Metals - the 'new renewables'

May 29, 2002

Metals can help in achieving globally sustainable development, two leading Australian researchers claimed today.

Metals are not biodegradable, have a virtually unlimited lifespan, and can be recycled almost without limit, CSIRO's Dr John Rankin and Dr Terry Norgate told the Green Processing 2002 Conference in Cairns today.

Mineral resources are finite, but metals can in theory go on being re-used countless times, with huge savings in energy and reduction in the waste involved in primary processing.

The "ecological footprint" of the human race was estimated in 1997 to be nearly a third larger than the earth's total biological capacity, and by 2030 this could rise as high as 130 per cent, emphasising the importance of making better use of the resources we already have, they said.

"One way to do this is by 'dematerialisation' - reducing the amount of energy and materials you need to produce goods or services. Metals are particularly suited to this, as they have the greatest potential for unlimited recycling."

"However, recycling alone cannot meet the increasing need for metals, and fresh metal and minerals will be required for many generations to come" says Dr Rankin.

Lifecycle analyses of key metals by CSIRO from mining to the point of manufacture has shown that there is significant scope for savings in energy, global warming potential and acid pollution in their production, Dr Rankin said.

Another issue is that declining ore grades are slowly pushing up the amount of energy required to produce a tonne of metal.

New technologies are needed to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of minerals and metals production from ores. Australia, with a large and technologically advanced minerals industry and strong R&D capability in the area, is well placed to become a world leader in the development and implementation of "green" processing technologies.

Dr Rankin says the advent of a carbon tax would have a major effect on metals production, with greater emphasis on low energy extraction processes, and a greater emphasis on recycling.

"Despite earlier concerns about possible shortages, there are no indications that metals scarcity will be a major problem for future generations.

"However increased energy consumption associated with decreasing ore grades and the likely introduction of carbon or energy taxes will place more emphasis on recycling in future, and greater efforts to redesign the supply-chain to remove energy-intensive steps in primary metal production.

"It is also possible that low-energy intensive metals like steel may replace high-energy metals (eg aluminium) in applications where weight is not especially critical, and vice versa."

"Of all the materials used by society metals have the greatest potential for unlimited recycling.

"They offer the ability to conserve resources, reduce energy use and minimize waste disposal."
For detailed information on the program:
Conference website:

CSIRO Australia

Related Carbon Articles from Brightsurf:

The biggest trees capture the most carbon: Large trees dominate carbon storage in forests
A recent study examining carbon storage in Pacific Northwest forests demonstrated that although large-diameter trees (21 inches) only comprised 3% of total stems, they accounted for 42% of the total aboveground carbon storage.

Carbon storage from the lab
Researchers at the University of Freiburg established the world's largest collection of moss species for the peat industry and science

Carbon-carbon covalent bonds far more flexible than presumed
A Hokkaido University research group has successfully demonstrated that carbon-carbon (C-C) covalent bonds expand and contract flexibly in response to light and heat.

Metal wires of carbon complete toolbox for carbon-based computers
Carbon-based computers have the potential to be a lot faster and much more energy efficient than silicon-based computers, but 2D graphene and carbon nanotubes have proved challenging to turn into the elements needed to construct transistor circuits.

Cascades with carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide (CO(2)) is not just an undesirable greenhouse gas, it is also an interesting source of raw materials that are valuable and can be recycled sustainably.

Two-dimensional carbon networks
Lithium-ion batteries usually contain graphitic carbons as anode materials. Scientists have investigated the carbonic nanoweb graphdiyne as a novel two-dimensional carbon network for its suitability in battery applications.

Can wood construction transform cities from carbon source to carbon vault?
A new study by researchers and architects at Yale and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research predicts that a transition to timber-based wood products in the construction of new housing, buildings, and infrastructure would not only offset enormous amounts of carbon emissions related to concrete and steel production -- it could turn the world's cities into a vast carbon sink.

Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?

First fully rechargeable carbon dioxide battery with carbon neutrality
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.

How and when was carbon distributed in the Earth?
A magma ocean existing during the core formation is thought to have been highly depleted in carbon due to its high-siderophile (iron loving) behavior.

Read More: Carbon News and Carbon Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to