Here are some interesting musings from SF grandee Robert Silverburg at Asimov’s Science Fiction on the possibility of certain rare earths running out, as well as the mineworthy science fictional material therein.
Metals (technically “poor metals”) like gallium are used as doping agents in semiconductors used in integrated circuits and LEDs and as such are in great demand – but German prof Armin Reller suggests we may be in danger of gallium, and fellow rare-earth indium, running out.
As it happens, we are building a lot of flat-screen TV sets and computer monitors these days. Gallium is thought to make up 0.0015 percent of the Earth’s crust and there are no concentrated supplies of it. We get it by extracting it from zinc or aluminum ore or by smelting the dust of furnace flues. Dr. Reller says that by 2017 or so there’ll be none left to use.
How very, very depressing. Still, I have every confidence in human ingenuity to discover a solution to this kind of problem.
[story via Slashdot]