Transitioning from fossil fuels and internal combustion engines to renewable energy and electric vehicles are worthy goals.
But at what cost to the environment?
Mountains of copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and rare earth metals will be needed over the next several decades to achieve this transition.
Sourcing these metals produces a less than green amount of carbon dioxide.
Here is an excerpt from one of Dr. Ed Yardeni’s recent research reports about the environmental cost of going green and what can be done about it.
by Ed Yardeni, Yardeni Research
We are big fans of technology, particularly technology that can help address climate change.
That said, we were reminded by a thought-provoking article in Der Spiegel that sourcing the metals needed to produce or store green energy—using windmills, solar panels, electric cars, lithium-ion batteries, high
voltage power lines, and fuel cells—can cause quite a bit of damage to the Earth and produce a hearty amount of carbon dioxide (CO2).
These metals are most likely being dug out of the ground and processed by CO2-spewing machines, then shipped across an ocean in a CO2-spewing ship, before they’re installed in a green windmill or vehicle.
The mining process also requires huge amounts of land, electricity, and water, often in developing regions of the world where water is dear and governments unstable.
Wind turbines, for example, use neodymium, a rare earth metal. The production of one ton of neodymium produces 77 tons of CO2, while the production of a ton of steel emits only 1.9 tons of CO2, the article states.
The amount of metal needed to run our new green world is growing larger every year.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that global demand for critical raw materials will quadruple by 2040, and lithium demand alone could be 42 times greater.
Meanwhile, finding new deposits and extracting metals from older mines is getting tougher and more costly, as the easiest targets have already been mined.
The article reports that a medium-sized offshore wind turbine contains 67 tons of copper. There are 11 tons of silver in a solar panel park that’s 1,000 square meters.
“An electric car requires six times as many critical raw materials as a combustion engine—mainly copper, graphite, cobalt and nickel for the battery system.
An onshore wind turbine contains around nine times as many of these substances as a gas fired power plant of comparable capacity.”
Hopefully, the mining industry will get greener along with the rest of the world, perhaps by employing hydrogen fuel to power its huge excavators and ships.
Recycling electronics and batteries could also help reduce the amount of mining of new metals. And despite the dirty business of mining metals, the IEA believes the Earth still benefits when electric vehicles are driven.
An internal combustion vehicle produces twice as much CO2 over its life cycle of 200,000 kilometres than is produced by an electric car that requires lithium in its batteries.
But clearly, more needs to be done before we can feel good about going green.