“Rare Earths,” Electrification Mandates, and Energy Security (Part II)

From MasterResource


“What we have is one-way bureaucratic command-and-control making poor decisions with funding derived from captive consumers and one-sided radical agendas. Accordingly, the environmental zealots demonize fossil fuels, while maintaining that only wind and solar are ‘green’ enough to ‘save the planet.’ This itself is greenwashing.”

Like Rob Bradley’s “Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’” (see Part I), my colleague Tom Tanton wrote a major piece about the over-regulation of the rare-earth extraction industry in the U.S.: “Dig it!  If you want more information on the importance of rare earths within the U.S economy, this would be a good place to start.

The long-term feasibility of this transition to renewables simply assumes sufficient raw materials exist for it at all. Professor Michaux of the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) has studied these issues, probably more extensively than anyone else and thinks not. Professor Simon Michaux took on these issues via the following ground-breaking work:

It’s Time to Wake Up – The Currently Known Global Mineral Reserves Will Not Be Sufficient to Supply Enough Metals to Manufacture the Planned Non-fossil Fuel Industrial Systems

The upshot of Professor Michaux’s work is that “we need a new plan” as there are not enough raw materials to sustain this transition nor can recycling or reprocessing mining waste make up for the shortfall.  Since the success of free market economies is predicated upon informed citizens, I urge you to visit Professor Michaux’s website or, at a minimum, view the following YouTube:

Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels.

 Dr. Michaux also has several PowerPoint presentations that can be downloaded from his website. I recommend starting with the following:

While Michaux’s information is invaluable, be warned that taking it all in is akin to drinking from a fire hose. But I guarantee, it will be worth it.

While it is likely that at least some technical process and raw materials discoveries will be made to improve the supply of rare earth minerals required for all-renewables-all-the-time, there is at least one more category of problems to consider:  What are the environmental and social consequences of this transition to “clean energy” relative to traditional fuels.

There are many previous articles in my MasterResource archives (https://www.masterresource.org/category/krebs-mark/) that summarize the environmental and “social justice” problems of government’s forcing of renewables, some of which I wrote or co-wrote with Tom Tanton. These articles referenced total economic costs (in the trillions of dollars in the U.S. alone); child/slave labor used to extract raw materials and then process/manufacture them into renewable energy systems; environmental aftermath, etc. The latter included the highly toxic waste streams associated with lithium extraction and processing on the typically poverty-stricken local communities where such operations are routinely conducted. “Environmental justice” for me but not for thee.

Seabed Strip Mining

Getting back to seabed strip-mining; it seems the assumed GHG reductions of this transition to renewables are significantly undermined by their own unique forms of environmental aftermath. Not only does it take massive amounts of fossil fuels to produce renewable energy systems, but the harder it gets to secure raw materials, the more GHG’s will be emitted for this transition to “clean energy.” As Professor Michaux puts it, “minerals become the new oil.” Or as Daniel Yergin titled the energy transformation: “Big Oil to Big Shovels.”

One case-in-point: a Real Clear Wire article dated November 18th 2022 titled Seabed Mining Will Help Break China’s Grip on Critical Minerals by Tom LaTourrette, senior physical scientist and interim director of the Community Health and Environmental Policy program at the RAND Corporation (a government funded think tank).  

The article makes the case for developing new resources for raw materials needed for the “clean energy transition” from seabed mining independent from China. I do not discount that such resource potential exists and can lessen the dominance of China in these markets, but I do question whether the cure is worse than the disease in terms of effectively mitigating a new kind of ostensible climatic apocalypse.

The GHG emissions related to seabed mining are a major penalty against the manufacturing of renewable energy systems and the subject requires further scientific research.  In addition to the GHG releases from the highly energy intensive nature of seabed mining and extraction, policy shouldn’t overlook the fact that seabed extraction requires acute disturbances of ocean sediments that represent the largest (by far) sequestration reservoir for carbon and methane on the planet. 

Such processes are akin to strip mining the ocean floor with largely unknown ecological impacts. Moreover, GHG emissions are but one form of environmental aftermath associated with seabed mining. A Google search for the term “environmental impacts of seabed mining” indicates the extent of such issues.  The following lists a choice few of these references:

  1. Deep-sea Mining FAQ
  2. Understanding the impact of deep-sea mining
  3. Deep-Sea Mining Could Help Meet Demand for Critical Minerals, But Also Comes with Serious Obstacles
  4. A Climate Solution Lies Deep Under the Ocean—But Accessing It Could Have Huge Environmental Costs
  5. Is deep-sea mining a cure for the climate crisis or a curse?

To summarize, oceans are a vital carbon sink, absorbing up to a quarter of global carbon emissions each year in their deep sediments. Strip-mining the ocean floor will likely upset this balance and harm ocean ecosystems in general.

There is not enough scientific evidence to date to conclusively assess the risks associated with deep ocean strip mining. What is known is that sediments that can be miles in depth, must be sucked up and then filtered to screen out large solids that may contain valuable minerals. Then, the filtered sediments are simply dumped overboard. This will likely release significant amounts of carbon and possibly methane (hydrates) too. Silt plumes may disrupt food chains necessary for much of the world’s creatures.

