A Forecast of When We’ll Run Out of Each Metal

A Forecast Of When We'll Run Out of Each Metal

A Forecast Of When We’ll Run Out of Each Metal

Here is one interpretation of when we’ll run out of each metal or energy source. While the technicalities of some of this information can be debated, I think the general theme runs the same. There is a limited supply of these commodities – and if there are no discoveries, no price changes, and no changes in consumption, we are running out relatively soon. In my opinion, there are two caveats that are always worth considering when looking at something like this.

1. “Reserves” are an engineering number that are based on economic viability. Technically speaking, there are small concentrations of gold everywhere. It is just not usually viable to mine 0.1 g/t gold. When we will “run out” of each mineral in this chart is based on current reserves and prices. If the gold price doubles, then suddenly it is economic to mine more.

2. This chart is a reminder that something has to give. Either prices are going to have to go up, or new amazing discoveries have to be made to keep prices down. It’s basic economics, and either way it seems that there are many opportunities in the mining industry for investors and speculators on both fronts.

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  • OSB

    i LOVE your work, but dread having to try and print out these infographics. Is there a “print” button that i am missing, or must i copy the image onto a word document in order to print? Thanks!

    • Hi OSB! Thanks for checking out the infographics. Good question. Many of the graphics on our site are tricky to print due to their dimensions. This piece, however, would probably work well. My suggestion would be to save the image to your computer and print from there. Word is also a fine option for something like this. I can go into more detail, but instructions would vary depending on your operating system, etc.

  • paul

    since when is gold an industrial metal?

    • Visual Capitalist

      Fair point. This is one of our syndicated infographics, so that’s not really the label we would have chose for that section. Interesting info nonetheless.

    • Ryan Murphy

      Since the invention of electronics.

      • paul

        Sorry dude silver does the job you think gold does in 99.9% of cases. Gold is a monetary metal minus precious few circumstances. Also I dont want to see a reply that says ‘but my HDMI cable uses gold’… The author of this article aleady conceded that they were wrong here in a reply to me long ago. So unless your going into space or your tooth needs to be filled gold is not needed in industry.

      • paul

        Lol, that’s like sating we still need gold to create money

  • Josh

    What would nickel look like on this graphic?

  • jrf30

    How can you say we will run out of gold? It is still mostly available from even that mined thousands of years ago. Yes, we will be OUT of oil and gas, but gold will still exist in MASS quantities. Therefore, we may be done mining NEW gold, but not “out” of gold. true?

    • Visual Capitalist

      That’s a good observation. “Run out” is a bit of a misnomer. A more accurate description would be “how long before each metal is uneconomical and difficult to mine”, but that’s not as snappy a title.

    • Bob Johnson

      Agreed. Since all metals are recycable a supply will still be available, just not from new production.

      • Gary Yantis

        Technically correct BUT on a practical basis incorrect. Silver of which industry is still the largest buyer/user. Why do many assume it is “investors” who buy the most silver? Not so! ALL silver held for investment today equals about 11 months of industrial usage at current industrial usage rates. Industry uses up (destroys) about 98% of silver that comes in its “doors”. This includes the tiny flecks of silver found in electronics of which tends to be spread all over most any electronic device it is found in.

        A typical computer contains about one ounce of silver (from 0.2 to x10 that but a computer with zero silver would run so slow to be useless in today’s world. Such silver is so “spread out” about half is not “reachable” by ANY means and to reclaim what is reachable can cost $10K an ounce and up. Industrial silver is rarely found in single large “clumps” thus industrial silver is essentially ALL destroyed as it is placed into computers etc.

        Silver is not magnetic (nor is gold) and as someone who has been very involved with metals for 40+ years I know of no economical method of recovery of silver (chemical or otherwise). This includes the “immense amount of metals” found in sea water another person mentions. There is much gold in the oceans of the world (economical recovery is another matter) so much so that more gold is in the waters of the oceans than is currently above ground on land! In fact, as a “heavy metal” the world has a HUGE amount of gold – best guess >99% of all gold still remains in the ground.

