Although there is a special focus on rare earth elements, alternative strategic elements such as platinum group elements, fission elements and phosphorus must be addressed.
Platinum Group Elements
In regards to the platinum group elements the main problems are socio-economical and environmental.
The socioeconomic problems arise from lowered production in mines and decreasing supply stemming from worker strikes. Worker strikes are occurring due to income disparities and conflicts with unions (Kumwenda, 2012)
Recent worker strikes in the mines of South Africa have decreased the efficiency of Anglo American Platinum Ltd., causing prices of platinum group elements to skyrocket (Associated Press, 2012).
The environmental problems stem from the emissions of the metals into the air. Although platinum emissions from automobile catalysts are minimal, the sheer prevalence of automobiles, especially in urban environments, exponentially increases the impact of the emissions. Platinum group elements emissions contaminate not only the atmosphere, but also the water and thereby make their way into the global food supply.
The proposed solution includes replacing platinum group elements in automobile catalysts with cobalt-graphene catalysts. From an economic standpoint, cobalt is more readily available than platinum group elements and catalysts would therefore be cheaper to produce (Ek, Morrison & Rauch, 2004).
Fission elements are a valid option for allowing developing nations access to cleaner energy . Recently, the United States has facilitated the move to developing nuclear technologies in order to resolve energy needs. This is evident from Next Generation Nuclear Plant Project (NGNP), which plans to give 5 billion USD to privately owned companies to develop clean nuclear energy for the next generation, as well as from agreements like the July 18, 2005 India-US Joint Statement.
Nations worldwide would greatly benefit from new nuclear energy technologies, either because of old equipment leading to power outages and other problems, or because demand for energy is increasing within the population (Gachenge, 2012). Currently, several countries, including Kenya and India, are proposing legislation for further nuclear development.
Solutions allow private companies to invest in new fission element technology to instigate the transition from fossil fuels to clean nuclear energy ("World nuclear association," 2012).
Modern agriculture relies heavily upon the use of phosphorus fertilizer. At current levels of phosphorus consumption, the earth's phosphorus reserves are set to expire in the next 90 years. Heavy phosphorus usage also plays a role in the damage of aquatic ecosystems since the addition of phosphorus to water causes algal bloom (because phosphorus is a limiting nutrient) and negatively impacts other species. One aspect of the problem is the staggered distribution of fertilizer usage in the world. In two extremes, according to a 2009 study, there are countries like China, who release 200 pounds per acre in excess of nitrogen, while sub-Saharan countries in Africa like Kenya utilize barely 1 percent of China's amount. Using too many nutrients in the soil (as in the case of China) or too little nutrients in the soil (as in the case of Kenya) presents a health risk to humans.
In order to minimize the use of phosphorus in agriculture and elsewhere, exploration on the more efficient use and reuse of phosphorus is necessary. Solutions include improved timing and placement of fertilizer in countries where overuse is a problem. In countries where underuse of fertilizer products (and therefore increased susceptibility to malnutrition), governmentally subsidized fertilizers and seeds is one solution. (Shwartz, 2009).
Shwartz, M. (2009, June 22). Study highlights massive imbalances in global fertilizer use. Retrieved from http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/june24/massive-imbalances-in-global-fertilizer-use-062209.html
World nuclear association. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.world-nuclear.org/
("World nuclear association," 2012)
Gachenge, B. (2012, November 09). Kenya plans to build 1,000 mw nuclear power station. Retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/kenya-plans-build-1-000-mw-nuclear-power-143727824--finance.html
Ek, K. H., Morrison, G. M., & Rauch, S. (2004). Environmental routes for platinum group elements to biological materials—a review. Science of The Total Environment, 334-335, 21-38. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969704003511
(Ek, Morrison & Rauch, 2004)
Associated Press. (2012, November 15). South african miners return to work at anglo american platinum mine, ending 8-week strike. The Washington post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/south-african-miners-return-to-work-at-anglo-american-platinum-mine-ending-8-week-strike/2012/11/15/e7843294-2f05-11e2-af17-67abba0676e2_story.html
(Associated Press, 2012)