2021 was the year clean energy finally faced its mining problem
Source: The Verge
A drill rig at Controlled Thermal Resources’ (CTR) Hells Kitchen Lithium and Power project in Calipatria, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Demand for electric vehicles has shifted investments into high gear to extract lithium from geothermal wastewater around the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley. Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This year, the clean energy sector finally started grappling in earnest with one of its biggest challenges: how to get enough minerals to build solar panels, wind turbines, and big batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Figuring that out will be critical for escaping fossil-fueled ecological disaster. It’ll also be crucial for policymakers and industry to move forward without throwing certain communities under the bus in the transition to clean energy.
Instead of cutting through landscapes with oil and gas wells and pipelines, clean energy industries and their suppliers will open up the Earth to hunt for critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and copper. Compared to a gas-fired power plant, an onshore wind turbine requires nine times more mineral resources, according to the International Energy Agency. Building an EV requires six times more minerals than a gas-powered car.
It’s about time to scrutinize what that hunger for minerals might cause, given the recent boom in pledges from countries and companies alike to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Digging up the necessary minerals is already proving to be a minefield. Protests are popping up at proposed mines that no one really wants in their backyard. The conflicts that cropped up in 2021 are just the beginning of a challenging road ahead.