It’s All About Materials

It’s All About Materials

The Geological Survey of Finland published a 1,000-page report establishing the amount of materials needed to decarbonize the world.

It determined how much material would be required for wind, solar, biofuels, and nuclear power to replace fossil fuels for generating electricity, and the amount of materials required to replace vehicles powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs) with battery-powered vehicles (BEVs).

The report contains a wealth of information.

It also acknowledged that it would take 10 – 30 years to develop a new mine, and that for every 1,000 deposits discovered only 1 or 2 deposits become viable mines.

Here is what the report said about Nickel, Lithium and Cobalt.

“In theory, there are enough global reserves of nickel and lithium if they were exclusively used just to produce li-Ion batteries for vehicles. 

    • To make just one battery for each vehicle in the global transport fleet (excluding Class 8 HCV trucks), it would require 48.2% of 2018 global nickel reserves, and 43.8% of global lithium reserves. 
    • There is also not enough cobalt in current reserves to meet this demand and more will need to be discovered. 
    • Lithium ion batteries could only have a useful working life of 8 to 10 years. So, 8-10 years after manufacture, new replacement batteries will be required, from either a mined mineral source, or a recycled metal source.

And here is what the report says about storage for wind and solar:

“A conservative estimate selected for this report was a 4-week power capacity buffer for solar and wind only to manage the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere.”

And the reports’ overall conclusion:

“In conclusion, this report suggests that replacing the existing fossil fuel powered system (oil, gas, and coal), using renewable technologies, such as solar panels or wind turbines, will not be possible for the entire global human population.”

Turning now to the book Clean Energy Crisis, which also reviewed the issue of material availability. It used a simpler and more transparent approach to reach the same conclusion as the Finnish 1,000-page report.

Using the total number of light vehicles, i.e., cars, sold in the United States, Europe, and China in 2019, and knowing the quantity of each material used in a Lithium-ion battery, it was possible to calculate the total amount of each material required for all the light vehicles sold in 2019 in the United States, Europe, and China, if they had been BEVs.

The resulting calculation showed there wouldn’t be sufficient quantities of key materials to be able to build the light vehicles in 2019 if they were BEVs. And since the number of vehicles will grow over the next few decades, this estimate is conservative.

It’s clearly impossible to mine enough materials for BEVs to replace ICE light vehicles.

While there may be enough Copper and Manganese, there will not be enough Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, or Graphite.

An earlier article showed how many new graphite mines would be needed. See

As for Cobalt, the largest Cobalt mine in the world is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, (DRC)  producing 58,000 tons of Cobalt. In this case with child labor. Using the largest Cobalt mine as a benchmark it’s necessary to build 9 new Cobalt mines, each capable of producing 58,000 tons of Cobalt annually.

Given how long it takes to build new mines for Graphite, Cobalt, Nickel and Lithium, it’s obvious there will not be enough materials to build all the batteries needed to replace ICE vehicles with BEVs.

While the Finnish study required 1,000 pages to reach the same conclusion as did Clean Energy Crisis, the easy to understand and readily available information in Clean Energy Crisis provides everyone with the facts in an easy to read book.

Clean Energy Crisis is available from Amazon.

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2 Replies to “It’s All About Materials”

  1. The prior version of this article at CFact was recommended on my Honest Climate Science and Energy blog as one of the best articles I read that day. This extended version is even better, so I’ve added it to today’s list of the best climate and energy articles I’ve read today.
    This list is now at 16 articles — I wake up early — and will be up to 24 in total today. I highlight up to 4 articles as my favorites each day. This is my favorite article so far today — keep up the good work. Always concise and from an engineer’s point of view.