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Discovery, supply & demand: From Metals of Antiquity to critical metals

- By: John P Sykes
Posted in: Blog, Commodities, Conferences, Exploration, Mineral Economics, Mineral Policy, Mining, Publications, Recommended, Strategy, Technical Paper Reviews


A couple of weeks ago, an article I co-authored was published online entitled “Discovery, supply and demand: From Metals of Antiquity to critical metals“. The article was co-authored with Josh Wright (Rowton Consolidated) and Allan Trench (The University of Western Australia) and has been published in the scholarly journal ‘Applied Earth Science’. The journal is the earth sciences publication of the UK-based Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) and Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) and has both an academic and industry readership.

The abstract for the paper reads as follows:

“Transformational growth amongst the various critical metals’ markets would reduce supply concerns for industrial consumers and governments, whilst also providing commercial opportunities for the upstream industry. However, despite rapid market growth amongst some critical metal markets over the last decade, as a group they have lagged the market growth rates of the non-ferrous industrial and precious metals sectors. Research into the growth prospects of the critical metal markets is clearly required; however, their limited economic history and a paucity of data make this difficult. The economic history of the metals and mining industry as a whole, however, is better documented, and thus may provide insights into the potential for market growth amongst the critical metals. This paper therefore reviews the economic history of metals and mining, and in particular, that of the aluminium, nickel and uranium industries in an attempt to understand the key drivers behind transformational growth within the metals’ markets. This historical review suggests that a combination of breakthroughs in discovery, supply and demand are required to catalyse transformational market growth; and thus that parties seeking to benefit from the transformational growth of the critical metals’ markets must approach these markets in an integrated manner, considering each of the discovery, supply and demand issues in turn, rather than focusing on one specific constraint.”

The article is part of a far-sighted and broad-minded special series by the Applied Earth Science journal on ‘mineral economics and critical minerals’ in what is traditionally a geological journal. In his editorial about the special series, journal editor, Dr. Simon Jowitt justifies this broadened approach to the subject along the following lines:

“Applied Earth Science readers will undoubtedly be aware that ‘ore’ is an economic term… However, unless we are watchful, the economic aspect of economic geology can be pushed to one side in the classroom, the field, in industry, and even in the pages of journals such as Applied Earth Science. Furthering our understanding of mineral economics is important not only to long term planning and the security of supply of key commodities at a governmental level, but also is vital to understanding the way the mining industry operates, the success or failure of mining ventures, and what defines an ore reserve.”

Sentiments I obviously agree with!

The paper is based on previous presentations I have given at the Argus Media-Metal Pages conference in China in 2014 and available on my slideshare:

Economic History of Esoteric Metals – Sykes et al – Sep 2014 – China Metals Week from John P. Sykes