable. There were other spin-offs e.g. use in vending machines.

          Similarly, the old paper notes were replaced with polymer ones from 1992 (though the first, a commemorative $10 note, was released in 1988 for the bicentennial.) Polymer lasts longer and is much harder to counterfeit. [rba.gov.au]
          • by jonwil (467024)
            Also, unlike the yanks, we actually retired the old notes when the new ones were released.

            Every time I see one of those shows on TV (or an article online) about how the US has added x or y security feature to the new $ bill, I wonder why they bother since the old bills are still legal tender so the counterfiters will just counterfit those. And, there will probobly be enough bills in circulation that it would be difficult to say "anytime you see an old bill, check carefully to be sure its not counterfit"
      • by xkenny13 (309849) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:55PM (#14502133) Homepage
        One guy said that pennies made before 1971 are worth more than 1c in copper, and that the newer pennies might soon be worth much more than 1c due to their high zinc content.

        Oddly enough, the composition of pennies did not change between 1962 and 1982. There should be no difference between a 1971 penny and a 1981 penny, in terms of copper content.

        The US Mint made 7 different variations of the penny in 1982 (counting the various different mint marks), after which they made pennies exclusively out of copper plated zinc.

        More info is posted here [usmint.gov] and here [coaleducation.org].
        • Uh-huh (Score:3, Funny)

          Yeah right. You're linking to the mint. I suppose you believe NASA when they tell you they landed on the moon too. I know a government conspiracy when I see one; that's why I made myself this copper hat, exclusively out of pre-1971 pennies. It's made out of 150 pennies but it's worth at least four bucks!
  • by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:43PM (#14501966) Homepage Journal
    When I was in the supply installation side of IT consulting, the company that I co-owned ran network cables (and phone cord and work with electrical contractors that laid electrical wire). Copper price could KILL us if we bid a project and then the price of copper went up. In fact, on the largest projects we actually took advantage of futures-style market provisions to pre-buy our copper at a set price (even if it fell, we still paid a certain price).

    To say that copper is scarce is not really accurate -- the price of copper has gone up but not in the way you'd expect if a needed item was about to run out. I blog [blogspot.com] (and publish a print newsletter) about gold -- I do about 90% of my research trying to find the manipulators in the gold market. One of the "worst" manipulators is the mining industry itself, but I believe hiding trade facts is very important for a free market. If copper was truly disappearing, you'd see the market react by the price hyperinflating, not just steadily growing. Mining companies spend 10-15 years just opening a mine. If they knew they were running out, they wouldn't sell it so cheaply.

    I believe the steady growth in the price of copper is more of an effect of fiat currency inflation causing all consumer goods and salaries to go up (basically devaluing everyone's labor even if they feel they're earning more). When copper goes up 1000% in a week, there will be a problem. 1% fluctuations is nothing.

    Just as I don't believe we're anywhere near to running out of oil in the next 1000 years, I don't believe we'll be running out of copper. I study 5-10 mining reports a day and all I see is more and more oil, gold, carbon and copper being found. As we innovate and are able to drill deeper and deeper, we're finding that MOST of what geophysicists warned us about 10 years ago isn't true -- we keep finding more to consumer, not less. I think we will be able to say the same thing 10 years from now and 100 years from now -- we're amazed and what we're finding as we dig deeper.

    All these "fear the scarcity" news reports on vital materials are bunk -- you'll know when there is a shortage when the price skyrockets (supply and demand is very hard to manipulate in the long run). And when the price skyrockets, it will give innovators reason to find new ways to recycle more efficiently, dig deeper or find other ways to provide the same service with a different product.

    The day that copper is gone for good is the day that we take clay out of the ground and find a way to offer room temperature superconductivity. Serendipity doesn't end, and higher copper prices give innovators more reason to find new solutions to yesterday's problems. One of the reasons I formulated my anarcho-capitalist [blogspot.com] belief system is based on finding that supply and demand really does set prices in the long haul, even if government and industry tries to manipulate prices in the short run.
    • Agreed. In the electrical construction market, we have seen very minor price fluctuations since 2002 (less that 5% per year on average - also on par with inflation). The US government has re-opened copper mining facilities in the american west to boost supply. I am not convinced there is a scarcity at all. Scarcity would surely trigger major price fluctuations.
      • Price of materials measures the rate of extraction, not the availability of the total supply. Think of it this way.

