In the guide below, we discuss the world’s metal resources.
For different types of metals and metal ores/minerals, we outline how much of each might be left, when we might run out, and other relevant information.
Summary – The World’s Metals Resources
The information in the guide below is a summary of the information found in our separate guides on different types of metal resources.
You can access those guides here:
How Much Uranium Do We Have Left? (according to several reports, uranium is technically categorised as an actinide metal)
In those guides, we outline information relating to:
– The remaining resources and reserves, and reserve trends over time (i.e. if they are increasing, decreasing, or staying stable)
– Undiscovered or unexplored resources (or discovered resources that are yet to be converted into proven reserves)
– Which countries have the largest reserves
– Total production, and production trends over time
– Which countries produce the most
– Total demand & consumption
– Whether we are running out of each resource in the short term, and what factors might impact our ability to extract and use resources in the medium to long term
– When we might run out of each resource (i.e. number of years worth of proven reserves left)
– What might happen if we start running out of each resource
– Recent information on shortages for each resource
– How we might manage each resource more sustainably
– Potential substitutes for each resource
How Much Metal Is Left In The World? – Resources, & Reserves
Metal Ores & Minerals In The Ground
In terms of metal ores and minerals left in the Earth (as opposed to already mined and above ground), there’s generally:
– Undiscovered and also discovered resources (which can be converted into reserves once they are discovered, and then assessed as economically feasible to extract with today’s technology and processes)
– Proven reserves
There’s typically a lot more discovered and undiscovered resources than there is proven reserves at any one point in time.
You can check the resources and reserves of each metal resource in the linked guides, but, to use iron ore and iron (which is used to make steel) as one an example …
– Iron Ore Resources
According to one report, there’s roughly 800 billion tonnes of iron ore in the world, containing 230 billion tonnes of iron
– Iron Ore Reserves
One reports indicates that the total reserves of crude iron ore worldwide were estimated to be approximately 180 billion metric tons in 2021. The total iron content of that amount is estimated to be some 85 billion metric tons
Metal Above Ground (Already Extracted/Mined)
In addition to metal ores and minerals in the ground, there’s also refined metal above ground that can be recycled or re-used, and kept in circulation.
Going with the above example, steel (made from iron) is one of the most recycled materials in the world, so a certain portion of steel may stay circulation.
Copper is perhaps one of the best examples of a metal that stays in circulation, with some estimates indicating that about 80% of all copper ever mined is still available above ground (having been recycled).
The more metal that stays in circulation, the more of that metal that is technically left to use (although some recycled metals may use a certain amount of virgin content too).
Silver on the other hand may be one metal that isn’t recycled at such high rates – some reports indicate that a lot of silver ends up either lost in industrial processes, or ends up in landfills.
Various reports indicate that metals like silver (and other metals) may be lost to waste such as e-waste at reasonably high rates without being recovered.
When Will We Run Out Of Metal? … How Many Years Worth Of Metal Do We Have Left?
To use the example of iron ore again from above, some estimates indicate that, based on a 2% growth in annual demand, iron ore reserves could last until roughly 2070.
However, this estimate does not appear to take into account iron ore resources being converted into proven reserves in the future, or, existing steel that can be recycled and re-used.
For some metals, when these factors are taken into account, estimates may increase.
Additionally, if some recycling or metal recovery processes and technology (such as being able to recover metal more effectively from e-waste) improve in the future, there may be even more metal available to re-use.
Why We Might Not Run Out Of Mined Resources Like Metals Anytime Soon
Some of the factors that can impact our ability to extract and use resources into the future can include, but aren’t limited to:
– Annual demand and consumption (some metals for example might see increasing demand in certain technology and electronics in the future)
– Annual production
– Investment in production, and increasing production capacity (countries can invest in production to increase production capacity to meet demand, however, there may sometimes be limitations)
– Investment in exploration and discovering currently undiscovered resources
– Whether proven reserves are increasing, decreasing, or staying stable over the medium to long term
– The development and introduction of new extraction processes and technology that allows previously inaccessible, or previously economically unfeasible resources to be extracted
– Prices of resources (the higher the prices, the more resources that can be extracted at a higher extraction cost)
The Amount Of Resources & Reserves Left Is Different To The Supply Of Resources To An Individual Country
Something that should be mentioned is that just because the world has a certain amount of resources or reserves left, it does not ensure supply of these resources to all countries.
Net importers for example may struggle to meet demand at specific times, whereas countries with abundant domestic reserves and production may have less difficulty meeting local demand (assuming this country isn’t exporting most of their resources to other countries.)
Another example is where there can be potential issues between different parties along the supply/production chain, which can be the case with iron ore/iron suppliers and steelmakers sometimes.
This is just one general example though.