Much Energy Required, Front Pollution

The energy required for powering the mining equipment and the resulting emissions are also significant. Assuming the operators of seabed mining equipment are required to pay for the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), the cost effectiveness of the process may be negative. All for what?  To reduce “global lukewarming?”

Betting the farm on “clean energy” increasingly appears to be a bad bet both economically and environmentally. Unless of course, you are the government and are betting with “other people’s money” and get to grow your empire.

Are avid environmentalists willing to accept the ecological risks associated with deep-sea strip mining to attain their “green energy” transition agenda? “Out of sight is out of mind,” right? Apparently, they are willing to take such risks, as evidenced by their “eyes shut” approach to child slaves in mining. The following excerpt is from the fifth article in the above list. It further indicates the answer is yes:

We are living in a world where more and more people want to have the latest cellphones as well as electric vehicles and wind and solar power plants that will help in achieving net zero emissions. And these require metals like cobalt and manganese.

On its own, recycling these metals is unlikely to provide the ingredients we need for these devices, so mining is going to be important. On land it is associated with all sorts of problems and eventually there will be a push for deep-sea mining – and in the end it will happen.

Conclusion

I do not advocate that consumers should be deprived of material goods such as smart phones. Nor should they be deprived of affordable energy. I do advocate that, since all forms of energy have negative impacts, to make energy sustainable decision-making should be well informed, transparent via sound (vs. politicized) science–and consumers should be well-informed about both the pro’s and the con’s of such alternatives. 

Conversely, what we have is one-way bureaucratic command-and-control making poor decisions with funding derived from captive consumers and one-sided radical agendas. Accordingly, the environmental zealots demonize fossil fuels, while maintaining that only wind and solar are “green” enough to “save the planet.” This itself is greenwashing. It’s back to Robert Bradley’s “Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’”.

ADDENDUM

  1. Mark Krebs presentation to Cooler Heads about “Beneficial Electrification”
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Biden-Administration-policies-to-
    eliminate-personal-consumption-of-fossil-fuels-FINAL09JAN23-.pptx
  2. Robert Bryce’s “Power Hungry” Podcast: Simon Michaux
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QzSlXEEyw8

————

This concludes a two-part post (Part I yesterday).

Mark Krebs, a mechanical engineer and energy policy consultant, has been involved with energy efficiency design and program evaluation for more than thirty years. He has served as an expert witness in dozens of State energy efficiency proceedings, has been an advisor to DOE and has submitted scores of Federal energy-efficiency filings. His many MasterResource posts on natural gas vs. electricity and “Deep Decarbonization” federal policy can be found here. Mark’s first article was in Public Utilities Fortnightly, titled “It’s a War Out There: A Gas Man Questions Electric Efficiency” (December 1996). Recently retired from Spire Inc., Krebs has formed an energy policy consultancy (Gas Analytic & Advocacy Services) with other veteran energy analysts.

5 16 votes
Article Rating
27 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Leo Smith
January 13, 2023 12:03 am

An interesting view on all this, is that everyone on the Green/Left wants to change the world (better life for humanity), without changing the world (Eco-reactionary).

To date this seems to be accomplished by an exercise in mass delusions, in which people are told that massive progress is being made without affecting the environment.

If humanity is really that stupid, then it will not survive.

Last edited 25 days ago by Leo Smith
Bill Toland
Reply to  Leo Smith
January 13, 2023 1:26 am

From my interactions with climate alarmists, I can confirm that they really are that stupid.

Last edited 25 days ago by Bill Toland
Tom Johnson
Reply to  Bill Toland
January 13, 2023 5:10 am

This only goes to prove that forgoing children to ‘save the planet’ should be awarded a DOUBLE Darwin Award. Not only does it reduce the population, it eliminates the genes from only the stupid ones.

Scissor
Reply to  Leo Smith
January 13, 2023 4:53 am

Call me an optimist, one could hope that our delusionary programmers are smarter than the people.

Going back to my childhood, I recall that sea floor nodules were going to be mined in the future.

Yooper
Reply to  Scissor
January 13, 2023 6:09 am

Remember the Glomar Explorer?

B Zipperer
Reply to  Yooper
January 13, 2023 5:22 pm

Yooper
Yep, it found a very rare collection of metals on the seabed.
IIRC “Dimitri, have you lost another sub?”
from the movie “Hunt for Red October”

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Scissor
January 13, 2023 4:08 pm

There is push back coming from the environmental side.

Tony_G
Reply to  Leo Smith
January 13, 2023 8:29 am

If humanity is really that stupid, then it will not survive.

I’ve long had a theory that this is the reason we don’t see any evidence of intelligent life anywhere. If any exist, they reach a level of civilization that allows stupidity to flourish and end up knocking themselves back to the stone age.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Tony_G
January 13, 2023 10:03 am

evidence of intelligent life

Sensors searching for such are all aimed out into the cosmos.

