The IEA (International Energy Agency) recently published a report titled, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, detailing the challenges of transitioning to clean energy.
The 287-page report focused on the differences in acquiring clean energy versus energy from hydrocarbon resources. Solar photovoltaic (PV) plants, wind farms and electric vehicles (EVs) require far more minerals than fossil fuel- based sources. And the shift to clean energy is set to drive a huge increase in the requirements for lithium nickel, cobalt, copper, aluminum, and other rare earth elements. https://www.iea.org/reports/the-role-of-critical-minerals-in-clean-energy-transitions
And obtaining these minerals offers new challenges and their importance in a de-carbonizing the world’s energy systems requires expanded thinking because concerns about price, volatility, and security of supply do not disappear in a green energy world.
The president declared we will “achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035,” will have “net-zero emissions by 2050” and that “we’ll cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.” But meeting the goals of the green new deal will create an enormous increase in the demands for Lithium (4200%), graphite (2,500 %), nickel (1,900 %) and for rare-Earth metals (700%). Meanwhile, acquiring these minerals also means a massive expansion of the mining industry, including greater transportation, refining, and infrastructure needs; none of which currently exist with few if any plans to build them. https://www.energylivenews.com/2021/01/28/biden-wants-carbon-free-electricity-by-2035/
It takes 16 years to transition a mining operation from discovery to production, which means even if a plan existed, and we began today, 2037 would be the soonest we could begin putting batteries in the 290 million vehicles that exist in America. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-the-life-cycle-of-a-mineral-discovery/
Consider, the typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired power plant. But the real question is mineral acquisition. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China provides more than 85% of the world’s rare-earth elements, is home to two-thirds of the global supply of scarce metals and minerals like antimony and baryte with five times more production capacity for these materials than the rest of the world combined. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3130990/chinas-dominance-rare-earths-supply-growing-concern-west https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/278ae0c8-28b8-402b-b9ab-6e45463c273f/TheRoleofCriticalMineralsinCleanEnergyTransitions.pdf https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-rareearth-explainer/u-s-dependence-on-chinas-rare-earth-trade-war-vulnerability-idUSKCN1TS3AQ
The United States isn’t even a player in the mineral game and is 100 % dependent on imports from China for many key minerals. Meanwhile, mining, transporting and refining billions of tons of earth materials will create a massive carbon footprint regardless of where these rare-earth minerals come from. This new demand for minerals will also require huge quantities of water. Unfortunately, about half the known lithium and copper sources reside in water-starved areas as the IEA report portentously illustrates. https://theconversation.com/critical-minerals-are-vital-for-renewable-energy-we-must-learn-to-mine-them-responsibly-131547 https://www.circleofblue.org/2013/world/mongolia-copper-mine-oyu-tolgoi-tests-water-supply-young-democracy/
Electric vehicles (EV) account for about 30 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, i.e., a single electric car battery weighs about 1,000 pounds with an average life of 7-10 years. Producing that battery requires processing of tons of raw materials such as cadmium, cobalt, lead, lithium, and nickel. It’s estimated then that putting a battery in every vehicle in the world would require 250 billion tons of Earth materials every 7-10 years from mining operations and infrastructure that doesn’t exist. https://www.manhattan-institute.org/mines-minerals-and-green-energy-reality-check
Additionally, the average American vehicle travels 10,344 miles/year (3 trillion miles/year for the nation as a whole) so, converting to EV, which travel 200-300 miles per charge requiring roughly 40 re-charges per year means 40 charges per year multiplied by 290 million vehicles equals 116,000,000,000 charging actions in the United States alone. Vis-à-vis the foregoing it’s prudent to ask, where will all this electricity come from and at what cost? https://www.caranddriver.com/research/a32880477/average-mileage-per-year/
According to PEW Research green energy accounted for less than 4% of U.S. electricity generation, yet the industry employs more people in than did the oil, coal, and gas industries combined. In the face of staggering labor costs, common sense dictates that we ask ourselves at what point does the cost of solar (or wind) generated electricity become prohibitive? https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/15/renewable-energy-is-growing-fast-in-the-u-s-but-fossil-fuels-still-dominate/ https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/01/25/u-s-solar-energy-employs-more-people-than-oil-coal-and-gas-combined-infographic/?sh=72aebda52800
Meanwhile the entire green movement is predicated on a false premise, i.e., that wind and solar are renewable. But harnessing energy that requires removing billions upon billions of tons of minerals from the earth is hardly “renewable.” https://e360.yale.edu/features/global_scarcity_scramble_for_dwindling_natural_resources
Perhaps the issue was best summed up by the Executive Director of the IEA, Dr. Faith Birol, who said, “The data shows there’s a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realizing those ambitions.” https://www.iea.org/reports/the-role-of-critical-minerals-in-clean-energy-transitions https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/24d5dfbb-a77a-4647-abcc-667867207f74/TheRoleofCriticalMineralsinCleanEnergyTransitions.pdf
Quote of the Day: “We (the UN-IPCC) redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy…One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.”– Dr. Ottmar Endenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC working group on Mitigation of Climate Chang”
Author’s Note: I included my source material in the post should you want to forward to to some of the “true believers” and tomorrow I’ll post Part II of this commentary, “More Things to Think About”