Renewable energy could mean economic growth for mines and countries
Electric cars could increase needs for mined metals.
Photo: News Øresund – Johan Wessman via flickr
Recent years have seen an ever-increasing push toward renewable energy.
According to the Energy Information Administration, 14.9% of energy in the United States came from renewable energy in 2016–the combined effort of water, wind, organic, solar, and geothermal energy sources.
One might think that this would spell trouble for the mining industry, which has long earned its bread from digging carbon-burning sources of energy from the earth. Instead, it actually opens doors. While non-renewable energy sources usually hold their own energy (for example the way burning coal itself produces energy), renewable energy sources require something to hold the energy they produce.
Electric storage batteries require metals such as aluminum, cobalt, iron, lead, lithium, manganese, and nickel. According to a report by World Bank, should countries do their part to keep the average annual global temperature increase at or under 2°C, demand for these metals could increase by more than 1,000%.
In addition, there would be strong demand for copper, silver, steel, zinc, and rare earth minerals such as indium, molybdenum, and neodymium (which is commonly found in magnets). Should hydrogen-fueled cars such as Toyota’s Mirai, Honda’s Clarity, or Hyundai’s ix35 FCEV take off, platinum will see an increase as well.
Countries all over the world would have a unique opportunity to grow their economies from the clean energy initiative.
World Bank’s Riccardo Puliti stated that countries that strategized and invested appropriately would see the biggest benefit. Those countries will have developed the capacity and infrastructure needed to mine these minerals and metals sustainably.
Indeed, a number of countries would shine more readily with certain metals over others, given the proper investment. The United States has the same opportunity. The state of Nevada alone is home to around thirty metal mines, including the country’s only lithium mine. Proper investment in these areas could bring ample economical growth to the United States in the name of renewable energy.
Investment isn’t the only key.
Renewable energy methods are still under research. Only recently, for example, did hydrogen-powered cars begin to emerge, after mass-produced electric cars technologies had been in the works for years. Ultimately, the demand for critical metals will depend not only on how much the world prepares, but also on which technologies stick. As the World Bank report states, “demand for metals will also be dependent on which wind, solar, and battery technologies will win out in the marketplace.”
Change can be difficult, and there is often worry about what may happen to existing mining of carbon-based energy sources should the global community commit to clean energy. Should that happen, and should the technologies of that time require it, a healthy pivot in focus and our collective investment in renewable energy would present opportunities that should not be ignored.
- Header Photo: Mirny in Yakutia by Staselnik
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