When it comes to scarcity of natural resources, most of us are inclined to think immediately of fossil fuels like oil (which we are told is either at or past its peak production level) and coal (which is plentiful but which is being consumed at a staggering rate). Some of us may even think of uranium, which has just reached record-high prices amid supply shortages
. Seldom do we think about, say, platinum, the extremely rare element we use as the catalyst in smog-cutting catalytic converters as well as fuel cells. According to this article in New Scientist
, "Earth's natural wealth: an audit
" (subscription only, sorry), "It has been estimated that if all the 500 million vehicles in use today were re-equipped with fuel cells [an enormous 'if' to be sure], operating losses would mean that all the world's sources of platinum would be exhausted within 15 years." But, the article continues,
It's not just the world's platinum that is being used up at an alarming rate. The same goes for many other rare metals such as indium, which is being consumed in unprecedented quantities for making LCDs for flat-screen TVs, and the tantalum needed to make compact electronic devices like cellphones. How long will global reserves of uranium last in a new nuclear age? Even reserves of such commonplace elements as zinc, copper, nickel and the phosphorus used in fertiliser will run out in the not-too-distant future.