“Green” Energy: Materials-Intensive–And It Matters

There is now considerable momentum behind wind and solar power generation.  In addition to the governments pushing these technologies, there are many companies intending to profit by manufacturing and implementing these systems–also companies intending to get “sustainability” points for using them–and a nontrivial part of the financing industry licking their chops at the prospect of raising the necessary capital.

While wind and solar systems do not directly consume fuels, they do consume capital, that capital representing the labor and materials (and also the energy, in various forms) necessary to manufacture and install them.  Some of these materials are relatively scarce at present, and are sourced from problematic locations under questionable conditions.

Here is an interesting and quite detailed study on “green” materials and sourcing options, from the International Energy Agency.  Worth careful reading for anyone interested in energy issues, technologies, and politics.  Note that in addition to China’s development of its internal resources of the relevant materials, that country is developing strong trade and financing relationships…which may evolve to neo-colonial or even full-colonial relationships…with other countries possessing such resources.

And here are a pair of articles arguing that the only way for the US to acquire the requisite materials for a “green” energy transition will require close collaboration with China…that if the two greatest greenhouse-gas emitters on this planet can’t work together, we’re all going to be living in a more or less literal hell. The authors of these pieces don’t seem to be very concerned about the risks of US dependence on China for our energy supply; they seem more concerned about the risks of a cold war (anti-China) mentality.  (It is also interesting that the word ‘nuclear’ doesn’t appear in either article.)

Comes now a Reuters article, which asserts that: The Biden administration is considering a plan to import the bulk of the materials needed to build electric vehicles and the batteries that power them instead of mining them domestically — a nod to environmental groups that make up a key part of the Democratic constituency, according to a report.  The article goes on to quote an administration source as saying, referring to mining, that “it’s not that hard to dig a hole”…a comment which interestingly echoes Michael Bloomberg’s assertions about farming–“I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer…You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.”  (Bloomberg also made similarly dismissive remarks about manufacturing jobs)

On the other hand, a post at the Seeking Alpha investment blog asserts that Contrary to Rumors, the Biden Administration is Not Abandoning Lithium–that on the contrary, they want to expand both domestic and international supply of this material.  (The author of this piece also notes critically that the Reuters article did not reference a single named source.)

But even if the Biden administration does throw some money at domestic mining and processing, environmental objections and litigation are likely to slow things down considerably…a Trump-style president might be willing and able to blow past such constraints, but Biden/Harris, given their dependence on their party’s extreme Left, will likely find it easier to placate environmentalists by combining a US emphasis on vehicle electrification and “green” energy with a de facto sourcing policy of acquiring most of the relevant materials from outside the United States–including China–which allowing most US mining and bulk processing initiatives to bog down in red tape.

Here’s a follow-up article from Reuters.

As the IEA article notes, “green” energy represents a shift from a fuel-intensive to a materials-intensive energy system.  Few of the prominent/influential advocates of such a shift seem to have given much thought to where those required materials might actually come from.

Wind and solar are more capital-intensive than are fossil-fuel power sources, and mining requires considerable capital as well.  It seems likely to me that the worldwide push for “green” energy and electric vehicles will drive enough capital demands–whether via government or private financing–to have a material upward impact on interest rates.

14 thoughts on ““Green” Energy: Materials-Intensive–And It Matters”

  1. And yet, I assume there is no mention if nuclear power. On the other hand, China is actively and successfully, developing fusion energy sources.

    China successfully powered up its “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, state media reported Friday, marking a great advance in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities.

    The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source.

    It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, according to the People’s Daily—approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun.

    And yet US research seems to be stalled.

    After decades of decline, the U.S. national fusion lab seeks a rebirth

    By Adrian ChoFeb. 6, 2020 , 8:00 AM

    PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Joseph Winston, a technician here at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), knew something was wrong with the fusion reactor just by listening. In 2016, PPPL physicists had restarted their National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), after a 5-year, $94 million upgrade. During one of the machine’s runs, which last just seconds, millions of amps course through NSTX’s magnet coils, creating fields that squeeze an ionized gas so tightly that atomic nuclei can fuse. The currents also stress the coils, which emit a groan loud enough to be heard through more than a meter of concrete. But the sound was petering out prematurely, Winston recalls.

    Given the number of lawyers involved in the Biden regime, I assume any US progress will be very slow to zero.

