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A general method for the assessment of the geological and technological limitations to high-tech metal supply

Frenzel, M.; Tolosana-Delgado, R.; Gutzmer, J.


The demand for some of the rarer elements in the Earth's crust for high-tech applications is increasing rapidly. Many of these elements are produced exclusively as by-products resulting in potentially significant supply limitations. However, despite their increasing importance, reliable assessments of these limitations are not readily available. Gallium, germanium, indium, tellurium and rhenium are good examples of such elements.
In this work, a general methodology is presented for the estimation of the supply potential of by-product elements as a function of their distribution in the relevant raw materials, the state of technology and market prices. Geochemical data from the scientific literature is used to generate numerical models of the distribution of the elements over separable production volumes, while data on the partitioning behaviour of the elements during the production of the main products is used to assess the fraction which is profitably extractable as a function of cut-off grade in a waste or intermediate process stream. The exact value of this cut-off grade may be taken to reflect both the current state of extraction technology as well as market prices for the element in question. A combination of the distribution and process behaviour models in Monte Carlo-type numerical simulations yields a median estimate and confidence interval for the supply potential as a function of the cut-off grade.
The results can be presented in the form of availability curves. This allows not only for the assessment of the current situation but also enables simple adaptation to changed technological and market conditions. Furthermore it makes it possible to assess the chief supply limitations, i.e. whether they are geological or technological, as well as the magnitude of inefficiencies in the markets of these metals. A simple example is used to illustrate the application of the method.

  • Lecture (Conference)
    The 17th annual conference of the International Association for Mathematical Geosciences, 05.-12.09.2015, Freiberg, Deutschland


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