Technology Drives A Power Transition

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  • TOPSHOT - Demonstrators block a highway to protest against Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto's ... [+] plan to mine lithium in the country, in Belgrade on December 4, 2021. - Thousands of demonstrators blocked major roads across Serbia on December 4, 2021 as anger swelled over a government-backed plan to allow mining giant Rio Tinto to extract lithium from the Balkan nation. (Photo by OLIVER BUNIC / AFP) (Photo by OLIVER BUNIC/AFP via Getty Images)

    AFP via Getty Images

    It’s one of the grand ironies in the whole energy transition narrative: The same class of left-leaning activists who promote wind and solar and electric vehicles (EVs) as the solution also oppose the mining of the lithium and other critical minerals necessary to make them work.

    EVs cannot displace internal combustion engine autos without lithium. The EV industry has irrevocably tied itself to lithium-ion technology for its batteries: Without plentiful and affordable supplies of lithium, the industry will fail. That is just reality - it is not arguable. Similarly, wind and solar energy cannot displace natural gas or coal or nuclear power in the electric generation sector without an enormous increase in battery storage capability. Currently, the technology being deployed is mainly lithium-ion, though companies are working on scalable alternatives.

    How much lithium is needed? The International Energy Agency admitted in a report last summer that, to meet its climate change goals, lithium demand must rise by 900% by 2030 and 4,000% by 2040. Much of current lithium supply is sourced by capturing it from water via a very slow evaporation process that often takes years to complete. Indeed, the world’s richest lithium resource lies in enormous salt flats in South America’s Lithium Triangle region, where it is captured via this evaporative process.

    But much lithium supply is also captured via a hard rock mining process that is far more impactful on the landscape and environment than the evaporative process. There is no denying that both forms of lithium capture will have to grow by many factors in a very short period of time for EVs and renewables to play their envisioned roles in the energy transition. Ironically, protesters oppose both forms of lithium recovery even as they advocate for EVs and solar and wind.

    If this transition is to actually happen - a prospect that grows increasingly dim with every passing week - then it is a matter of timing every bit as much as it is a matter of development and distribution of new technologies to drive it. A new mining operation can take 7 to 10 years from initial concept to first production; a new evaporative processing project something less than that, but still a matter of years, not months.

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    Yet, we see very little reporting in recent weeks about new projects getting off the ground, and quite a bit about proposed new projects being delayed or cancelled. The Serbian government just cancelled a major new proposed $2.4 billion lithium mining project by Rio Tinto this past week, citing massive NIMBY-based (Not In My Back Yard) protests as the reason.

    Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Thursday that "We have fulfilled all the demands from the environmental protests and have put an end to Rio Tinto in the Republic of Serbia.” Thus, the leader of the Serbian government sees her main duty not to meet the demands of the international elites who set the climate goals at the UN, but to meet the “demands from the environmental protests” in her country.

    Does anyone else see the disconnect here? We are told by the international community every day that we are facing not just climate change, but a “climate emergency.” That same community - which includes the government of Serbia - tells us in its next breath that the solution to that emergency is to get rid of “fossil fuels” in power generation and destroy the internal combustion engine cars that have been fundamental to the creation and maintenance of modern society, and replace them all with EVs, solar and wind. That same international community then admits that none of that can happen without enormous increases in the supplies of lithium and other critical minerals in just a handful of years.

    But when hundreds of thousands of left-leaning NIMBY protesters hit the streets, the government suddenly forgets about the “climate emergency” and sees its duty as meeting their demands, not the demands of the UN and the IPCC. The only logical conclusion that can be reached here is that the Serbian government only sees the “climate emergency” as being a real emergency when it is politically convenient to see it that way.

    This is not limited to Serbia - it is a global phenomenon. Last summer, the Biden Administration in the U.S. announced it would mount a “whole of government” effort to secure U.S. supply chains for these critical minerals to ensure America’s auto industry and renewables sector would have access to them. That was announced on June 8, 2021. A Google search on the subject today turns up just a handful of subsequent stories that reference that effort, like this one at The Verge. But if you read into the bowels of those stories, you see that, while they make praising reference to that June 8 announcement, they do not contain a single example of a shred of real progress being made.

    A similar search of news stories today about energy matters in the EU reveals nothing about those governments progressing their ability to mine for and secure supply chains for lithium, but gobs of stories about how they are scrambling to secure supplies of and supply chains for...natural gas, like this story at Reuters. Because that is what the real emergency is in Europe this winter - trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and homes heated in countries that placed too much reliance on unreliable and intermittent wind and solar power in their electricity grids.

    All of which raises very legitimate reasons to question whether we are in a “climate emergency” or not. Because if we are, you certainly cannot prove it by observing the actions of governments in the U.S. and Europe. Securing the critical mineral supplies that are fundamental to meeting the needs of the “emergency” the international community claims the world must meet is an extremely environmentally impactful and time-consuming endeavor, one that will require one of the most gargantuan collective efforts ever mounted by global governments to achieve.

    That’s reality, and until these governments make a collective decision to put the unarguable requirements of meeting this “emergency” above the desires of NIMBY-based protesters, then we must conclude that they do not really believe all of this apocalyptic rhetoric at all.

    Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidblackmon/2022/01/23/nimbyism-is-global-and-thats-a-problem-for-the-energy-transition/

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