        If god told GW to cut all the trees tomorrow the price of wood would drop to zero but that doesn't mean the supply of trees is increasing worldwide.

        Economists don't measure the sustainibility or the global supply, they only measure the rate of extraction and processing. Yet another reason why economics is a junk science.
    • by penguin-collective (932038) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:57PM (#14502163)
      He isn't saying that copper is scarce right now. He is saying that it will be scarce when the developing world starts progressing enough to require large quantities of it.
    • by bombadillo (706765) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @02:01PM (#14502235)
      Just as I don't believe we're anywhere near to running out of oil in the next 1000 years

      "I study 5-10 mining reports a day and all I see is more and more oil"


      I agree with you on Copper. However, I think you may be off on Oil. I have read that it's been 2 years since any new major Oil fields have been discovered. For the past 50 years we have found at least 1 new Oil field a year. The cost of Oil has also gone from $30 a barrel to $66 a barrel. I have also read that the north sea Oils production peaked 3 years ago and is on it's decline. We will never completely run out of Oil. however, we will run out of enough Oil in the next 75-100 years to make life interesting if there are no alternatives.
    • by kahei (466208) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @04:07PM (#14503802) Homepage

      Just as I don't believe we're anywhere near to running out of oil in the next 1000 years,


      That's a pretty unconventional view -- actually, a unique view -- in the minerals world.


      One of the reasons I formulated my anarcho-capitalist belief system


      Ahh :) I'm sure you derive great personal pleasure from your politics but if I were using your research, I would want it to be driven by a rational understanding that mineral resources are finite, not by your 'belief system'.

      • by winwar (114053) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @06:15PM (#14504948)
        "Just as I don't believe we're anywhere near to running out of oil in the next 1000 years,

        That's a pretty unconventional view -- actually, a unique view -- in the minerals world."

        Actually, he is correct. We aren't going to run out of oil. There will be oil in the ground that isn't economical or technologically feasible to extract.

        We are going to run out of plentiful and cheap oil (and $70 barrel is cheap). Which for all practical purposes means we are going to run out of oil.

  • So... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Daedala (819156) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:43PM (#14501970)
    Is this Peak Copper?
  • by ThinkFr33ly (902481) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:44PM (#14501986)
    The oil and natural gas we use to generate electricity to power devices that require copper will become too expensive to use long before we run out of the copper we use in the construction of these devices.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:44PM (#14501990)
    I urge everyone to see Stephen Gaghan's: Copperica, about the global reach, power structures and conspiracy of the copper elite. People die everyday over Cat5e.
  • by levik (52444) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:44PM (#14501991) Homepage
    Hamster computing, here we come!
  • by Yahweh Doesn't Exist (906833) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:45PM (#14501995)
    ...a copper gap!
  • This is what asteroid mining is for! :)
  • Not Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:46PM (#14502008)
    Canada, Mexico and the US average 170kg of copper use per person, and the most generous estimates suggest that only 1.6 billion unused metric tons exist. More reclamation and use of fiber, wireless, and PVC helps - but won't be enough to cover the billions of people who don't yet live in highly wired/mechanized societies."

    Seems to me that at 170Kg a head, 1.6 billion tons is enough to support 9.6 billion people. At the standards to which we in North America have become accustomed. So, where exactly is the shortage?

    • To quote the article:

      "Multiply that by overall population estimates of 10 billion people by 2100 and the world will require 1.7 billion metric tons of copper by that date--more than even the most generous estimate of available resources."

  • Space Mining? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:46PM (#14502012) Homepage Journal
    So anyone know any good asteroids that are rich in copper? ;-)

    More realistically, I imagine that we'll move to other materials. Data lines don't need to use copper, but they do so because it's common and inexpensive. If the price of copper goes up, you might see fiber optics come down in price.

    Same with power transmission lines. There's nothing stopping them from using Aluminum if copper becomes too expensive.