        Gold being a “heavy metal” naturally drops as the earth shifts. The deeper one digs, the MORE gold there is. There is already 4x more gold mined and residing above ground than there is silver (mined and above ground). Gold is typically kept in large connected amounts. 98%+ of all gold ever mined still exists and most is available for prices not too far from gold’s current spot price. Not so silver. All but one or two percent of earth’s silver has been mined and has been DESTROYED by industry (silver is a “light” metal thus most was found near the surface). For thousands of years silver has been DESTROYED for purposes deemed “important (i.e. building computers to use in slurry mixes polishing ball bearings but DESTROYED none the less). Silver currently has more individual uses than any other metal!

        But barring some very unlikely discovery of a huge amount of untapped silver virtually all silver is now gone FOREVER. Considering the many new amazing (i.e. medical) uses being discovered for silver, should it have been hoarded and rationed beginning many hundreds of years ago? IMO, Yes!

        But it was not and there is no sign of that happening. It is to the economic advantage of too many individuals, companies, etc. to allow silver to rise in price until it is FORCED to increase due to actual and permanent scarcity Only then will silver increase in price based on demand compared to available.

        How close is the world to that point I consider a “vertical cliff?”. No one knows for sure but a “best guess” is “relatively soon”. Barring discovery of a substitute with equal or better electrical properties (compared to silver) of which tremendous resources have been devoted to developing such a substitute (at a reasonable production price of quantities currently used of silver) but not just minimal success but NO success has occurred.

        Methods of “stretching” silver that remains – yes – i.e. silver flashing another metal such as copper or brass (99% of electricity/electronic signals “travels” on the 1% outer layer of wire, circuit paths etc. (so having silver present on the outer most “layer” is needed for low resistivity/high speed BUT that has been done for decades even when silver was much cheaper. The point of maximum “stretching’ was reached long ago.

        Now it is just a matter of using up (destroying) what remains until that “vertical cliff” is reached. THEN mankind will experience much “hand wringing” lamenting “oh why did we not ration silver long ago!”. It will be too late. Industry (i.e. electronics) will mostly return to the “copper circuit era (1900 to about 1965 when the low resistance of silver made it a “star”. BUT not a “star” whose price reflected its eventual scarcity. Like most commodities, silver was always priced at TODAY’S availability. This was not some giant “trick” by many but just normal market forces. EXCEPT, in this case, silver will be the first primary major important commodity of which the world will run out of! The very first one! Not oil or any of the other commodities so much is said about. Silver will be the first to be gone!

        As an engineer, inventor, forecaster, etc. I don’t believe this will be permanent as other means will be developed in coming decades (i.e. organic “circuits”) but this is many decades away. In the meantime, technology will be “reversed” by “decades” to the “age of copper, zinc, etc. Silver that remains will be so scarce it will reserved (by law most likely) for the most critical uses and with a cost per ounce to match.

        This is reality. I believe the expression “whistling past the grave yard” best describes today’s world regarding at least silver.

        • Bob Johnson

          On the supply side, silver scrap provides about 20% versus mine production 80%
          While not as high as aluminum or other metals, 20% is still a respectable number.

          On the demand side, industrial demand is about 60%, while 40% is jewelry, coins, bars, and silverware.
          Even if 98% of industrial is “lost” the other 40% is highly refined and easily recycled, if one chose to do so (at much higher prices)
          I think the 98% number might be high, because although photography is down to 50 million ounces, it is highly recoverable.
          Overall, I think about 50% of silver demand could be recycled, the other 50% too difficult to recover, as you suggest.

