As if it wasn’t enough to have lumber, windows, doors, and metal pipe in short supply, you can add sand, which is theoretically plentiful on Earth, to the list of construction materials that can be hard to come by.
While sand is an item that can be found all over the planet, the high-quality aggregate form isn’t easy to source, according to a Stanford University scientist. “The sand found in deserts is unsuitable as construction material because it has been eroded by wind, making its sand grains smooth and they do not bond well together,” says Eric Lambin. “That is why the tall buildings of Dubai, a desert city, were built with sand imported all the way from Australia—as skyscrapers require extremely high-quality aggregates.
“Once high-quality deposits become exhausted or inaccessible due to urban growth, nature protection, or farming, sand extraction shifts to low-quality materials with organic matter or salt that, when used for the wrong applications, increase the probability of construction failure and building collapse. Construction failures have been linked to poor sand quality in Haiti following the earthquake, Nigeria, Morocco, Thailand, South Africa, and Italy.”
It's unlikely that we will run out of sand, Lambin says, but regionally, scarcities of sand needed for construction do occur, driving up costs and potentially delaying projects due to limited availability. “Instead of mining unconsolidated sediment deposits, fine-grained sand and coarser products can be produced artificially by crushing rocks or by recycling construction and demolition waste such as concrete or masonry,” Landin says. Engineered timber is also an alternative to concrete construction.