A Theoretical Model for the Extraction and Refinement of Natural Resources
The modelling of production in microeconomics has been the subject of heated debate. The controversial issues include the substitutability between production inputs, the role of time and the economic consequences of irreversibility in the production process. A case in point is the use of Cobb-Douglas type production functions. This approach completely ignores the physical process underlying the production of a good. We examine these issues in the context of the production of a basic commodity (such as copper or aluminium). We model the extraction and the refinement of a valuable substance which is mixed with waste material, in a way which is fully consistent with the physical constraints of the process. The resulting analytical description of production unambiguously reveals that perfect substitutability between production inputs fails if a corrected thermodynamic approach is used. We analyze the equilibrium pricing of a commodity extracted in an irreversible way. The thermodynamic model allows for the calculation of the ”energy yield” (energy return on energy invested) of production alongside a financial (real) return in a two-period investment decision. The two investment criteria correspond in our economy to a different choice of numeraire and means of payment and corresponding views of the value of energy resources. Under an energy numeraire, energy resources will naturally be used in a more parsimonious way
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