Maybe Avatar is fiction, maybe not, but the fact is that in the past twenty years or so we have seen in our own world a range of metals entering mainstream production. These metals have also been labelled ‘unobtaniums’: and it’s not because they’re rare; it’s because it’s such an expensive exercise extracting them from the ground.
The demands for these materials are growing exponentially, and in the years to come will surely outweigh the supply, which is hardly increasing at all.
These metals are known as ‘Technology Metals’, with the first one being discovered back in the late 18th century. It’s interesting to note that a lot of the modern-day gadgets that we take for granted wouldn’t even exist without these metals.
At this point there have been seventeen Technology Metal elements discovered (with four of them deriving their names from that small Swedish village), and today these elements are some of the most sought-after resources in the world. It could surprise you just how much your modern-day life depends on them.
You more-than-likely have a GPS system or a smart phone: if so, it’s thanks to Technology Metals that your touch screen works. Have you used the vibrate mode on your mobile phone? Yes, Technology Metals at work again. In the evening when you enjoy your state-of-the-art HDTV, or you open your laptop, those screens you’re looking at are only working because of Technology Metals.
Technology Metals are used in the majority of mobile phone and computer circuitry, and in fact they’re used in wind turbines, your car’s catalytic converter and alternator, and fibre optics – these are just a few uses, and there are many more.
Technology Metals have numerous applications in the military, and they’re also used in the petroleum and chemical industries.
These elements exist in relative abundance around the world, but are extremely difficult to locate and hazardous to extract. They actually exist in abundance around the world, however they’re difficult and expensive to locate and extremely hazardous to extract.
Because of these issues, and compared to other metals, global production of Technology Metals is quite small. The total production of all seventeen metals is estimated to be in the vicinity of approximately 130,000 tons per year – copper comes in at about seventeen million tons per year.
There are increasing concerns over future availability because of course the global demand increases each and every year. Developing countries are growing their middle classes, therefore billions more people will be yearning for smartphones, HDTVs, laptops and cars.
As Technology Metals become more unavailable it’s going to become increasingly more difficult to meet the future demand.
As the demand has risen, so too have the attempts at exploration around the world, but unfortunately separation is a difficult and expensive process, not to mention the many environmental issues surrounding both extraction and separation.
In addition, exploration attempts in many countries have not been successful, with a meagre five percent of all mines ever producing.
Because of this ninety-five percent rate of failure, Japan and the United States have been stockpiling Technology Metals as a way of protecting themselves against the inevitable future increases in price. The United States and Australia are currently increasing their own production of Technology Metals, while Vietnam and Japan have united in a joint mining venture; all because they prefer to become less reliant on China.
China can only claim one-fifth of the proven reserves in the world, however it fulfils ninety percent of today’s global demand.
In order to obtain a premium price for its Technology Metals, China is now cutting back on exports, right at the time when global demand is increasing. The Chinese Society of Technology Metals has stated publicly that there will be more restrictions in the future, while exports have indeed halved in the past decade.
Some believe this restriction in exports is designed to encourage the relocation of foreign tech companies into China, and others say that China just can’t afford to continue exporting when it actually needs these Technology Metals for its own use.
The biggest importers of Technology Metals are the high-tech economies, so it’s no surprise that the biggest importer in the world is Japan.
The rapid rise in prices is really affecting countries such as the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria.
Even if China lowers its export restrictions, with so many countries depending on the constant flow of Technology Metals, the demand will still outweigh supply in the years to come.
So, what does this mean to us? What this means is that, in the years ahead, there could be some very financially rewarding investment opportunities in Technology Metals and the producers of same, and of course as we already know, new commercial uses will affect our lives in many ways.
And with the environment being a very topical issue these days and say the world really does go green, meaning an increase in the use of solar energy, wind energy and electric cars, we will be requiring many, many times the quantity of these metals in use today.
We are going to have to find that supply somewhere, and wherever it may be, we should all hope that the discovery and ultimate mining of these earth ‘unobtaniums’ is carried out with a lot more care and consideration for the environment than was previously shown to the inhabitants of Pandora.