    My guess, however, is that more emphasis will be placed on recycling copper. The price will rise some, pushing out the uses where it isn't needed. The remaining uses will continue to use copper supplied heavily by the recycling centers.
  • by gardyloo (512791) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:46PM (#14502017)
    ... much of the equipment at Oak Ridge (perhaps at Hanford, too; I can't remember) had to be massively cooled. Normally one would use commoner metals to pipe things about in, but a lot of the copper in the US was bound up in important things like electrical wiring for warplanes, etc. So the Manhattan Project borrowed other things -- like silver -- from Fort Knox, and made things like pipes out of that, keeping careful track, of course, as to where it went. Fascinating stuff. Massive amounts of the wartime research depended on silver, even though it often directly involved in experiments.
  • by Khashishi (775369) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:46PM (#14502019) Journal
    use Gold.

    oh wait...
  • ... and that at the (surely bloated) North American rate!
  • by digitaldc (879047) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:47PM (#14502024)
    One solution is to stop using copper for pennies, this would save tons of copper for other uses.

    "The largest known Copper ore deposits in the world are in Chuquicamata in the Chilean Andes, and the largest deposit of native copper is in Michigan's Upper Peninsula."
    This [dartmouth.edu] is an interesting article about Copper. Apparently Copper is also released as pollution during the mining and refining process, possibly more could be saved if there were more efficient ways of extracting and refining the metal.
    One other solution is to go wireless.
  • by cyanics (168644) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:48PM (#14502034) Homepage Journal
    It is the worlds largest man made hole in the ground, and one of the few man made wonders that is visible from space.

    http://www.utah.com/attractions/kennecott.htm [utah.com]

    they actually produce 15% of the countries copper annually. But I have been hearing that the mine is basically tapped (at least the current mine) And that they will be starting a new mine a little futher back in the Oquirr mountains in order the meet the needs of the country.

    Interestingly enough, they also produce a significant portion of the countries Uranium, Iron, and other precious metals. But i can see how we could eventually run out of resources. Hence them being natural resources. Luckily, since copper is a natually occuring element, it should be more abundant at deeper sub-terrain.

  • by csoto (220540) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:49PM (#14502061)
    It never hurt anybody...
  • Wait a minute... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PhineusJWhoopee (926130) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:49PM (#14502062)
    Gas, lubricants, untold miles of plastics - they tie up a lot of oil. Unlike abundant iron and aluminum, oil is relatively scarce. But it's vital to electricity generation/transmission, transportation, and other uses central to a modern standard of living....More reclamation and use of solar, wind, and other fossil fuels helps - but won't be enough to cover the billions of people who don't yet live in highly developed/mechanized societies.

    Thought that sounded familiar.
    ed
  • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:50PM (#14502068)
    There's a fair amount of landfills out there that probably have useful amounts of copper. That'll probably be the first place to dig. The hard part is separation and removing toxic waste from useful minerals.

    Mining the asteroids is currently prohibitively expensive, but costs will eventually go down. I'd like to see some legislation to encourage such endeavors, which might be the next profitable commercial activity after space tourism.

    Of course, we could always wait for them to fall to the Earth [space.com], but that requires lots of patience.
  • Doubt it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MarkPNeyer (729607) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:50PM (#14502071)
    I've heard this tune before [overpopulation.com].
  • Use gold (Score:3, Informative)

    by hackstraw (262471) * on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:52PM (#14502093)

    A friend here has been investing in gold for some time, maybe he is on to something.

    BTW, pennies are not copper anymore. From the US mint:

    The alloy remained 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc until 1982, when the composition was changed to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper (copper-plated zinc).

    Copper is very recyclable, and in demand. It pays anywhere between pennies to $1.50/pound or more to recycle it.

    Now that electronics are disposable because of quick upgrades and poor reliability, they will be recycled more in the future. There is a bunch of copper and gold and other nice stuff in there.

    Its a crime that the zinc industry lobbies congress with cash every time we try to get rid of the penny. Its useless. In fact all change is. What can you really buy for less than a buck? If its less than a buck, splurge and get two.

    If I start my own restaurant, I will not take or receive change. Its heavy, and it would cost more of my employees time to count, sort, and organize the change than if they just threw it in the trash. Or maybe I could just throw it in the tip pool, and give it to them in cash later.

