Global Sand Shortage & Real Estate

by Editor

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman envisions erecting two parallel, mirror-encased skyscrapers in the desert that would span a distance of 100 miles.

The $500 billion megacity being developed by the Saudi government east of Egypt near the Gulf of Aqaba includes the project, fittingly dubbed “the Line.” The vision is unrealistic for a number of reasons. The linear, car-free utopia with fast underground trains, if it were to be achieved, would have 9 million residents and produce no carbon emissions.

Although the project site is surrounded by sand, a material essential for the concrete needed to fortify the structure, grittier grains would probably need to be shipped from Australia and other nations, as is frequently the case for construction projects in Saudi Arabia. This is one of many practical considerations that are standing in the way. The plentiful local sand is inadequate for the job.

The paradox of the Line is being experienced on a much lesser scale in different parts of the world. Sand is available in many areas, but it’s not the correct kind. Sand must be mined from riverbeds, beaches, open pit quarries, or rock formations in order to be used for building construction and glass production. There is a limited supply of this better sand.

More correctly, we are using it faster than it can be supplied by nature. Between 40 and 50 billion metric tonnes of sand are reportedly utilised annually, which is quadruple the amount used twenty years ago, according to the United Nations Environment Program. An unprecedented boom in construction, particularly in China and India, has been a major contributor to the rise. Cities all over the world are running out of construction sand, despite the fact that shortages are more severe in some regions due to the growth of “sand mafias” that illegally mine the material in Vietnam, China, India, and other nations.

selective focus photo of brown and blue hourglass on stones

Because the local quarries are nearly all used up, construction companies in Los Angeles are now importing sand and gravel from Canada’s Vancouver Island to manufacture concrete. As resources become scarce, suppliers are condensing on Long Island and moving to nearby states.

Construction managers, architects, and developers frequently don’t even know there is a sand shortage since they assume the resource is always available. Because of the hierarchy involved in construction projects, a developer is typically unaware of the specifics of where raw materials are sourced unless doing so would significantly increase the project’s cost or schedule. A material deficit is frequently discovered by a member of the design or development team after it has already caused delays.

When asked about the problem, structural engineer David Shook of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco remarked, “We hear about it, but the trouble we have is that it is not measured, and the response is reactionary. “Disruptions occur, and they don’t anticipate it.”

The industry will soon have to deal with this problem, particularly as supply chain delays brought on by the epidemic continue to snarl projects. The largest user of sand and gravel is the building industry, and over the next few decades, demand is anticipated to soar.

The delivery of concrete and glass has already experienced “significant disruptions,” according to a JLL report from August. The commercial brokerage issued a warning about the “rapid price growth” and “shortages of high-quality materials that are likely to have long-term effects” that are currently occurring in the sand sector.

Companies are mining at new depths in river and ocean bottoms, further eroding coastlines, and digging deeper into the earth, upsetting natural habitats and, in some cases, neighbourhoods due to the depletion of local resources. Costs associated with bringing sand in from increasingly remote locations pose a danger to price increases and efforts to decarbonize the construction industry.

“The development and growth of the economy depend on sand. That is a certainty wherever you are in the world, according to Mark Russell, executive director for planning and mineral resources at the Mineral Products Association in the United Kingdom. Is the way we manage sand on a global scale sustainable? Definitely not.

A communication from his glass supplier, Guardian Glass, was delivered to Structure Tone’s vice president of buying, David Hamilton, in June. The Michigan-based manufacturer raised the cost of some varieties of glass sheets by 40%.

“It came sort of by surprise,” he added, adding that the market turbulence caused by the epidemic has resulted in unexpected price increases. When they intended to raise prices, some suppliers used to give more notice beforehand, but that is no longer the case. You get no breathing room from anyone.

Guardian wasn’t by himself. At least five other significant U.S. glass suppliers raised their pricing in June, citing, among other reasons, “severe volatility in raw material costs,” according to the trade publication USGlass.
Silica sand, also known as industrial or quartz sand, is a purer type of the substance that must contain at least 95% silicon dioxide and is commonly used to make glass. Such sand is far more expensive and scarcer than the sand used to make concrete.

Although it is unclear how much of the price rises are attributable to silica sand shortages, the material’s demand is anticipated to soar in the coming years. Lead times for curtain wall deliveries have lately increased by a factor of two, according to John Robbins, managing director and head of real estate for Turner & Townsend’s U.S. and North America business. With floor-to-ceiling windows as a selling advantage for both luxury penthouses and corner offices, glass is the material of choice for new buildings.

The largest manufacturer and consumer of flat glass worldwide is China. While the lower floors of One World Trade Center shine with Chinese glass, the original twin towers of the World Trade Center were constructed using American glass, according to the book “The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization.”

The Department of the Interior reports that the United States consumed 67 million tonnes of industrial sand in 2012, up from 23.6 million tonnes in 2011. Local shortages are anticipated to worsen due to “land development priorities, local zoning laws, and logistical challenges,” according to the department’s geological study for 2022.

This could cause a supply issue in some areas because, according to Vietnamese officials in 2017, the nation may soon run out of sand. To unlawfully remove the resource and sell it on the black market, “sand mafias” have emerged. These gangs have reportedly killed hundreds of people in India and other nations by resorting to violence in some circumstances to defend their business.

According to Vince Beiser, author of “The World in a Grain,” “the problem in the U.S. is more that the easy-to-access sand has mostly been tapped out, so we’re having to travel further, dig deeper, and possibly cause more harm to get to the stuff that’s left.”

The UN Environment Program issued a report in April that contained important recommendations on how to effectively manage the world’s sand resources in order to “avert a crisis.” According to the paper, project planners should check the availability of raw materials before starting a project rather than expecting they will appear on demand.

In the words of Russell of the Mineral Products Association, one of the report’s writers, “If we build it, the materials needed will come. “The supply almost always has the capacity to satisfy consumer demand. The crucial query, however, is whether or not such solution offers the best sustainable solution.

If there is a benefit to the pandemic’s vast supply chain problems, it is that they have raised people’s awareness of the availability of raw resources.

Structure Tone’s Hamilton noted that this was formerly the responsibility of subcontractors and that “we pivoted and started to track things a lot more.” We have just truly come to realise the necessity for more supply chain visibility since Covid, says the author.

East of Egypt, close to the Gulf of Aqaba, the Saudi government is planning a $500 billion megacity called “The Line.”

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