Mineral resources: Geological scarcity, market price trends, and future generations

M.L.C.M. Henckens, E.C. van Ierland, P.P.J. Driessen, E. Worrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


The extractable ores of the world's geologically scarcest mineral resources (e.g. antimony, molybdenum and zinc) may be exhausted within several decades to a century, if their extraction continues to increase. This paper explores the likelihood that these scarce mineral resources can be conserved in time for future generations without intervening but instead simply relying on the price mechanism of the free market system. First we discuss the role of geological scarcity in the long-term price development of mineral resources. Then, to see whether geological scarcity affects the price of minerals we compare the historical trends in the prices of geologically scarce mineral resources with those of geologically more abundant mineral resources. The results show that in the period 1900-2013 the price mechanism did not result in high prices that provide advance warning of exhaustion of minerals. We therefore argue that if conservation is left to market forces, it is not certain that geologically scarce minerals will be timely, automatically, and sufficiently conserved for future generations. We recommend preparing international policy measures targeted at a price increase of the scarcest mineral resources, in order to accelerate substitution and recycling of these materials and help save the geologically scarcest mineral resources for future generations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-111
JournalResources Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Free market system
  • Price mechanism
  • Scarce minerals
  • Sustainable extraction

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