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The Specter of Scarcity: Experiencing and Coping with Metal Shortages, 1870-2015
Philosophy and History, KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9558-4621
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In spite of an ever-growing supply of metals, actors have long feared metal shortages. This thesis – departing from an understanding that metals scarcity is not an objective geological fact, but an experience, a fear of a shortage – explores why business and state actors have experienced metals as scarce and how they coped with scarcity from 1870 to 2015.

The underlying reasons for scarcity experiences originated in high prices, a lack of substitutes, domestic unavailability, limited infrastructure and increased demand. In the view of businesses and the state, a shortage of metals could hinder successful industrialization. Defining metals as scarce was a first step in their attempts to ensure access through exploration, recycling, substitution, and trade agreements.

This dissertation presents five case studies which provide insights into three selected aspects of metals scarcity that have been overlooked in previous studies. First, while small countries experienced and coped with metals scarcity in a similar way to large nations, they were more vulnerable because of their dependence on transnational flows controlled by larger countries. Yet if they remained neutral in international conflicts, they could enjoy other opportunities to import resources than their larger rivals. Second, industries experienced metals scarcity before World War I; with the onset of the Second Industrial Revolution, at the very latest, new technologies were often dependent on metals which had never before been used commercially – there were not yet any extraction systems in place. However, once these metals began to circulate, state actors became aware of the international traffic and began to classify certain metals as critical. Thirdly, technological change has affected – and been affected by – metals scarcity. If a metal was scarce, manufacturers were likely to embark on a different path to production. Inversely, sometimes new technologies were able to alleviate perceptions of scarcity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2017. , p. 106
Series
TRITA-HOT, ISSN 0349-2842 ; 2075
Keywords [en]
scarcity, critical metals, Sweden, small countries, strategic metals, metal shortages, history of technology, experiences of scarcity, coping with shortages, technological trends, World War I, resource crisis, construction of resources.
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-219409ISBN: 978-91-7729-610-2 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-219409DiVA, id: diva2:1162950
Public defence
2018-01-19, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20171206

Available from: 2017-12-06 Created: 2017-12-05 Last updated: 2018-09-10Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. A Scarce Resource?: The Debate on Metals in Sweden 1870–1918
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A Scarce Resource?: The Debate on Metals in Sweden 1870–1918
2016 (English)In: The Extractive Industries and Society, ISSN 2214-790X, E-ISSN 2214-7918, Vol. 3, no 3, p. 772-781Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The purpose of this article is to explore the historical origins and meanings of metals scarcity in industrial society by investigating which metals were regarded as scarce by Swedish industrial actors from 1870 until 1918 and why. An analysis of material from the Swedish engineering journal Teknisk Tidskrift shows that the actors perceived twenty metals to be scarce during this period. Seven different factors could be identified in the scarcity debate: geological scarcity, technical difficulties in extracting the metals, the lack of substitutes, price variations, limited transport infrastructure, domestic unavailability and legal regulations. The article shows that actors and industries experienced troublesome shortages of metals even before World War I. However, they did not regard it as a geopolitical problem until the eve of the war.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2016
Keywords
Sweden, Metals, Industrialization, Social construction of scarcity
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-184854 (URN)10.1016/j.exis.2016.03.009 (DOI)000384278000022 ()2-s2.0-84961908042 (Scopus ID)
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Note

QC 20161024

Available from: 2016-04-05 Created: 2016-04-05 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
2. The Struggle for the Perfect Glow: Metals Scarcity and Incandescent Lighting, 1880-1914
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Struggle for the Perfect Glow: Metals Scarcity and Incandescent Lighting, 1880-1914
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article explores how metals scarcity affected – and was affected by – the development of incandescent lighting, and the strategies the manufacturers followed in trying to access metal resources. In the late nineteenth century, the rapidly diversifying market of gas and electric light sources carried visions of a brighter future. Lighting companies relentlessly tried to manufacture a light source with a pleasant white glow to satisfy their customers, but this glow was dependent on the metals in the lamps. This troubled manufacturers, as only a few very costly and scarce metals with a high melting point were suitable. Various manufacturers of gas mantles and electric lighting struggled to find a reliable supply of osmium, tantalum and thorium for their lamps, but found them expensive and difficult to acquire – as they had never before been used commercially. To complicate matters further, the metals were extracted in only a few mining sites, on which the companies became heavily dependent. To secure their supply and increase their independence, manufacturers pursued strategies from vertical integration to reducing their demand by, for instance, saving resources, substituting different metals, or pursuing new technological paths. Eventually the tungsten lightbulb came to dominate the market. One reason for its success was the non-problematic supply of tungsten.

