IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Peak minerals: What can we learn from the history of mineral economics and the cases of gold and phosphorus?


  • Friedrich -W. Wellmer
  • Roland W. Scholz

    (Danube University Krems
    Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB))


The objective of this paper is to provide a conceptual and empirical historic analysis of applications, misunderstandings, and fallacies surrounding the Hubbert curve, the U-shaped production curve of a commodity, and peak minerals. We show that the ultimate recoverable resources (URR) cannot be predicted by fitting a symmetric curve to the data of past (historic) production for any commodity on a global scale. Without knowledge of the URR, it is not possible to determine the peak production time. For well-confined areas, in the case of a supply market, it might be possible today to construct a satisfactory Hubbert curve and to determine peak production. For phosphate, the case of Nauru Island is a good example, but so far, it is not possible for any commodity worldwide. URR comprise past production, presently known reserves, and future reserves developed from resources (known, but uneconomic at present) and parts of the geopotential (not yet known, but by geological reasoning and technological innovations, reserves can be expected to be discovered). The concept of reserves is a dynamic one, determined by economic conditions, technological developments, etc. The reserves of today can be the resources of tomorrow and vice versa. These factors also influence production curves. Therefore, it is not justified to interpret every peak as caused by geological constraints. In most cases so far, peak curves are demand driven and not at all influenced by geological availability. In only a very few cases (like the curve for the lower 48 states of the USA for oil by Hubbert in 1956 or gold production in South Africa), they are supply driven, i.e., true Hubbert curves. Gold showed four peaks in the twentieth century. Since gold mining is “money mining,” there is always a demand for gold. Therefore, the causes for the peak development must be economic ones with no influence of physical-production demand factors, purely supply factors—a model case to study. We also show how the kind of commodity, government regulations, technologies, and commodity prices influence U-shaped production curves. For phosphate, we show that a peak cannot be predicted with the present base of knowledge. We face a reserve-to-consumption ratio of higher than 300, which is higher than for every major commodity and at least 10 times the length of innovation cycles in the mineral industry. If we take the dynamic nature of reserves into account, we doubt that it is very meaningful to discuss the reliability of reserve and resource data. Instead, under the aspect of long-term future supply and a postulated right to know based on the universal right to feed oneself in dignity, the geopotential of phosphorus as the source of future reserves and resources should be regularly examined by an international scientific body.

Suggested Citation

  • Friedrich -W. Wellmer & Roland W. Scholz, 2017. "Peak minerals: What can we learn from the history of mineral economics and the cases of gold and phosphorus?," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 30(2), pages 73-93, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:minecn:v:30:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s13563-016-0094-3
    DOI: 10.1007/s13563-016-0094-3

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Abstract
    Download Restriction: Access to the full text of the articles in this series is restricted.

