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Mining & Minerals Paper

edited July 2020 in Other Investing
This is a good, in-depth discussion on the mining that will be necessary to meet the needs of the renewables industry from the Manhattan Institute. — mines-minerals.pdf

Some observations:
All energy-producing machinery must be fabricated from materials extracted from the earth. No energy system, in short, is actually “renewable,” since all machines require the continual mining and processing of millions of tons of primary materials and the disposal of hardware that inevitably wears out.

He says: Compared with hydrocarbon using devices, green machines entail, on average, a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy. But I don’t see where he includes the extraction of fossil fuels for the conventional devices. Also, no mention of nuclear power is this report.

Expansion of today’s level of green energy—currently less than 4% of the country’s total consumption (versus 56% from oil and gas)—will create an unprecedented increase in global mining for needed minerals.

Among the material realities of green energy:
Building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires, on average, more than 10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building machines using hydro-carbons to deliver the same amount of energy to society.

Replacing hydrocarbons with green machines will vastly increase the mining of various critical minerals around the world. For example, a single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials. Averaged over a battery’s life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth. Using an internal combustion engine consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile. (note, I think “consumes” is a misnomer here, the half a ton of materials are not actually consumed. Also, this 5 lbs to 0.2 lbs talk is not an apples to apples comparison)

By 2050, with current plans, the quantity of worn-out solar panels—much of it non- recyclable—will constitute double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste, along with over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastics from worn-out wind turbine blades. By 2030, more than 10 million tons per year of batteries will become garbage. (While a million tons seems to be a large amount, we really don’t know that it is for a country of 350 million people.)

In sum
Even without subsidies, mandates, and policies that favor green energy, the future for both America and the rest of the world will see many more wind and solar farms and many more electric cars. That will happen precisely because those technologies have matured enough to play significant roles. And given the magnitude of pent-up global demand for energy and energy-using machines and services—especially after the world struggles out of recession — the world will need “all of the above” in energy supplies.

Note this report is a follow up to a report the author wrote in early 2019. Here’s a link without discussion


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