          • Gary Yantis

            I was going to drop this but as a consultant who has actually been paid to come up with science answers that could impact the world (I usually “strike out” but I try!) I would share the proceeds with you on exactly how “50% of silver demand could be “refined”. I’ve worked on it for decades and top metallurgist Ph.D scientists in the world have done the same. They (nor I) have come up with reclaiming even 2% used in industry and even that reclamation would cost FAR above current spot of silver or even 10 times current spot. If you have scientific details I promise you iron clad legal protection to receive a share you would be satisifed with. To say the least the amount would be beyond astronomical. I can assure you this is an earnest real proposal and one that could make you very wealthy. For guiding your knowledge to the contacts I know I’d like to participate in that wealth (and for my knowledge to maximize what we and our heirs would both receive). Jewelry, etc. CAN be reclaimed but many (most?) owners of antique jewelry, heirlooms etc. are not willing to part with them at almost any price. As one pundit wrote “sell the silver family tea set in the family since the 15th century? I’d sooner sell my 1st born!”.

    • jonathan

      JUST like the article stated ” “Reserves” are an engineering number that are based on economic viability. Technically speaking, there are small concentrations of gold everywhere. It is just not usually viable to mine 0.1 g/t gold. When we will “run out” of each mineral in this chart is based on current reserves and prices. If the gold price doubles, then suddenly it is economic to mine more.”

      Yes, gold is all over the place. It’s in just about all metals. But in enormously small quantities. It doesn’t become economical to move 10 tons of rock to get 1 gram of gold. UNLESS the price is doubled or whatever. Then it becomes slightly more economical. Even then Earth is running out and will run out of all of these metals, material, whatever within the next 100 years TOPS. All of it, gone. All materials our entire industry is based on. This is why it’s absolutely crucial we get to space and we get to space NOW to begin mining other planets and asteroids. There just isn’t enough to go around without mining our planet to the core. And like the article states most, if not all major materials/metals will not be economical to mine within 20-30 years. Which means total economic collapse. This is why every spare dollar I have I put into silver. Slowly but surely I’m building a fairly large stock pile of silver (some gold, just too expensive per ounce. Silver is roughly $20, Gold $1000.) to sell off when prices sky rocket. It’s evident to all industries that use silver that it’s running out and the vast majority of silver on “paper” doesn’t have any silver behind it to back it. When these countries and companies call in their “stocks” of silver they have on paper they will be disappointed when the organization that oversees silver stock trading pays them out in cash instead of silver. Unless, that’s part of their plan. Buy silver on paper today for cheap and cash in in the future when there is little to no silver being mined.

  • Rusty Brown in Canada

    When all other sources are exhausted, there is always the vast quantities of minerals dissolved in seawater, of course. Granted, it would take an immense amount of energy to do so, but perhaps we will experience some kind of “breakthrough” that will allow such extraction to be economically viable in the future.
    In this regard, please note:
    “Due to magnesium ion’s high solubility in water, it is the third-most-abundant
    element dissolved in seawater…[and] is now obtained mainly by electrolysis
    of magnesium salts obtained from brine.” Wikipedia

  • Bob Johnson

    Gold production set an all time record at 2982mt in 2013, up 4.1% from 2012.

  • Bob Johnson

    I hate these static analysis, which do not (can not) take either price changes or new technologies into account.
    The “so-called experts” in the 1970s were certain we would run out of oil by the mid 1980s.
    Two oils prices shocks and new technologies changed all of that.
    The US might become the top oil producer in the world, No one saw that coming !

    World oil reserves have doubled since 1980, and peak oil gets pushed way out into the future (again)

  • Gary Yantis

    You wrote “I think” which, to me, with all due respect, I consider to be the same as “I’m guessing”.

    I’m just the messenger. The quotation “don’t shoot the messenger” comes to mind.

    First, photography has fallen so low, personally, I don’t count it even – “50” is so low it is a “rounding error”. I was just repeating information found on sites such as that of the “Sliver Institute” although I had the occasion to get to know the “executive director” of the Silver Institute (SI), A very nice fellow BUT my “opinion a.k.a. “guess” is that the SI is not like the well funded Gold Institute (forgot their official name) with a dozen? offices all over the world the “SI” is a single small “organization” “I guess” only has a few employees and is located in Washington DC. They have an “executive director” and have had numerous people in that position over the years – none experts in silver or with any training in metals at all!.