  • Silver (Score:3, Insightful)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:54PM (#14502126) Homepage
    You've heard of peak oil and now peak copper, but there are only 12-25 years of known silver deposits left [underreported.com], and silver is the best conductor of electricity and is also used in a lot of other (yes, non-photographic) industrial uses.
  • Economics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leandrod (17766) <l.dutras@org> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:55PM (#14502134) Homepage Journal
    Economics is all about how we deal with scarcity. Prices go up, alternatives are found. If prices went up, we'd go 220V to use thinner wires, we'd prefer local sources of energy to use shorter lines, we'd go all fiber for data and voice, and so on... and we'd find new sources, alternative metals.
    • Re:Economics (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rorschach1 (174480)
      Exactly. I've read articles from the 1950's and 60's about how, by the year 2000, we'd have critical shortages of such vital resources as mercury and asbestos. Today, no one even produces mercury for mercury's sake - it's all a byproduct of gold mining, because it's cheaper to sell it than to dispose of it properly. And asbestos - you literally have to pay people to take it.
  • Aluminum (Score:3, Interesting)

    by po8 (187055) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @01:58PM (#14502173)

    If copper becomes expensive, developing countries will just use aluminum. The biggest problem with aluminum wiring is joining it to copper; this is the only thing that really inhibited aluminum wiring in this country, where there was already a ton of copper wiring everywhere. Places starting from scratch won't have that problem so much. Long-distance transmission lines will likely be copper for a long time due to the lower resistance. (Gold, BTW, is a worse conductor than copper, and is quite comparable with aluminum. Silver is slightly better than copper, if you're willing to pay.) There will be more and more transmission lines being built with superconductors [supercables.com], though!

    Of course, the incredible energy requirements of aluminum production yields its own set of headaches. But if we don't solve that problem, the wiring dilemma will be moot anyhow.

    • Re:Aluminum (Score:4, Informative)

      by nincehelser (935936) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @02:29PM (#14502568)
      >Long-distance transmission lines will likely be copper
      >for a long time due to the lower resistance.

      Transmission lines are already often made with aluminum.

      The problem with aluminum for transmission lines isn't so much the conductivity, but the mechanical strength. Aluminum is paired up with steel or some composite to solve that issue.
  • Satue Of Liberty (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IDarkISwordI (811835) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @02:23PM (#14502488)
    Looks like this bitch is gonna need to be melted down. Not like it means much anymore anyway...
  • by mrm677 (456727) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @02:30PM (#14502589)
    Time to tear down the Statue of Liberty and melt it down for Cat5!

    (Dear NSA: I'm only joking)

  • by johnbr (559529) <johnbr@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @03:00PM (#14502967) Homepage
    1. No Blood for Copper
    2. Complaints about Obscene Copper Oligopoly profits
    3. Calls for forced cessation of copper distribution, and the creation of a ministry of copper, who will deploy it in a strategic and intelligent manner, rather than all this free market crap
    4. Calls for extensive government investment into research into alternative conductors
    5. Bush is a shill for "Big Copper"
    6. James Lovelock declares that the copper shortage will mean the end of civilization as we know it
    7. Environmentalists everywhere tell people to 'go silver'.
    8. Belkin, et. al. start producing high-end 'copper-plated' wires and connectors, instead of those passe 20th century 'gold' connectors
    9. Pennies are replaced by casino chips, with embedded RFID
    10. "All I want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffee pot" is re-released as an agnst-filled blues song.
  • by HardCase (14757) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @03:15PM (#14503164)
    But it's vital to electricity generation/transmission...

    Most power lines use steel reinforced aluminum cable, and have since the 1950's. It's a lot cheaper and a lot lighter than copper. The drawback is that, at high voltages, the aluminum gets hot, hotter than the steel, and sags. There is a fair amount of research going on into better aluminum alloys to avoid the problem.

    -h-
  • by MsWillow (17812) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @03:45PM (#14503523) Homepage Journal
    There's a big one in, I think, Butte, just sitting there because the price of copper is too low. It's the source for a copper gemstone called covellite [webmineral.com]. There's also copper in UP Michigan, around Houghton and Copper Harbor.

    Supply and demand. Currently, the supply far exceeds the demand. When the demand grows, those mines will re-open, supplying the demand for copper as well as the small demand for gem covellite and native copper.

