Achieving net-zero emissions is not going to be easy and will require new technologies to be deployed en masse. And this means mining metals, like lithium, and other rare minerals will be necessary to make this technology.
However, the act of mining itself will surely produce emissions, thus many may wonder if it is necessary. And to be perfectly honest, we cannot achieve net-zero emissions without mining and utilizing these resources with the current technology limits in mind.
A new report by Nature Reviews Materials highlights that a green future is dependent on mining.
Lithium Is Essential For An Electric Car Future
Electric vehicles are the future of automobiles, according to just about every car manufacturer. However, the most important parts are the lithium-ion batteries that power every vehicle.
Experts are already realizing that our current supply of lithium is not enough.
In fact, as EVs become more popular and reach 30+ million vehicle sales in the future, more lithium is needed. That would require 1.8 million tons of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE), which is 5 times the total mining in 2019.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that lithium might be a limiting factor in the EV revolution. However, breakthroughs and new mining opportunities could change dramatically. After all, lithium is becoming very valuable and sought after.
Wind Turbines Are Huge Steel Structures
Wind power is really catching the world by storm and these structures are gigantic, averaging over 400 feet. They are also made out of steel, which requires the mining of iron ore.
And it’s no secret that iron mining is a major contributor of greenhouse gases.
Luckily, recycling is a terrific option as 85% of a wind turbine is actually recyclable. Although it is worth noting that the turbine blades themselves are not recyclable, as they are not steel. Instead, they consist of fiberglass.
Nevertheless, there is a huge problem. Our society does not recycle nearly enough of what is recyclable. That could definitely change and reduce the amount of mining necessary.
To build turbines today, it requires a lot of raw material.
Photovoltaics Consist of 19 Rare Minerals
Solar energy is also booming, and as you may already suspect, it also relies on mining to some capacity. Sadly, the production process of photovoltaic cells produces emissions and toxins.
In fact, they contain a staggering 19 rare minerals that require mining.
That said, just like wind turbines, photovoltaics (PVs) are recyclable and the industry is even pursuing a circular structure. For instance, in the EU, the regulations require 85% of the materials in PVs to be recyclable.
The manufacturers actually exceed that and are 94.7% with the unrecycled parts consisting of filters. Thus, once the initial need for panels is met, the requirement to mine will be reduced.
Mining is Necessary
While it may seem like an odd comparison, anyone familiar with the game Minecraft knows they need raw materials to start building. Real-life isn’t any different in that regard.
To properly accelerate the green energy transition, we need lots of raw materials. And that shouldn’t be a surprise. However, as long as manufacturers work towards a circular economy, we will be able to reuse these devices for decades.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.