  2. }}} by combining a US emphasis on vehicle electrification and “green” energy with a de facto sourcing policy

    And if supply is limited, prices go high, and people can’t afford them, well, they’ll just have to do without, won’t they, and “ride the bus”.


  3. The article goes on to quote an administration source as saying, referring to mining, that “it’s not that hard to dig a hole”,/i>

    I remember a line from a Robert A. Heinlein novel about milking a cow. Angry student- “anyone can milk a cow!” Teacher- Well, you can’t. I bet flat none of these folks know a thing about mining, or have even read a book about it. Define “stope,” administration source.

    I also recall my reading of an obscure and long dead historian named Moses Finley, who wrote of the ancient Roman elite that they’d happily own a mine or a factory, but working in one was something that just wasn’t done.

    When I see stories about the casual, ignorant contempt our supposed social betters have for essentially every skill required to maintain civilization, I just can’t help thinking of Moses Finley.

    That happens often, alas. The sort of people who think mining is just digging a hole, or farming is just putting a seed in dirt, simply aren’t capable of maintaining civilization.

    Worse, these idiots are in charge of making decisions for the country, which they of course do based upon their miserable ignorance of actual reality and thorough contempt of it as well.

  4. }}} And yet US research seems to be stalled.

    Given that there’s some kind of serious genius-type breakthrough needed, that’s not surprising.

    There are three issues with Fusion:

    1 — containing it
    2 — sustaining it
    3 — sucking energy out of it greater than what is put into it, and turning it to a useful form.

    That last part seems to be the real trick. Moreover, the most common reaction they tend to try:
    D + T → He³ + n
    where “n” is a neutron. How do you get energy out of a neutron? Slam it into something, then pick up the pieces that break off. This tends to make stuff radioactive.

    More effective would be
    He³ + He³ -> He4+p
    Protons, with a magnetic charge, are easy to snag the power from, you just suck it into a mag ring and slow it down.

  5. Helium-3 is very rare — but apparently exists on the surface of the Moon, the place that the US could go half a century ago. Meanwhile, China has recently successfully landed a probe on the far side of the Moon — moving right ahead there. Since we are heavily dependent on the Chinese Communist Party for lots of other essentials, let’s ask them to bring us back some He-3. Pretty please.

    By the way, China — a major beneficiary of anti-carbon subsidies — has about 12 nuclear power stations under construction, 42 more in an advanced planning stage, and another 170 proposed plants. Looks like China will have enough electricity to support a real Electric Vehicle fleet.

    Why is the US currently run by idiots?

  6. Why would the United States of Zambia need the mount of electricity fusion power could provide?

    Remember the imbeciles misruling the US have been working diligently to end the 24/7 availability of power, just like they’ve been working to end the ability of most people to own their own vehicle.

    Our so-called elite is bitterly resentful that commoners live almost as well as they do, and they want that to end.

    Hence, the river of idiocy flowing from the cancer on the Potomac, which not only includes the endless failure of such things as “green” energy but also government imposed edicts mandating washing machines that can’t wash, toilets that can’t flush, and soap that won’t clean.

    They hate the American people and want us to suffer. They certainly aren’t going to encourage anything that might make us live better.

  7. Mining is not the half of it, especially for rare earths.

    The US has ample resources in the ground but, as expected, the political and legal process to get the permits are designed to stall.

    The real technical issue is in the refining of the ores into usable materials – now THAT’S complicated and expensive.

    As a 50 year veteran of the war against civilian nuclear power in the US, I loathe the people who have effectively killed it. They have been liars every step of the way and complete hypocrites who care little of the well-being of their countrymen.

  8. Joseph, it is useful to identify the phonies in the global warming scam. I have yet to identify a global warming alarmist who supports nuclear power. The Tesla lobby is the most ridiculous.

  9. Any mention of how much plant life is destroyed by solar panels in the article?

    Solar panels require about 5 acres per nominal megawatt, 20-25 acres per effective megawatt.

    Nothing will grow under them but weeds.

    I did a back of the envelope calculation a few month calculation a few months ago on how much solar panel would be required if all gasoline powered cars became electric.

    I got about 40,000 square miles or about the size of Ohio.

    That’s 300 GW. A typical large nuke power plant is around 1GW.

    That’s just gasoline. Replace all diesel trucks, boats, trains etc and probably double that.

    Some solar will be on rooftops, maybe 25 percent. That brings its own problems and still leaves 30,000 Sq miles on the ground.

    That’s a lot of plant life to destroy.

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