Iain Reid
January 13, 2023 12:30 am

Dr Michaux, in his power point presentations, seems to fully believe that CO2 and Methane are the primary drivers of climate?
If the WEF has it’s way will the populace even be allowed to have access to all that electricity?

AndyHce
Reply to  Iain Reid
January 13, 2023 1:34 am

ALL that electricity? Little population needs little energy.

observa
January 13, 2023 1:36 am

 the environmental zealots demonize fossil fuels, while maintaining that only wind and solar are “green” enough to “save the planet.” 

Nah the poley bears are only threatened with extinction by oil wells not strip mining-
https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/world/game-changer-europe-s-biggest-ever-discovery-of-rare-metals-used-to-make-phones-and-cars/ar-AA16i2Bc
Get in the popcorn as this is gunna be like Dems explaining Sleepy Joe’s stash of classified docs.

Drake
Reply to  observa
January 13, 2023 11:39 am

Funny article, 10 to 15 years to begin mining. Only modern humans could take that long to do something so simple.

Must be 9 to 14 years to get permits, 1 year to start mining.

David Dibbell
January 13, 2023 3:53 am

Good article! It may take a few more years for this to become more obvious, but fossil fuel energy will turn out to have much better environmental outcomes than for wind, solar, battery storage, EV’s. (Or, I would rather say, equivalent to nuclear power or deep geothermal, but these do not readily provide fuels for mobility or high-temperature industrial processing.)

Save the planet with fossil fuels!
Serously.

Last edited 25 days ago by David Dibbell
David Dibbell
Reply to  David Dibbell
January 13, 2023 7:32 am

*Seriously.

ThinkingScientist
Reply to  David Dibbell
January 14, 2023 12:44 am

Well the oil industry did save the whales.

commieBob
January 13, 2023 4:08 am

The article makes the case for developing new resources for raw materials needed for the “clean energy transition” from seabed mining independent from China. I do not discount that such resource potential exists and can lessen the dominance of China in these markets, but I do question whether the cure is worse than the disease in terms of effectively mitigating a new kind of ostensible climatic apocalypse.

WUWT is teeming with geologists so somebody can straighten me out on this …

I always thought China’s dominance was because of processing. For instance, I thought that the USofA used to have viable rare earth mines but that the processing was too expensive on this side of the ocean.

Also, if I understand correctly, Elon is promising to reduce the amount of hard-to-get materials and give us a battery that lasts a million miles. Does anyone know if we should believe him?

spetzer86
Reply to  commieBob
January 13, 2023 4:59 am

I think it was the expense of the law suits trying to keep the mines and processing facilities open that was pushing the move to China.

Scissor
Reply to  commieBob
January 13, 2023 4:59 am

Perhaps it is not so much the difficulty in processing of rare earth minerals as it is the handling and disposition of resulting mining/processing wastes.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  commieBob
January 13, 2023 9:02 am

The processing of rare earths is a messy business involving lots of nasty chemicals/wastes etc. Environmental regulations in the West make this a costly excercise. China doesn’t care so much about the mess that gets left behind and so can produce the rare earths more cheaply than others.

Drake
Reply to  commieBob
January 13, 2023 11:48 am

When I first got to Nevada in the late 70s, there were rare earth mines in northern Nevada.

As best as I remember, being a daily reader of the local major newspaper, even until today, the mines were PRICED out of existence by China dumping product on the market and dropping the price of raw materials.

China, S Korea and Japan priced Pittsburg out of the steel market. I remember doing electrical work on the roof of a strip mall and noticing all the natural gas pipe running to each suite from the bank of meters was made in S Korea. This was about 1985 or so.

AND as I have mentioned before, the US cant even forge the reactor cores for our naval nuclear vessels, they are made in Ontario, Canada.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Drake
January 13, 2023 4:12 pm

According to Marc Morano, environmentalists played the Desert Tortoise card to shut down the Mountain Pass mine in California.

cuddywhiffer
January 13, 2023 7:05 am

Unfortunately, he bought into the ‘carbon dioxide is the source of global warming’ meme. With that belief, progress will be difficult and painful, with a lot of missteps.

rckkrgrd
January 13, 2023 7:12 am

I have no problem with EVs, or solar, wind, and other renewables. I have a real distaste for mandates, and subsidies beyond what applies to normal business start-ups.
I should be able to make my own choices on a level playing field.
I might feel a little different in the case of a clear and present danger. Global warming AKA climate change does not qualify. It is neither a clear danger or in any way a current one.

mleskovarsocalrrcom
January 13, 2023 8:54 am

Sweden just announced the discovery of the “world’s largest” (?) deposit of rare earth material in their far north region.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  mleskovarsocalrrcom
January 13, 2023 4:14 pm

Why did some bozo give this a down vote in an Open Thread, without explanation?

slowroll
January 13, 2023 10:57 am

It tells us something that the warmistas are trying to eliminate the sources of energy that have given humanity the largest improvement in the quality of life since the beginning of time. It tells me that they are truly watermelons, concealing their redness with a thin crust of green.

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights