Mines, Minerals, and "Green" Energy: A Reality Check

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: The policy shift to significantly more wind and solar power and a large electric car fleet will require a huge amount of minerals and other materials that will have an environmental toll and increase U.S. import dependency. Putting U.S. energy security at risk, these are expansive supply chains largely controlled by China. As compared with hydrocarbons, “green” energy systems on average entail a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy. Indeed, no energy system is truly renewable because of the need for primary materials and the disposal of hardware.

“Green” energy advocates are doubling down on pressure to continue, or even increase, the use of wind power, solar power, and electric cars. However, no serious consideration of the broad environmental and supply-chain implications of these energy systems has been part of the discussion.

Many enthusiasts believe things that are not possible when it comes to the physics of fueling society, not least the magical belief that “clean-tech” energy can echo the velocity of the progress of digital technologies.

It cannot.

The reality is much different from the one being told: all energy-producing machinery must be fabricated from materials extracted from the earth. In short, no energy system is actually renewable, since all machines require the continual mining and processing of millions of tons of primary materials and the disposal of hardware that inevitably wears out.

In fact, as compared with hydrocarbons, green energy systems on average entail a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy. This means that any significant expansion of today’s modest level of green energy—currently less than 4% of the country’s total consumption (versus 56% from oil and gas)—will:

  • Create an unprecedented increase in global mining for needed minerals
  • Radically exacerbate existing environmental and labor challenges in emerging markets (where many mines are located)
  • Dramatically increase U.S. imports and the vulnerability of America’s energy supply chain

As recently as 1990, the U.S. was the world’s top producer of minerals. The country is now in seventh place.

With the U.S. having vast mineral reserves worth trillions of dollars, and relying on outside supply chains controlled by China, if we really want a green energy revolution, we had better start digging.

 

Read the full study here.

Feature Charticle

Materials Requirements to Build Different Energy Machines

MI

Findings: 

  • The switch to significantly more wind power, solar power, and electric cars will surge the need for minerals and other materials that the U.S. now imports from supply chains controlled by China. 
  • Any significant expansion of today’s modest level of "green" energy, currently less than 4% of total U.S. energy consumption versus 56% from oil and gas, will create an unprecedented increase in global mining for needed minerals, radically exacerbate existing environmental issues, and worsen labor challenges in emerging markets.
  • No energy system is actually “renewable,” since all machines require the continual mining and processing of millions of tons of primary materials and the disposal of hardware that inevitably wears out.
  • As compared to hydrocarbons, "green" energy systems on average entail a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy. 

Read the full study here.