    In my mind speaking with the gentleman on the phone SI a small office with him and a lady as secretary answering the phone and taking care of correspondence. I had hoped it was a large well funded organization but it is not. The “executive director” is just a fellow that, for all I know, was previously employed as “executive director” of another trade organization “i.e. Hog Producers of America” just to make one up. He has little (none?) in-depth knowledge of silver itself. They publish “reports”, surveys etc.

    The membership of SI can be found on their Web site. The list is short (a few dozen?). Made up of producers, users and other companies and organizations who have some interest in silver. Having mines and users both as members it appears to me the SI has members whose interests are polar opposites – just an observation on my part but It appeared the me SI primarily exists to have “some organization” to give the appearance of a real organization of parties involved in silver. But I think it mostly fields questions from people like me and “take care of” i.e. “visiting firemen” who are called to task by some government agency, congress or ??. Something comes up and some congressional committee wants someone to appear from the “silver industry” and Michael (forgot his last name) is contacted at the SI then makes the requested appearance on behalf of the Silver Institute.

    Decades ago I was employed as a “metallurgist” by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) doing testing on metals found primarily in nuclear weapons. I had zero training in the field (my degree is in electronics specializing in RF (so I know a lot about subjects such as EMP Electromagnetic pulse – in fact I was in the group that came up with the term “EMP).

    So often the least qualified is the first one chosen and such was the case with the AEC. The “task” fell into no particular field so it was given to me. I was to figure out then write really boring reports on how various metals change/react to suddenly hitting concrete traveling 8,000 MPH. You can probably guess this was to test metals flying over the north pole then hitting concrete in downtown Moscow or down Chicago (for example). From scratch I designed and had built a building 500 feet underground in a (not very) secret laboratory the AEC had and still has as far as I know deep beneath an area in south Kansas City. Being 24 years old I couldn’t believe they were paying me for having so much fun! I basically designed and had built “the world’s largest most powerful sling shot”. The sling was made of rubber two feet thick and weighed 6,000 pounds. A powerful winch would VERY slowly winch the UUT (unit under test) up to the roof of this all concrete building within a building. It was 30 feet tall, walls were 8 feet thick (concrete) and the “point of impact’ was a slab of concrete newly made for each test. The slab was about 10 fee thick and brought in by a large fork lift.

    I called silver the “mystery metal” as some of results did not agree with the laws of physics. Most have since been answered. I was puzzled why out of all metals ONE metal’s world-wide “best guess” was TOP SECRET — how much remained above and below ground – SILVER! Why silver instead of one of the REMs (rare earth metal)? Well, I had the second highest level of security clearance in the country (Q level for those who know clearances) so I asked and found out! It was because “they” had already figured out the world would run out of manufacturing amounts of silver by the year 2150. This was BEFORE the many new uses of silver “exploded” i.e.electronics,medicine etc. It is now much sooner than 2150 but how much sooner?

    As one with a personal interest in physical silver several years ago I decided to try to find out. NOT possible! An accurate date of when silver becomes truly “scarce” is unknown! As critical as silver is to such products as MOST military items that include electronics or even conductivity of electricity knowing just how much silver exists it seems to me is pretty darn important!

    Among many I spoke with I spoke with Michael DiRienzo (that is his name! = I remembered it!) of SI. After many telephone conversations and e-mails I learned that SI is 99.9% “marketing”. Encouraging the use of silver; not keeping track of any of the statistics of silver like “how much silver remains!”. Michael is a bit unhappy with me for “digging down” to learn the true makeup, purpose and goals of SI; unlike the World Gold Council (I just remembered their name too!). The WGC is large and well funded with 12(?) offices all over the world. What does the WGC DO exactly? I have no idea! My interest is in silver – not gold. I’ve never even contacted the WGC although have read many of their LONG and DETAILED reports about the metal gold.

