Limitations on mining for electricity: ‘More than 3 billion tons of metals & minerals’ needed over next 3 decades

Just for electricity from EV batteries and the electricity occasionally generated from wind turbines and solar panels, the World Bank estimates that more than three billion tons of metals and minerals could be required over the next three decades to power the technologies for a global electricity transition. The transition to electricity and its inescapable mineral requirements is discussed in detail in this 46-minute video by Mark Mills.

Almost never discussed is the supply of cost-effective products essential to human flourishing. But wait, life without oil is NOT AS SIMPLE AS YOU MAY THINK as breezes and sunshine can only generate intermittent electricity, and NEITHER wind turbines, nor solar panels, can manufacture anything for society. Low-cost, reliable, versatile products (currently made from oil derivatives manufactured from crude oil) make modern life possible. There’s a simple reason for this. Products make the machines that allow us to be productive and prosperous—from the combine harvesters that allow one farm worker to do the work of 1,000 to the incubators that save the lives of millions of premature babies. Everything depends on products.

Climate change challenges may impact humanity, but being mandated to live without the supply of products and fuels currently manufactured from crude oil to meet ever increasing demand, will necessitate lifestyles being mandated back to the horse and buggy days of the 1800s and could be the greatest threat to the planet’s eight billion residents.

Regardless of pressures from international leaders to join the campaign to “decarbonize,” the public and world leaders have short memories of petrochemical products and human ingenuity being the reasons for the world population growing from 1 to 8 billion in less than 200 years, with a reasonable standard of living for most.

The phenomenal growth in population soon after the discovery of oil, technologies that influenced the manufacturing of fuels for our various transportation infrastructures, and the manufacturing of oil derivatives that have become the basis of the more than 6,000 products that support various infrastructure segments of society that did not exist before 1900.

While wind turbines and solar panels are seen as promising sources of renewable electricity, it’s important to acknowledge their limitations. Two of the key drawbacks are their inability to generate continuous electricity and their inability to manufacture any goods for the growing population of 8 billion people on our planet.

Unlike traditional power plants that generate continuous and uninterruptible electricity, wind turbines and solar panels only generate electricity intermittently and do not contribute to the production of goods, nor the fuels for the 50,000 merchant ships and 50,000 jets that move those products to anywhere in the world. Today, all those products and transportation capabilities are now required to keep the 8 billion on this planet alive and healthy.

The poverty of the world’s population is real and exacerbated by an intractable political problem. Foreign aid never reaches the citizens but is stolen by the elites and the rulers. Elections are rigged. Free speech does not exist. The fact is, tyrants, dictators, and corrupt elected leaders have zero incentive to have prosperous, healthy, educated citizens. Today, at least 80 percent of humanity, or more than six billion in this world, are living on less than $10 a day, and billions are living with little to no access to electricity.

The subject of the variety of governments and dictatorships around the world is a huge project to research to arrive at answers as to WHY the poorest countries have extreme poverty, inadequate food, chronic and epidemic disease, and massive pollution.

Clean water systems, closed human waste sanitation systems (instead of raw sewage running in gutters and entering rivers), electricity, and those “products” commonplace in wealthy countries are in short supply in the poverty world and are among the most crippling but least talked-about crises of the 21st century.

As we continue to explore new sources of electricity, it’s important to keep these limitations in mind and work towards finding solutions that can address all our electricity and manufacturing needs. An easy observation is everything that needs electricity is made with the oil derivatives manufactured from crude oil, inclusive of all electronics, all medical supplies, and all communications.

Wind turbines and solar panels require huge numbers of mines across the world in developing countries with minimal environmental regulations or labor laws, resulting in environmental degradation and humanity atrocities upon those with yellow, brown, and black skin that are mining for those exotic minerals and metals.

Wind turbines, solar panels, and EV batteries aren’t eternal. As they age, billions will eventually need to be disposed of and replaced, creating a potential “waste mountain by 2050.” The challenge of recycling these discarded turbines, panels, and batteries is even more daunting. Traditional recycling methods struggle to extract and reclaim the more precious materials that are intertwined with other components, making them economically challenging to separate.

While Germany and the USA are decommissioning nuclear power generating plants in favor of electricity generated from wind turbines and solar panels, the countries of Finland, France, the UK, China, Japan, and others see nuclear as the only low-carbon, scalable, sustainable, dispatchable source of continuous uninterruptable electricity generation. They are looking to again expand emissions-free nuclear-generated electricity.

Rather than seeking sources of intermittent electricity generations, the world may be best served by focusing on subsidies, tax credits, and investments for the identification of a replacement for those fossil fuels that are now dominating the supply chain of products and fuels that support the materialistic demands of humanity.

This article originally appeared at Heartland


  • Ronald Stein

    Ronald Stein is an engineer, senior policy advisor on energy literacy for CFACT, and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated book “Clean Energy Exploitations.”