Foreign Policy offers us a summary of analysis done by the World Bank, a couple of years ago (strangely enough) in 2017. Although they start from the standpoint of believing we need to build wind and solar farms, they bring some real data to the table.
The phrase “clean energy” normally conjures up happy, innocent images of warm sunshine and fresh wind. But while sunshine and wind is obviously clean, the infrastructure we need to capture it is not. Far from it. The transition to renewables is going to require a dramatic increase in the extraction of metals and rare-earth minerals, with real ecological and social costs.The way I always heard that last sentence is "the only truly clean energy is the energy you don't use". Same idea, different words. The article begins by pointing out that the World Bank study modeled the increase in raw material extraction (primarily mining and refining the mine output) that would be required to build enough solar and wind utilities to produce an annual output of about 7 terawatts of electricity by 2050, or enough to power roughly half of the global economy. By doubling those numbers we can see how much more of those materials are required by 2050 to reach Twitty's goal of no carbon emissions at all.
We need a rapid transition to renewables, yes—but scientists warn that we can’t keep growing energy use at existing rates. No energy is innocent. The only truly clean energy is less energy.
[T]he results are staggering: 34 million metric tons of copper, 40 million tons of lead, 50 million tons of zinc, 162 million tons of aluminum, and no less than 4.8 billion tons of iron.That's just for electric power generation; essential but far from the only essential. With no fossil fuels to run an internal combustion engine, there is no transportation left on the planet.
In some cases, the transition to renewables will require a massive increase over existing levels of extraction. For neodymium—an essential element in wind turbines—extraction will need to rise by nearly 35 percent over current levels. Higher-end estimates reported by the World Bank suggest it could double.
The same is true of silver, which is critical to solar panels. Silver extraction will go up 38 percent and perhaps as much as 105 percent. Demand for indium, also essential to solar technology, will more than triple and could end up skyrocketing by 920 percent.
And then there are all the batteries we’re going to need for power storage. To keep energy flowing when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing will require enormous batteries at the grid level. This means 40 million tons of lithium—an eye-watering 2,700 percent increase over current levels of extraction.
This year, a group of leading British scientists submitted a letter to the U.K. Committee on Climate Change outlining their concerns about the ecological impact of electric cars. They agree, of course, that we need to end the sale and use of combustion engines. But they pointed out that unless consumption habits change, replacing the world’s projected fleet of 2 billion vehicles is going to require an explosive increase in mining: Global annual extraction of neodymium and dysprosium will go up by another 70 percent, annual extraction of copper will need to more than double, and cobalt will need to increase by a factor of almost four—all for the entire period from now to 2050.Quoting directly from their letter:
The metal resource needed to make all cars and vans electric by 2050 and all sales to be purely battery electric by 2035. To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copper. This represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018. Even ensuring the annual supply of electric vehicles only, from 2035 as pledged, will require the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of European industry.Got that? For the small country of the UK to replace their entire fleet of fossil-fuel powered cars, they would need twice the world's annual cobalt output, the world's annual output of neodymium, 3/4 of the world's lithium, and half the world's copper production. It goes without saying that every other industrialized country on Earth will also be trying to double or triple mine productions on all these minerals, for their use.
Note that they're not saying we’re going to run out of key minerals — although that may indeed be possible. It will just drastically change the impact of mining for these minerals, which many greenies feel takes too big of an environmental toll as it is.
EDIT 1327EDT 9/17: URL for killed, rare bird wasn't loading properly from live blog, but would load from Blogger's editor. Attempting to fix.