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A view of Bolivia's Uyuni salt lake, which holds the world's largest reserve of lithium. The metal, which is in short supply, is needed to make wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries in hybrid cars. (Gaston Brito/Reuters/Gaston Brito/Reuters)
A view of Bolivia's Uyuni salt lake, which holds the world's largest reserve of lithium. The metal, which is in short supply, is needed to make wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries in hybrid cars. (Gaston Brito/Reuters/Gaston Brito/Reuters)

Manufacturers sound alarm over scarcity of minerals, metals Add to ...

Global manufacturers are sounding a cautious note over the scarcity of minerals and metals they need to build everything from cellphones and jet planes to cars and trucks, a new survey has found.

A poll from business consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 77 per cent of manufacturers surveyed said they believe tighter supplies are causing stress for their suppliers.

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PwC said Wednesday the most concerned industries include infrastructure, high-tech hardware and the auto sector.

The study points to dysprosium, a rare earth metal used in super magnets, and tantalum, a component of aircraft and medical equipment, automotive electronics, mobile phones and LCD screens, as two resources that are under pressure owing to increased demand.

Both specialty metals have “have both experienced explosive price increases in recent years,” the report said.

PwC did not say whether the shortage of special metals and minerals will increase prices of consumer electronics, cellphones and other popular products in the coming years. But it said companies are worried as they see supplies dry up.

“Manufacturers recognize that the lack of minerals and metals is a serious issue, but it's not as clear whether various industry stakeholders are aware and are being responsive to the matter,” said Calum Semple, consulting partner and leader of the operations practice at PwC in Toronto.

The PwC survey involved 69 senior executives in seven different manufacturing industries across Canada, the United States and Mexico, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

Past reports have noted scarcity of a variety of metals, from beryllium to cobalt, many of which are mined and produced in Canada.

Beryllium is used as a lightweight component in military equipment and in the aerospace industry. It is used in high-speed aircraft, missiles, space vehicles and communication satellites. Cobalt is used in making jet turbine engines and auto rechargeable batteries.

Other materials in short supply are flurospar, used in construction, cement, glass, iron and steel castings and lithium, needed to make wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries in hybrid cars.

The PwC survey involved 69 senior executives in seven different manufacturing industries across the Americas, Asia Pacific region and Europe.

Mr. Semple said the metals shortages also force companies to find new ways to secure supplies.

“Buying power, co-ordinated purchasing policy, recycling and extraction, upgrading technology and forward contracts with key suppliers are just a few of the current and potential opportunities resource scarcity presents to manufacturers,” he said.

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