Commodities: sand supply may dry up

1 September 2017

The ever-increasing demand for sand in the construction industry is causing a shortage of this essential aggregate.

Unless you’re a six-year old at the park, or perhaps an avid beach goer, there is very little about sand that is interesting. Except that, surprisingly, the world is running out of it – at least the useful kind.

Sand – alongside gravel – is an indispensable aggregate for concrete and asphalt. Roads, bridges, damns and buildings: none of them would be possible without sand. The innocuous granules are an indispensable part of modern life.

Natural sand deposits take thousands of years to form, and are being extracted faster than they can be replenished. The UN Environmental Programme estimated 29.6bn tonnes of sand in 2012 alone was used for concrete.

The problem is that not all sand is made equal. Desert sand, by far the most abundant, is useless for construction – the grains are too smooth. The skyscrapers in the deserts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are all built with imported aggregate – the Burj Khalifa used Australian sand – and in 2014 alone the UAE imported $456m worth.

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