Prices for raw materials took off. Some metals have risen by a factor of four or more. We ask our studio guest Jens Gutzmer, geologist and mining expert: Is it profitable again to dig for mineral resources in Germany?
DW: Germany's first copper mine to go online in thirty years is supposed to begin production in 2018. And with today's prices, the copper industry in Germany could soon once again begin to turn a profit. What else can be exploited besides copper?
Jens Gutzmer: There are a number of other mineral commodities that could be exploited in Germany, potentially. But you would have to first invest into some exploration to constrain what's in the ground, and then we can calculate whether its worthwhile to lifting that treasure.
What else could be found? Could there also be gold or high-tech metals?
There are definately very good indications that we have some rare earth elements in Germany. In the east, we also have some tankstum, definitely some tin, and we could be quite an important producer of some of these metals.
Remote sensing of metals in the ground has actually impoved a lot - can you always tell what's underground?
You can't directly tell what is underground but it gives you a good indication. By looking at the physical properties of the rocks that are underground, I think, with good resolution down to maybe 500 meters depth down below the surface, you can constrain where you need to drill to find out then what is really there.
What are the latest technologies to peer into the ground?
The latest technologies that are really of the highest potential are the electromagnetics that you use from a helicopter or a plane. You pick up in high resolution how the crust of the earth is set up underneath.
Sounds pretty simple, or do you still need a special nose to detect it?
You need a special nose. You need several lines of evidence, of indirect evidence. Otherwise you'll spend all your money drilling into the wrong sort of haystack to find the needle.
Now, besides Germany, plenty of places all over the globe seem to have untapped mineral resources: Will we ever run out of those metals?
No, we will not run out of geological resources, definately not in our lifetimes. But the quality of those resources is decreasing and the environment under which we have to exploit them will become more and more difficult.
Why can't we recycle metals a lot more?
We can still recycle much more, as a global economy. But there is a true demand for more mineral resources, particularly things like copper or steel, iron ore. Because we build buildings out of them. And you are not going to recycle them within 5 years. So there is more demand for more people on this planet.
But at the same time of course, you have a certain impact on nature. For example, in Eastern Germany, a lot of effort has gone into reversing the environmental damage caused by large-scale coal-mining. So what's the impact of mining for copper?
Well, mining always has an impact on the environment. But if you do it wisely, if you plan it well, you can minimize this impact. I think that it can be pretty close to a sustainable operation in the sense that there is no permanent damage, no harm, to the environment.
(Interview: Ingolf Baur)