National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-219403 (URN)
Note

QC 20171206

Available from: 2017-12-05 Created: 2017-12-05 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
3. Swedish Steel and Global Resource Colonialism: Sandviken's Quest for Turkish Chromium, 1925-1950
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Swedish Steel and Global Resource Colonialism: Sandviken's Quest for Turkish Chromium, 1925-1950
2017 (English)In: Scandinavian Economic History Review, ISSN 0358-5522, E-ISSN 1750-2837, Vol. 65, no 3, p. 307-325Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article analyses Swedish industry’s attempts to secure strategic raw materials in an era of global resource colonialism. More precisely, it tells the story of how Sandvikens Jernverk – a leading Swedish steel producer – set out to secure its need for chromium ore during the Interwar Era. Up to the late 1920s, Sandviken sourced its chromium from British and French colonies. However, the company feared the British Empire’s growing dominance in the global chromium ore market. In 1928, then, Sandviken joined forces with several other Swedish steel producers, forming a consortium that, with ample help from Swedish foreign policy actors, managed to establish an independent source of chromium ore in Turkey. This project, however, which took the form of an Istanbul-based mining company, made big losses and was abandoned after only a few years. The project failed because of changes in the world chromium market, the global economic crisis, conflicts with the company’s Turkey-based managing director and the Swedish reluctance to scale up mining in such a way that the chromium ore might compete with Rhodesian, New Caledonian and Baluchistani ore.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, 2017
Keywords
Resource scarcity, strategic metals, chromium, colonialism, Swedish-Turkish relations
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-215139 (URN)10.1080/03585522.2017.1369152 (DOI)000423987600008 ()2-s2.0-85029414617 (Scopus ID)
Projects
Sweden and the origins of global resource colonialism
Funder
Swedish Research Council, C0104501
Note

QC 20171011

Available from: 2017-10-03 Created: 2017-10-03 Last updated: 2018-02-16Bibliographically approved
4. Is There a Supply Crisis?: Sweden's Critical Metals, 1917-2014
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Is There a Supply Crisis?: Sweden's Critical Metals, 1917-2014
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

While global metal production has increased almost exponentially over the last hundred years, actors have constantly worried about future scarcities. This article explores why state and business actors within a small country, Sweden, have perceived metals as critical and which strategies they have advanced to cope with potential shortages. It analyzes four reports and/or records of meetings from 1917, 1954, 1980 and 2014, years when the debate about resource scarcity flourished both in Sweden and internationally. The reasons why actors feared the future supply were largely connected to price increases, potential supply disruptions because of war or political instability, and soaring demand for technologies containing metals. Even Sweden, a neutral country, feared shortages because of political instability in foreign countries because of the transnational metal flows. The actors attempted to manage shortages by increased domestic production, technological development, stockpiling, international agreements and recycling. Tracing this issue over time, the article unpacks the importance of and concerns with metal flows in an age of rapid industrial, technological and geopolitical change.

Keywords
Critical metals, Sweden, resource scarcity, supply crisis
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-219404 (URN)
Note

QC 20171206

Available from: 2017-12-05 Created: 2017-12-05 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
5. From Cryolite to Critical Metals: The Scramble for Greenland's Minerals
Open this publication in new window or tab >>From Cryolite to Critical Metals: The Scramble for Greenland's Minerals
2017 (English)In: Heritage and Change in the Arctic: Reources for the present, past and future / [ed] Robert C. Thompson, Lill Rastad Bjørst, Aalborg: Aalborg Universitetsforlag, 2017, p. 177-211Chapter in book (Refereed)
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Aalborg: Aalborg Universitetsforlag, 2017
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-215141 (URN)978-87-7112-624-2 (ISBN)
Note

QC 20171012

Available from: 2017-10-03 Created: 2017-10-03 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved

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