    Don't sweat it, this is yet another phony panic.
  • The sad thing is... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cr0sh (43134) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @03:49PM (#14503583) Homepage
    The sad thing is that much of this "used up" copper is sitting in landfills (current and former). It's not just copper, either. There is a ton of material in our landfills, thanks to the environment (buried in dirt, sealed from air and the water table, lack of oxygen), doesn't break down over time, whether the material is organic or not.

    I tend to wonder if some day, perhaps sooner than we think, it will be profitable to mine these landfills (many currently golf courses and home sites!) for that "wasted" material, for recycling purposes. Furthermore, I think about the tons of organic material (yard and landscaping waste, mostly) which is in our landfills (and more going in every day) which could be reclaimed, recycled, and then fed into thermodepolymerization [google.com] plants tuned for the feedstock, allowing us to gain fuels and other useful materials from stuff that is just being thrown away.

    Think about all the organic material from New Orleans which was simply bulldozed into landfills? Could that material have been run through a TDP process and used to offset, in whatever percentage, the fuel shortages caused by Katrina? Why do we throw this stuff away, when we can use it for other purposes?

    Fortunately, most metals are recycled already, but there is still a lot of useful stuff in our landfills (including a lot of metals), just waiting for the day to be used again (unfortunately, in order to get at the stuff with any measure of safety, these landfills would have to be strip-mined)...

  • by iamhassi (659463) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @06:58PM (#14505257) Journal
    FTFA:
    "In fact, residents of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. required an average of 170 kilograms of copper per person. Multiply that by overall population estimates of 10 billion people by 2100 and the world will require 1.7 billion metric tons of copper by that date--more than even the most generous estimate of available resources. "

    ok... you do realize civilization has been using copper wiring for less than 200 years correct? So why the "gloom and doom" scenario set 100 yrs in the future ? As they mentioned we've already got great alternatives like wireless, fiber and PVC, do they really think we're gonna need copper 100 yrs from now as much as we do now?

    I predict that long before 2100 we find an alternative, remember 100 years is a very long time when it comes to technology, just look at planes, computers, plastics, glue, etc.

    Also they're assuming the entire world will be at the level the average American is now by 2100. Let's not forget there's many people in foreign countries still without electricity or running water, things most Americans had over 100 years ago, so why assume that everyone on the planet will have them 100 years from now?

    This has got to be the most absurd "sky is falling" scenario I've ever read, I wouldn't be surprised if it was written by recycling companies or copper lobbyist.

  • Steal it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mattr (78516) <mattr@telebod[ ]om ['y.c' in gap]> on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @09:43PM (#14506241) Homepage Journal
    From UN University Insitute of Advanced Studies Working Paper 24 [gdrc.org] on "Informal Recycling and Collection of Solid Wastes in Developing Countries: Issues and Opportunities":
    In several Mexican localities, thieves steal telephone and electrical copper wires, cutting it off from existing lines in order to be melted down and recycled (Jaramillo, 1995; Medina, 1995; Rejon, 1995; Santacruz, 1995). Stealing of copper wire has also been reported in New York City's subways (Faison, 1993) and in transmission lines for Russian trains (Anon., 1994c)
  • what puzzles me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Wednesday January 18, 2006 @09:57PM (#14506306)
    Why is have 240 kg of copper consumption per capita per year considered a "developed world" lifestyle? What makes a certain level of consumption of materials necessary for a certain quality of life? Remember that until the late 90's (ie, suspiciously near 1999), copper was extremely cheap. In this PDF report [usgs.gov] the US Geographic Survey indicates that copper sold in the years 1998-2002 for the cheapest it ever had in the past century (when adjusted for inflation). If something is cheap, then it will be consumed in quantity.

    One of the semantic tricks pulled by the Science News story and perhaps by the original authors is to term consumption a "need". In other words, just because the world is consuming copper at unusually high rates due to its low cost, this consumption is "needed". My take is that once copper rises, the "need" will dissipate.

    And that brings me to my final point. Why is this a problem? If copper becomes scarce then its price will rise and people will comsume less of it. My point here is that this problem is already solved. The economy will adjust for it naturally.

"Bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments

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