    What about the “statistics” issued by SI? Where do they come from? It was finally admitted to me they come voluntarily from their members. They have a limited number of members but that small number makes up more than 90% of all silver mined, forged and used. But it is all voluntarily given to SI. Intel (for example) could WRONGLY report “we believe we will need 100 trillion ounces of silver in 2015 and it would go into the statistics SI keeps track of.

    I purposely used a ludicrous number to illustrate what SI issues CAN BE the old “garbage in – garbage out” phrase so often used in science. I am beyond amazed that the numbers I come up with by activity such as reading SEC documents of public companies involved in silver, private companies (it is surprising to me just how free and open many are with such information after I explain WHY I cam contacting them and they assure themselves I am not up to something “devious”.

    I now know many of the senior buyers at companies such as Intel and operators of private mines of the silver they are mining and how much they believe is still in the ground they lease or own. And pretty much everyone else in the “chain” from yet to be discovered silver in the ground to “finished product” such as electronic parts and jewelry both containing some silver. It’s purity, what metals silver is usually found mixed with (a mine that is ONLY silver rarely exists – silver is almost always “icing on the cake” found mining for iron or some other metal. Few people know this just as few people seem to know much of ANYTHING “technical” about silver!

    I sometimes think the data I accumulate about silver is in more depth and there is more of it than anyone else or any agency on this planet! Surely military entities know more than I do but they aren’t talking!

    Having held a Top Secret clearance held by few (at the time) and being the only government employee testing metal (at the time) I know how sparce correct and detailed information was at least decades ago.

    With the exception of certain entities such as the country of China who reports (on everything!) what provides them an advantage I believe the information I assume is essentially correct and complete.

    You’d be surprised at the agencies, entities, organizations etc. that come to a lone person located in the Midwest (me) asking fundamental questions about silver! If there is a qualified organization keeping tack of such information I would REALLY like to know of them.

    To a few of the points you guessed? at: the amount of “junk silver that remains is much less than commonly thought. I have run across many instances of the SAME silver being counted more than once! For that matter such a practice (I’m told and have observed) happens in gold and other commodities as often or more often than in silver.

    Bottom line: the world and TPTB it seems are often “told what they want to hear!”. Which leads me full circle back to “no one is truly “minding the store” with silver and the proverbial “cliff” could appear at any time. I know there is less silver available than almost anyone states but just HOW MUCH? I WISH I KNEW! Qualified entities who come to me seeking to learn what I know it currently seems to sit somewhere between one and two percent of the amount of silver in and on planet earth, say, 8,000 years ago when silver was so abundant ABOVE ground it was considered a nuisance as agriculture was beginning and farmers had to clear their fields of these newly surfaced shiny silver rocks each spring before planting could begin. Silver as a light metal pushed its way to the surface each winter as freezing/thawing/freezing etc.took place.

    Until about 100 years ago seekers of silver would seek the buried piles of silver rocks ancient farmers often had made at the edge of their fields removing silver often with hands and bckets then dumping the unwanted rock into piles on corners of fields. Even today occasionally such mounds are discovered in ancient areas of Greece and vicinity where farming began many thousands of years ago.

    I sometimes have thought of writing a book titled “The History of Silver” but reading it would be as boring as watching paint dry! Thus I’ll continue to gather information from the many sources of information silver I have.

    I AM 100% CONVINCED “the end is near” beginning decades ago when the government (AEC) so carefully guarded just how silver remained in the world “I have put my money where my mouth is” for decades. Draw your own conclusions from that yourself. I’m old enough it may be my children who “benefit when the world begins its long sudden silver vertical descent but that it will occur is not IF but WHEN.

    If someone can contribute more than guesses and hopes regarding silver I would welcome hearing of everything you have! I even welcome “good guesses” that are backed up by something other than hope and “normalcy bias” ‘NB’ (a psychiatric term essentially meaning “it’s always been this way so it will continue this way in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary). NB got us to where we are today in everything from geopolitics to the “price of tea in China”. NOT GOOD! IMO

    • Bob Johnson

      I have been involved in metals for about 40 years, and draw my own conclusions based on the data I have read.
      With all due respect, I was not guessing, I was expressing my opinion, I think.

