Peak Stainless Steel

Steel and nickel aren’t on the critical mineral list, but nickel ought to be, since this study shows that there is a significant risk that stainless steel production will reach its maximum capacity around 2055 because of declining nickel production, though recycling, and use of other alloys on a very small scale can compensate somewhat.

The model in this study assumes business as usual for metal production and fossil fuel supplies (though the authors note that energy limitations are likely in the future, which will limit mining). If oil begins to decline within 10 years, as many think, shortages of stainless steel and everything else will happen before 2055.

There are two kinds of steel. Stainless which resists corrosion and is more ductile and tough than regular steel, also known as mild or carbon steel.

By weight, stainless steel is the fourth largest metal produced, after carbon steel, cast iron, and aluminum.

But stainless steel is limited by the alloying metals manganese (Mn), chromium (Cr) and nickel (Ni), which have limited reserves.

There are over 150 grades of stainless steel which is used for cutlery, cookware, zippers, construction, autos, handrails, counters, shipping containers, medical instruments and equipment, transportation of chemicals, liquids, and food products, harsh environments with high heat and toxic substances, off-shore oil rigs, wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, battleships, tanks, submarines, and too many other products to name.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Sverdrup, H. U., et al. 2019. Assessing the long-term global sustainability of the production and supply for stainless steel. Biophysical economics and resource quality.

The extractable amounts of nickel are modest, and this puts a limit on how much stainless steel of different qualities can be produced. Nickel is the most key element for stainless steel production.

This study shows that there is a significant risk that the stainless steel production will reach its maximum capacity around 2055 and slowly decline after that. The model indicates that stainless steel of the type containing Mn–Cr–Ni will have a production peak in about 2040, and the production will decline after 2045 because of nickel supply limitations. 

For making stainless steel, four metals are essential and regularly used for making high quality steel, assisted by specialty metals for special properties:

  • Iron for bulk of the stainless steel material
  • Chromium for corrosion resistance
  • Manganese for removing impurities and gain strength and workability
  • Nickel for corrosion resistance, temperature resistance and hardness
  • Molybdenum, cobalt, vanadium and niobium for strength, hardness, corrosion resistance and temperature resistance. Small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon or aluminium is sometimes added to these alloys to fine-tune the properties of the material.

For stainless steels, metals like vanadium (occurs as a contaminant in almost all iron ore) are used for toughness and strength, tungsten, tantalum and niobium for extra hardness and high temperature resistance, cobalt for corrosion prevention. World production of stainless steel typically consists of 5–12% manganese, 10–18% chromium, 3–5% nickel and 0.1% molybdenum on the average.

Nickel is an important component in high-quality stainless steel (46% of supply), it is used in nonferrous alloys and super-alloys (34%), electroplating (14%), and 6% is used for other uses. There is no replacement for Nickle that exist, although chromium may be used for some of the functions of nickel in an alloy, and cobalt, molybdenum and niobium may do other alloying functions.

“Could even metals like iron, or manganese or chromium run out if we looked far enough into the future?”

Running their model until 3800 with business-as-usual figures, ” a critical time occurs around 2500 AD. Then most metals resources will have been depleted. Iron will be in abundant supply per person until about 2450, but then a sharp decline sets in. The same happens to manganese and chromium, then are sufficient until about 2500, and then the final decline comes, whereas the supply of nickel will be a trickle after 2300.”


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4 Responses to Peak Stainless Steel

  1. Monique says:

    Girl you are on fire lately with these posts! Please keep ’em coming. I am so concerned about how mentally unprepared people are for the coming resource shocks. And even if the numbers are off by a decade or two – this is still the future we are facing.

  2. EnterpriseSpaceShip says:

    And even if the numbers are off by a decade or two – this is still the future we are facing….

    When massive energy-dense fossil fuels supplies are used everyday in seas of crude oil, hills of coal and atmospheres of natural gas, the future becomes less random, more controlled.

    To that extent, fossil fuels, being consumed in such a massive quantities everyday, simply for the sake of consuming more and more fossil fuels, being the only real value-item in the whole Economy – kill the future, rendering it a history.

    Fossil fuels in such quantities burned by humans every second, spell the death of the future.

    Despite the future unfolds before our eyes every second anew, the future can be assumed dead – by the agency of the incredibly energy-dense fossil fuels.

    No wonder millions of comments put obsessively on the internet every second, like, “…And even if the numbers are off by a decade or two” – are able to see the future, decades ahead – the feeling they reflect is the future is actually fixed, nothing can change it, even by an inch, a millimeter, or a hair…

    As if confessing the future is dead.

    As if announcing loudly in every corner of the world – the future has died and became a history.

  3. NJF says:

    Metals are such a sad thing to waste. Almost universally 100% recyclable. Very few other substances come close.

  4. Monique says:

    In reply to EnterpriseSpaceShip

    My comment about being off by a decade or two is because I hear a lot of denial from people about current trends using the “logic” that most of the dire predictions from the past haven’t come true, and therefore this dire prediction won’t come true either. People have been predicting the end of the world for a long time…

    Many, many studies and arguments about resource decline and impending disaster for industrial civilisation have been made for well over a century – and most of them proved to be over dramatic in exclaiming how quickly this decline was going to happen.

    That, I believe, is why so many people don’t actually believe in resource decline, limits to growth, climate change etc. Because prior predictions were wrong. However, just because someone’s data gave them the wrong date, doesn’t mean that the overall trend is wrong.

    The future is incredibly uncertain and complex – we can’t say an exact date when x resource will “run out”. But we can notice a trend. All the trends are heading downhill for people (and much of the life we share the planet with). Many peak oil predications were off by decades, but that doesn’t change the long-term trend that we will ‘run out’ of oil.

    Their numbers could be off by a decade or two in OTHER direction too! It could happen much sooner than predicted. The point is not to rely on a specific date for resource decline, pollution tolerance limit etc. but to notice to the overall trends.

    The ‘future’ can’t be dead or alive because it is a concept – not an actual thing. You seem to implying that I have a naïve hope that we still have a few good decades left. My response to that is that the ‘future’ is impossibly complex and I couldn’t even guess where we’re heading. But I can say with some confidence, most predictions get their dates wrong – it doesn’t mean that their trend is wrong