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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Dec 7;107(49):20905-10. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1011019107. Epub 2010 Nov 22.

Metal spectra as indicators of development.

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Center for Industrial Ecology, Yale University, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.


We have assembled extensive information on the cycles of seven industrial metals in 49 countries, territories, or groups of countries, drawn from a database of some 200,000 material flows, and have devised analytical approaches to treat the suite of metals as composing an approach to a national "materials metabolism." We demonstrate that in some of the more developed countries, per capita metal use is more than 10 times the global average. Additionally, countries that use more than the per capita world average of any metal do so for all metals, and vice versa, and countries that are above global average rates of use are very likely to be above global average rates at all stages of metal life cycles from fabrication onward. We show that all countries are strongly dependent on international trade to supply the spectrum of nonrenewable resources that modern technology requires, regardless of their level of development. We also find that the rate of use of the spectrum of metals stock is highly correlated to per capita gross domestic product, as well as to the Human Development Index and the Global Competitiveness Innovation Index. The implication is that as wealth and technology increase in developing countries, strong demand will be created not for a few key resources, but across the entire spectrum of the industrial metals. Long-term metal demand can be estimated given gross domestic product projections; the results suggest overall metal flow into use in 2050 of 5-10 times today's level should supplies permit.

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