Saturday Feb 04, 2023

Rushing headlong into electrification, the West is replacing one energy master with another – MINING.COM –


Yet many of these same countries are continuing to go flat-out in their production of oil and natural gas — considered a bridge fuel between fossil fuels and renewables, wrongly imo, for environmental reasons — a/ because they want to be energy-independent; and b/ because they have to. Germany is a good example of a country that tried to switch too soon to renewable energy, retiring its nuclear and coal power plants, only to find that the wind and sun didn’t produce enough electricity. Germany is now having to rely on Russian natural gas and the burning of lignite coal to keep the lights on and homes/ businesses heated throughout the winter.

We all remember (well those that are old enough do) the long gas station lineups of the 1970s during the OPEC oil embargo. At that time, the US was almost 100% dependent on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for its crude oil.

Well times have changed and the US is supposedly energy-independent — in September 2019 the United States exported 89,000 barrels per day more petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products) than it imported, the first month this happened since monthly records began in 1973.

Now the materials required for a modern economy are those needed for electrification and decarbonization — metals like lithium, graphite, nickel and cobalt for EV batteries; copper for wiring, motors and charging stations, as well as renewable energy systems; silver for solar cells, and rare earths like neodymium for wind turbines.

The problem is, getting to 100% renewables, if that is even possible (I’d say more like 40%, if we’re lucky) will require more metals than are currently available in the world’s mines. Shortages are forecasted by 2030 for cobalt, copper, lithium, natural graphite, nickel and rare earths. Moreover, getting those minerals in the amounts demanded means going to some environmentally unfriendly places, including Indonesia for sulfide nickel, the DRC for cobalt, and China for rare earths.

The irony is, the rush to “go green” carries with it the simple fact that the mining of this stuff is anything but. Yet because Western countries like Canada and the US haven’t bothered to develop their own mine to electric vehicle, or mine to renewable energy plant supply chains, they are dependent on imports. EVs and solar/wind sound green, but how green are they when the materials are being imported from places like Indonesia, which allows tailings to be dumped into the sea, and the extremely polluting HPAL method of separating laterite nickel into the end product used in batteries?

It all comes down to security of supply. Western countries don’t have it, because they haven’t bothered to mine, or refine, domestically and continue to rely on imports especially from China but also South Africa and Russia.

And we can’t forget fossil fuel dependency because many countries cannot, and will not, build the infrastructure needed to decarbonize/ electrify.

They will continue to require huge amounts of coal, oil and natural gas. Even Europe, supposedly on the leading edge of “green”, relies heavily on Russian gas, as we shall see below. Japan, which has no natural resources of its own, in 2020 imported the majority of its oil from Saudi Arabia. And Australia, despite being a mining powerhouse (coal, iron ore), will by 2030 be 100% reliant on imported petroleum, due to the ongoing closure of its refineries.

Our addiction to oil means that hybrid vehicles, obviously requiring gasoline, are expected to continue outpacing full electrics for years.



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