Mazzuca: Something to think about
Readers of my commentaries know I take a conservative position on most matters. But for my final Vail Daily commentary, I am going to address a seldom-discussed aspect of climate change from an ideologically neutral perspective.
The 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 report focused on the differences in acquiring clean energy versus energy from hydrocarbon resources. Solar photovoltaic plants, wind farms and electric vehicles 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.
Obtaining these minerals will offer new challenges, and their importance in a decarbonizing the world’s energy systems requires expanded thinking because concerns about price, volatility and security of supply do not suddenly disappear in a green energy world.
The president told us we’ll cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, and have net-zero emissions by 2050. But accomplishing that — and meeting the goals of the Green New Deal — will create an enormous increase in the demand for Lithium (4200%), graphite (2,500%), nickel (1,900%) and for rare-Earth metals (700%).
What was not addressed however is that acquiring these minerals will require a massive expansion of the mining industry, including greater transportation, refining, infrastructure needs; none of which currently exist, and with few if any plans to build them.
It takes 16 years to transition a mining operation from discovery to production, so, even if we began today, 2037 would be the soonest we would have the capacity to put batteries in the 290 million potential electric vehicles the Green New Deal advocates would like to see in America.
We know 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 making the matter one of mineral acquisition. But, 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 has five times more production capacity for these materials than the rest of the world combined.
The United States isn’t even a player in this area and is 100% dependent on Chinese imports 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, but as the IEA report illustrates, about half the known lithium and copper sources reside in water-starved areas of the world.
Further, 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.
But let’s refine our focus to the United States. The average American vehicle travels 10,344 miles per year (3 trillion miles per year for the nation as a whole) so, converting to electric vehicles, which travel 200-300 miles per charge requiring roughly 40 recharges per year. Doing the math, 40 charges per year times 290 million potential EV vehicles equals 116,000,000,000 individual charging actions. Vis-à-vis the foregoing, it’s prudent to ask, where will all this electricity come from and at what cost?
According to the Pew Research Center, 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?
Meanwhile the green movement is predicated on the premise 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.”
Perhaps the entire matter 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.”
I’m going to skip the quote of the day and instead invite interested parties to read future commentaries on my blog, which can be found at ButchMazzuca.com.