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Peak copper (and peak other metals)?

  1. jcsd
    Earth sciences news on Phys.org
  2. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Sounds like the idea has some merrit - it is a real university study, and has been cited in reputable magazines: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=measure-of-metal-supply-f

    However, it assumes that developed nations will still be using as much copper in the future as we do now. That doesn't necessarily follow. For example, there is a pretty major move toward PVC piping for domestic water supplies, which make up much, if not most of the cited 170 kG per person that we use.
  3. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    There is a huge amount of copper that was used for telecommunications that has become obsolete with the use of fiber.

    In my last house, I was advised to replace the cheap PVC pipe with copper after a pvc pipe burst. Is there anything about which is better?
  4. So basically we're doomed?

    Really, if this is true then what is going to happen to society when this stuff runs out?
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2008
  5. There is more copper in the accessible crust of the Earth that we could ever envisage requiring for use on the Earth - even if we decided to make our cars, houses and undergarments of copper.
    The issue lies in the cost of extraction. That is related to energy cost. So this is just another example of why we need to focus on energy conservation and alternative energy supplies.
    Further point: mining asteroids would produce more than adequate quantities of most if not all the metals we require for our civilisation to function.
  6. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    There are large copper deposits in the Tethyan Metallogenic Belt, and much of that is untapped.

    With respect to resources, we should endeavor to use them more wisely and efficiently.
  7. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    No, we are not doomed. Copper is not a consumable. It doesn't "run out".
  8. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    I don't know why your pipe failed, but the pvc piping used in houses is rated to over 1000 psi.
  9. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    I think Evo's plastic pipe might have been polyethylene, and there were problems with them. Perhaps it was a matter of poor quality control or poor installation.
  10. How can something run out that isn't going anywhere? Copper is mostly melted down and reshaped, no?

    Where is the main use for copper in which is "disappears," if that happens?
  11. Mapes

    Mapes 2,532
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    When people talk about metals "running out," they don't mean the metal atoms are disappearing or leaving the Earth or anything like that. They usually mean that metals are typically found in enriched veins of ore. They are then mined and refined. When they then oxidize into rust and the rust is dispersed, it is far more difficult to recover the oxide and refine it again.
  12. well, copper isn't even as easy to mine as finding rich veins of ore. the Kennecott mine just gradually digs out an entire mountain of 0.6% copper.

    a lot of that copper probably ends up in landfills, tho, as we toss out broken electronics. but much of it gets recycled because copper is expensive. around here, thieves are even cutting out peoples' air-conditioning coils to take to the recycler. aluminum, otoh, is nearly pointless financially. me and a neighbor collected cans as kids, and even throwing in some scrap his dad found at the railroad, i doubt we had more than $40 at the end of a summer.

    i have wondered about the copper problem, though. would we be able to meet demand if electric vehicles suddenly became popular?
  13. Mapes

    Mapes 2,532
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    There's a great section in John McPhee's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Annals of the Former World about an entrepreneur poring over satellite photos of old mines, looking for tailings piles. Metal content that was insignificant one hundred years ago has now become profitable to re-mine.
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