Understanding Why Global Supplies of Aggregate Materials Are at an All Time Low

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There are many individual elements that comprise the greater spectrum of so-called ‘aggregate’ materials, all of which play a vital role in contemporary construction. Commonly used elements include gravel, sand, and slag, among others. Whilst being a highly sought after product by those in the building industry for many years, it hasn’t been until relatively recently that demand for them has soared.

Why are aggregates so important? When mixed with cement, they improve the strength and other qualities of concrete (as proven by materials testing companies) and they form the essential building blocks of concrete structures. Such is the need for them in fact, that it’s frequently lead to a lack of popular elements such as sand, to the point that there it has now prompted the setup of illegal operations that specialise in its collection and delivery.

This article seeks to explain the reason behind the sudden rise in demand for aggregate materials while providing advice for those in the building sector on how to best protect themselves from ongoing material deficits.

Reasons for the boom and subsequent shortages

On the surface, the reason for this newfound demand is quite straightforward, given the fact that a large number of nations around the world are experiencing unprecedented growth, all of which requires additional structures and along with it, basic building materials. Though countries with large populations such as India and Indonesia are in a period of strong economic growth, the country that stands out far above them all is, of course, China. The evolution and expansion of the country is occurring at such a pace, that entire skyscrapers seem to appear out of thin air, before one’s very eyes.

Where the United States is concerned, their demand for aggregates is predicted to increase annually by around 3%, with this trend set to continue throughout 2019 and beyond. Although these figures now pale in comparison to other world nations, the country still accounts for almost 10% of global aggregate material utilisation, a statistic that is expected to remain consistent for the foreseeable future.

The mere existence of numerous building companies from all over the world, all vying for aggregate materials is enough in itself to increase demand and catapult prices. The situation becomes even direr and complex when it’s realised that global quantities of the materials are fast evaporating. While the staggering demand for sand over the past number of years best illustrates these desperate shortages, the depletion of gravel deposits to perilously low levels is also a worrying sign.

The problem with retaining material supply levels concerns two major factors. Firstly, it’s an inescapable fact that our planet only has a limited quantity of basic elements that form aggregate materials. While these elements are generated through natural processes which continue to this day, the rate at which they’re generated falls far below what is required. Secondly, the processes involved in creating aggregates is detrimental to the surrounding terrain. While some nations such as the US have made efforts to curb the number of aggregate materials created at their excavation plants, others continue the destruction of their natural landscape, unabated.

Some have argued that a solution to the problem can be found by merely developing more materials to satisfy the growing demand, but those opposed to the idea state that doing so will be more expensive and result in the creation of inferior quality materials, as confirmed by material testing service providers. While it’s possible for most aggregate materials to be reused, there isn’t nearly enough to cope with demand.

Planning ahead

With so many countries around the world continuing to expand at a dramatic rate and fuel record demands for aggregate materials, the shortages of these materials are destined to remain, quite possibly until supplies have been exhausted altogether. As shortages become more widespread, prices are expected to rise consistently on a yearly basis. While this may create the impression of an Armageddon-like scenario for those in the building sector, the reality may not be so bleak after all, provided they plan ahead.

One way for companies to save themselves a considerable fortune is to buy in bulk when prices are (relatively) low. Such strategies are often implemented by aircraft carriers who purchase huge sums of petrol when the price per gallon is favourable. As supplies fall and prices increase, obtaining the desired materials becomes ever more expensive, so buying big in advance is a very wise investment, if a company can afford it.

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