The need for metals is increasing
Metals are a cornerstone of our modern society, and fact is that the living standard we currently take for granted is based on our ability to use various metals.
Indeed metals surround us in our everyday lives. They can be found in everything from electronics, vehicles and homes, to major construction projects and the infrastructure that provides us with energy. But while these are always in our immediate vicinity, they are not something we give much thought to. You could even say that metals are so common that they are virtually invisible.
“And everything indicates our need for metals will increase in the future,” explains Pekka Suomela, Executive Officer at Finnish Mining Association, FinnMin.
“There are a number of different factors that mean that we will need more metals in the future. The increase in the global population is an important underlying factor, and together with urbanisation, better living standards and a growing middle class demanding products and services that require metals, this is driving growing global demand.
“However, we take our metals entirely for granted, and most people don’t consider that there are metals in virtually everything, or where those metals come from. We need mines in order to be able to live the way we do. If more people around the world want the same living standards as we have in the west, even more metals will be required,” says Pekka.
In Europe and North America, there is also significant focus on technological development, for example vehicles and energy, that may also contribute to an increased need for metals.
“In a global perspective, the need for all types of metals will increase, although the precise situation may be different in different parts of the world. Generalising, I think that the need for base metals, such as iron, copper and zinc, will increase in some parts of Asia, and in the longer term in Africa, while we can expect increased demand for things like lithium and earth metals here in Europe and in North America,” comments Pekka.
Currently in Europe, there is a metals deficit, and that has been the case for the past 50 years.“Here in Europe, we are completely dependent on metals from countries outside Europe, but with increased demand globally, the competition for metals may increase,” says Pekka.
There are actually two approaches to meeting the increased demand for metals; new mines and even more metal recycling.
“I’m convinced the solution will be a combination of the two. We’ll see a lot of new mines around the world and an increase in metal recycling,” explains Pekka.
The EU is positive about developing the mining industry, and there are currently plans for new mines not just in Scandinavia, but also in Greece, Poland and Romania, for instance.
The mining industry is currently part of a circular economy, with metal recycling playing an important part. “Metal recycling offers huge potential if you look around the world, but in many places there are also huge challenges in creating systematic collection processes and making recycling profitable,” Pekka explains.
The greatest opportunities are currently in developing recycling in Europe, where the collection infrastructure has come a long way.
“But regardless of how good we are at collecting and recycling metals, we will still need to add virgin metal to the mix as demand has increased so much,” concludes Pekka.