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Stuermer, Martin, 2017. "Industrialization and the demand for mineral commodities," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 16-27.
    2. Stuermer, Martin, 2018. "150 Years Of Boom And Bust: What Drives Mineral Commodity Prices?," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 22(3), pages 702-717, April.
    3. Yaksic, Andrés & Tilton, John E., 2009. "Using the cumulative availability curve to assess the threat of mineral depletion: The case of lithium," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 185-194, December.
    4. Tilton, John E. & Lagos, Gustavo, 2007. "Assessing the long-run availability of copper," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1-2), pages 19-23.
    5. Hans-Peter Weikard, 2016. "Phosphorus recycling and food security in the long run: a conceptual modelling approach," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 8(2), pages 405-414, April.
    6. Friedrich-W. Wellmer & Roland W. Scholz, 2015. "The Right to Know the Geopotential of Minerals for Ensuring Food Supply Security: The Case of Phosphorus," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 19(1), pages 3-6, February.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Michael C. Mew & Gerald Steiner & Bernhard Geissler, 2018. "Phosphorus Supply Chain—Scientific, Technical, and Economic Foundations: A Transdisciplinary Orientation," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(4), pages 1-18, April.
    2. Magnus Ericsson & Johannes Drielsma & David Humphreys & Per Storm & Pär Weihed, 2019. "Why current assessments of ‘future efforts’ are no basis for establishing policies on material use—a response to research on ore grades," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 32(1), pages 111-121, April.
    3. Sven Renner & Friedrich W. Wellmer, 2020. "Volatility drivers on the metal market and exposure of producing countries," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 33(3), pages 311-340, October.
    4. Michael Priester & Magnus Ericsson & Peter Dolega & Olof Löf, 2019. "Mineral grades: an important indicator for environmental impact of mineral exploitation," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 32(1), pages 49-73, April.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Jacks, David S. & Stuermer, Martin, 2020. "What drives commodity price booms and busts?," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(C).
    2. Friedrich-Wilhelm Wellmer & Roland W. Scholz, 2018. "What Is the Optimal and Sustainable Lifetime of a Mine?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(2), pages 1-22, February.
    3. Baffes,John & Kabundi,Alain Ntumba & Nagle,Peter Stephen Oliver & Ohnsorge,Franziska Lieselotte, 2018. "The role of major emerging markets in global commodity demand," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8495, The World Bank.
    4. Kushnir, Duncan & Sandén, Björn A., 2012. "The time dimension and lithium resource constraints for electric vehicles," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 93-103.
    5. Fizaine, Florian, 2013. "Byproduct production of minor metals: Threat or opportunity for the development of clean technologies? The PV sector as an illustration," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 373-383.
    6. Emilio Castillo & Roderick Eggert, 2019. "Reconciling Diverging Views on Mineral Depletion: A Modified Cumulative Availability Curve Applied to Copper Resources," Working Papers 2019-02, Colorado School of Mines, Division of Economics and Business.
    7. Thibault Fally & James Sayre, 2018. "Commodity Trade Matters," 2018 Meeting Papers 172, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    8. Fabian Knorre & Martin Wagner & Maximilian Grupe, 2021. "Monitoring Cointegrating Polynomial Regressions: Theory and Application to the Environmental Kuznets Curves for Carbon and Sulfur Dioxide Emissions," Econometrics, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(1), pages 1-35, March.
    9. David S. Jacks & Martin Stuermer, 2021. "Dry bulk shipping and the evolution of maritime transport costs, 1850–2020," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 61(2), pages 204-227, July.
    10. Caldara, Dario & Cavallo, Michele & Iacoviello, Matteo, 2019. "Oil price elasticities and oil price fluctuations," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 1-20.
    11. Hache, Emmanuel & Seck, Gondia Sokhna & Simoen, Marine & Bonnet, Clément & Carcanague, Samuel, 2019. "Critical raw materials and transportation sector electrification: A detailed bottom-up analysis in world transport," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 240(C), pages 6-25.
    12. Philip Maxwell & Mauricio Mora, 2020. "Lithium and Chile: looking back and looking forward," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 33(1), pages 57-71, July.
    13. Fernando Moreno-Brieva & Carlos Merino, 2020. "African international trade in the global value chain of lithium batteries," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 25(6), pages 1031-1052, August.
    14. Tapia, Jose, 2015. "Profits encourage investment, investment dampens profits, government spending does not prime the pump — A DAG investigation of business-cycle dynamics," MPRA Paper 64698, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Kang, Wensheng & Ratti, Ronald A. & Vespignani, Joaquin L., 2019. "Revising the Impact of Global Commodity Prices and Global Stock Market Volatility Shocks: Effects across Countries," MPRA Paper 103035, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    16. Gordon, R.B. & Bertram, M. & Graedel, T.E., 2007. "On the sustainability of metal supplies: A response to Tilton and Lagos," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1-2), pages 24-28.
    17. Liang, Xuedong & Yang, Xu & Yan, Fuhai & Li, Zhi, 2020. "Exploring global embodied metal flows in international trade based combination of multi-regional input-output analysis and complex network analysis," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 67(C).
    18. Harald Ulrik Sverdrup & Anna Hulda Olafsdottir & Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir & Deniz Koca, 2018. "A System Dynamics Assessment of the Supply of Molybdenum and Rhenium Used for Super-alloys and Specialty Steels, Using the WORLD6 Model," Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, Springer, vol. 3(3), pages 1-43, September.
    19. Baffes,John & Kabundi,Alain Ntumba & Nagle,Peter Stephen Oliver, 2020. "The Role of Income and Substitution in Commodity Demand," Policy Research Working Paper Series 9122, The World Bank.
    20. Gil-Alana, Luis A. & Monge, Manuel, 2019. "Lithium: Production and estimated consumption. Evidence of persistence," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 198-202.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:spr:minecn:v:30:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s13563-016-0094-3. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Sonal Shukla or Springer Nature Abstracting and Indexing (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.