Space & Innovation

Rare Minerals We May Have to Live Without

The difficult-to-replace substances that might become hard to get in the near future.


You may not realize it, but our modern high-tech lifestyle requires enormous amounts of minerals -- about 25,000 pounds per person each year to make the various products and gadgets we use every day, from toothpaste and paint to cell phones, computers and automobiles.

But even as we become increasingly dependent upon them, the availability of some important minerals is at risk. In some cases, that's because deposits might become exhausted, while others come from places where geopolitical conflicts, instability or competition with rival nations might interfere with our supply. Here are some particularly critical, difficult-to-replace substances that might become hard to get in the near future.

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Rhodium is used in catalytic converters, the devices that control pollution from cars. According to the investment website Seeking Alpha, only about 25 tons are mined each year -- about one-hundredth the amount of gold the world produces. About 80 percent of Rhodium that comes from mines in South Africa, a nation with chronic political instability.

Platinum, also mined in South Africa, is used in everything from computer hard disks to pacemakers. A 2014 BBC News article predicted that the remaining deposits will be gone by 2029.

Niobium is an important ingredient in alloys used for jet engine and rocket components. Ninety percent of the world's supply comes from a single mine in Brazil, Business Insider reported in 2010.

Indium is used in the making of touch screens, flat-screen TVs and solar panels. BBC News has predicted in that the supply of indium will be exhausted by 2024.

Neodymium, one of the so-called rare Earth elements, is a component in alloys used to make high-strength magnets used in everything from loudspeakers to electric generators. China currently controls the world's supply, which could pose future geopolitical problems for the United States.

Tantalum is an important ingredient in making electronics and alloys. Though it's found in a number of countries, including Brazil and Canada, the world supply could run out in the next 50 years. That makes tantalum a valuable "conflict mineral" whose smuggling and exploitation has helped finance armed conflict in Africa.