The demand for sand is booming, and while you'll find it in cell phones and solar panels, the real beast driving up prices is the rather controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, which mixes sand with water and chemicals and pumps it underground to force out natural gas. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the fracking industry is a behemoth consumer, expected to gobble some 95 billion pounds of sand this year alone; that's up 30% over 2013 and a 50% hike over a forecast from just last year.
If those numbers aren't big enough—it can take 4 million pounds to "frack" one well—the industry is looking to use even more, having found that extra sand can drive up oil and gas yields by 30%. All that translates into 5% to 10% price increases before the end of the year, with one manufacturer predicting increases more in the 10% to 20% range. "There's really no limit on the demand side," says an expert. Where the limit comes in: Even though manufacturers are scrambling to put in new sand mines, they're facing tighter reins and more regulation amid public outcry over the dust, traffic, and potential breathing problems such operations create. Click for the full story. (Read more fracking stories.)