      • Gary Yantis


        I appreciate your polite and respectful response, I’m sure you agree no one (at least us mortal folks) can state the future with 100% certainty, It sounds like you also have many years of hands on experience with metals. Personally, I’ve spent virtually all of my commodity time in silver having foolishly bought 60 oz of gold circa mid 90s (it was under $400/ounce so not too stupid and bought a few thousand oz of paper silver when cheap but foolishly believed “regulators” were not part and partial to the giant scam called “Wall Street” and believed crooks would go to jail if they EVER did even 10% of what goes EVERY second any market is open today- Hah! “Rule of law” is for the stupid kid who holds up a liquor store and is shot dead by a cop in the unlikely event the store clerk doesn’t blow him away with under counter shot gun.

        All of the crooks wearing $5,000 suits take revolving door route between SEC and Wall Street stopping long enough to pick up bonuses from the bigger crooks. Disgusting but reality. Sitting on all of Ag I feel comfortable with sitting at bottom of Lake Michigan so now pouring into diversified high dividend old line Canadian commodity money machines (?), Brazilian BRI, uranium and coal. I like things I can touch (NOT uranium!) that people need good times and bad. With Obama and his wacko ideas with ISIS, Syria, Ukraine we may all be dust pretty soon anyway,

        Why people keep talking up Au is beyond me. It is just main central banks and China — if any every had to liquidate there would be no buyers. Dealer friends say individuals NOT buying gold. Countries, big banks and mega billionaires are ONLY buyers of gold. LOTS in the ground! Supply virtually unlimited. Makes no sense, Gold = I must be missing something obvious! Hard part will be to turn monster boxes into lumber land, aquifers, etc. after holders of silver are made “felons=shoot on sight” overnight. Dump early leaving last 30% on the table. My best advice, Gonna be a “jack be nimble” time trying to avoid that candle stick before it gets lit!

  • Marston Gould

    This maybe augmented someday my extraterrestrial mining. Elon Musk will likely win that game … It would be interesting to show potable water against this

  • Hey You

    Visual Capitalist is a very well done site. My compliments.

    My concern is whether the data is accurate. It probably is close enough.

  • pomodu

    As a species we’re idiots if week excavating fossil fuels for another 50+ years. We’ll run out of oil right about the time we’ve guarenteed ou extinction – lol

  • Will Tolen

    ooo, now i am so frightened. hahaha. btw, when i was a kid the “experts” predicted we would run out of oil by 2000 (we didn’t). here is what will actually happen…they will find more!

  • Matt

    Well it may not run out, but surely it needs to keep growing like everything else economically, my understanding of this sort of investing is pretty rudimentary, I’m a property guy, (I mean actual houses) People aspire to more, countries aspire to more and their gold reserves must need to keep getting bigger and bigger to back it up right? Whatever anyway, you know these markets behave so irrationally and I’m realising this kind of speculation is probably never gonna be my cup of tea

  • Robert

    A huge caveat…bankrupt governments (and which ones aren’t?) will hijack miners in the future…

  • Mogumbo Gono

    These “predictions” are nonsense. Malthus tried the same thing. He was wrong, too.

  • Tim Elliott

    Mines extract metal using energy. Mines compete with people for energy. So this is actually extremely conservative. Given the declining investment, the exodus of talent away from the industry, the public animosity towards the industry, and the fact it is competing with an exponentially rising populace for energy to do work, extremely conservative. Rising metal prices just do a great loop and come back to the mines as rising overheads. Without increasing available energy, reserves plummet. If the question is “how long till uneconomical to mine” realistically (I am a resource geo) things should become noticeable in a the next few years and will be very serious within a decade. With projected reduction in energy output combined with exponentially rising energy consumers, 20 years will see everything close to wound up.

  • ejhr

    Definitely we will never run out of minerals. But we will run out of the energy value in extracting them. Already that is happening. They will not be extracted if it costs more to mine them that they can be sold for. That time is not far off.

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