Total reserves are not the issue – mine construction and geopolitical risks are likely to be larger barriers to progress.
Will there be any responses on the Substack to, say, Thea Riofrancos’ work on mining impacts on indigenous peoples? What about materials recycling, is it mature enough technologically to be rapidly scaled up?
Actually, the main concern is the just transition and the human rights that are being abused by the big corporates with a local complicity from the ruling elites. There is no way to do this shift if we keep the same consuming patterns. If you scrutinize the mining of these materials you will be shocked from human rights abuse and the working conditions of the most impoverished people in these countries. Not to mention as well the moderns slavery in such a supply chain.
Interesting analysis. Does the analysis on the energy required to extract the minerals (and resultant emissions) take account of falling grades. That is to say, new deposits tend to have less of the required metal per tonne of ore.
The energy required to extract the metal rises exponentially as grade falls. See for example the work of Michaux and this paper:
What are your thoughts on deep-sea mining for minerals such as nickel?
It seems like a straight trade-off between environmental damage and mineral access but proponents for it in cases like in the Clarion Clipperton Zone say that it’s less damaging than current extraction processes. If we need to up current global output for these minerals then we should do it in the least damaging ways possible (environmental and carbon).
Hannah, Do you have a link to the actual paper? I found the paper cited (wrong link in the original email) but I can only find an abstract, not the whole paper.
I wonder how many of these rare materials are present in "spoil" from other mining? We know that Tin and Lead tend to come from the same strata - see Cornwall, UK.
I wonder if we could build more integrated ore processing systems, extract the prime mineral/metal, then process the "Spoil" for other elements? One particularly interesting item is Thorium - vey common, low level radioactive but a feasible nuclear power fuel - first proved in the 60s and 70s at Livermore, it was never progressed because you cant get bomb material from a Thorium reactor, or at least its much easier with a fast breeder. I'd like to see some more modern studies.
This tellurium - how is it used? are there potential substitutes?
Amazing that this post doesn’t mention China where (other than silver and copper) the vast majority of these minerals are mined and refined.
The scenarios are key to assessing the usefulness of this study. Do they allow for rising living standards in Africa and central Asia? To what extent? I don't have either the time or access to the paper and supporting materials to find out at present, so I hope someone will.
Also, as you note, Hannah, it's not clear whether they are looking at electricity as currently used (about a fifth of total final energy according to Smil), or "electrify all the things", which is closer to what is needed.
I am surprised at the large size of reserves. Generally miners consider it a waste of money to do the surveys, studies, and permitting work needed to bring resources into reserves more than ten or twenty years ahead of time.
Edited to add: Ed Conway's book "Material World" has a great chapter on sand, which discusses silicon production in some depth--for lay-people, anyway. Recommended reading.
I remember reading roughly the same prediction a decade ago. The fact that 2010s predictions hold up in the 2020s is a good sign that 2020s predictions will hold up in the 2030s.
“Addressing the terawatt challenge: scalability in the supply of chemical elements for renewable energy.”
Hi Hannah, really interesting article thank you. Wonder if this may help on the transportation aspects https://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/534463/1/batteryRawMaterial.pdf
Keen to get involved so following with great interest.
This is also without taking into account any kind of recicling that would reduce the need to extract so much from earth