Green Technology Highly Polluting
Summary: rare-earth magnets and lithium-ion batteries are the backbones of windmills with high pollution levels. Without breakthrough technology, "green" pollution will kill the planet.
I'll present the pollution problem and new materials I hope can be scaled and practical.
As a technologist, I've been dealing with electronics and related issues my entire adult life. I've seen things go from vacuum tubes to modern microcomputers.
Green energy, for too many, is treated more like a religion with little regard for what is involved. Or as a social cause to cover an extremist political ideology. Or simple greed.
Manufacturing high-tech devices and materials are very energy and material intensive. The exotic materials and metals are polluting to refine and extract, and the poisons and toxic waste are off-shored like everything else.
The actual cost to the environment and poor people is hidden from wealthy advocates of "saving the planet."
I strongly advocate for reducing pollution by building better, more durable, repairable products. That reduces energy and materials input, which is far better for the planet than burning trees for biofuels.
Simple deposit glass bottles and paper bags would cut way down on trash. I made money all the time as a kid collecting soda bottles.
Here in Virginia, they mandate 15% biofuels in power plants is a scam. They claim this creates jobs and saves the planet.
Utter nonsense. One operation setup in Southwest Virginia uses trees, cuts, and transports the processed wood with fossil fuels into wood pellets. Those pellets are transported to Russell County, Virginia, by fossil fuels burned in a power plant.
Just stupid higher costs, government waste. Green, whatever is hype, is about "feels good," "virtue signaling," and greed.
Leave our forests and croplands for birds and food production. Biofuels make no sense and never have. Millions are routinely wasted on failed pilot projects.
Real Cost of Windmills
Ref. Wind Turbines: the Bigger, the Better | Department of Energy https://www.energy.gov Aug 30, 2021
A 3MW direct drive turbine consumes close to 2 tonnes of rare earths permanent magnets. The wind turbine market is expected to account for approximately 30% of the global growth in the use of rare earths magnets from 2015 to 2025.
The average capacity of newly installed U.S. wind turbines in 2020 was 2.75 megawatts (MW), up 8% since 2019 and 284% since 1998–1999. In 2020, there was a sharp increase for turbines installed in the 2.75–3.5 MW range.
Fine and dandy, but the true costs are never seen.
"Overall, for every ton of rare earth, 2,000 tons of toxic waste are produced...China was only able to establish such dominance over the REE industry in large part because of lax environmental regulations. Low cost, high pollution methods enabled China to outpace competitors...Workers are also suffering from health complications due to exposure to these toxic chemicals. Worker safety is not prioritized or monitored in these mines..."
Part of this toxic waste is radioactive thorium.
Worse, rare earth metals mined in California are being sent to CHINA for refining!
China uses mainly dirty coal for its energy generation.
So with most windmills, we get ~4000 TONS of toxic waste just for the magnets alone. Copper mining/processing produces similar toxic waste of nickel discussed below.
Add tons of concrete, steel, aluminum, and plastic that require a lot of energy to manufacture.
Better Non-Polluting, Cheaper Magnets?
For over a decade, a new miracle magnet has been touted to replace rare-earth magnets. They are known as iron-nitride magnets that are stronger, cheaper, and use everyday materials.
As much as I want to see this work, I must be critical. Where are the magnets? Why are they not being used? What happened to the millions of public dollars financing their development?
What do they cost? Where can I buy them? Now news reports claim they are coming out in 2023. They have been saying this since 2011.
I find plenty of sales pitches but no magnets. The following company is behind this, so I hope it works out.
To quote a company named www.emobility-engineering.com :
Niron is working to perfect its magnet production using a powder metallurgy process...Funded in part by the US Department of Energy, the Chevrolet Bolt drivetrain demonstrator will use Niron's second-generation magnet material, and should be ready by the end of 2023. However, the company should be ready to provide samples of this material to other interested parties by late 2022.
In other words they have nothing I can find as of 2022.
Electric cars also use rare earth magnets in the motors, plus lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite.
"They (often children) don't use power tools. They don’t wear face masks and often no gloves. They do it because they live in one of the poorest countries in the world, and cobalt is valuable...These cobalt-laden chunks of rock leave the country destined for refineries in Europe and China, where they enter the complex supply chains of some of the largest technology and automotive firms...Scientists have recorded alarming radioactivity levels in some mining regions. Mining waste often pollutes rivers and drinking water. The dust from the pulverized rock is known to cause breathing problems..."
123,000 tons of cobalt were produced in 2016. (Wiki). Cobalt cost $71,000 per ton. (Reuters 2022.)
Nickel mining and processing are major polluters. Often mixed with other metals, arsenic, sulfur, etc. create, to quote,
"Plumes of sulfur dioxide choking the skies, churned earth blanketed in cancerous dust, rivers running blood-red – environmental campaigners have painted a grim picture of the nickel mines and smelters feeding the electric vehicle industry. The Philippines this year closed or suspended 17 nickel mines because of environmental concerns."
The slag produced from the process is also toxic. The nickel used must be high grade for lithium-ion batteries. The process to highly purify the nickel is also energy intensive.
Nickel along with chromium and iron is used in stainless steel and heating elements (nichrome), to quote,
"What Nichrome Wire used for? Nichrome Wire's properties make it ideal for use in toasters, hairdryers, storage heaters and even industrial furnaces."
2,250,000 tons of nickel and 26,000,000 tons of chromium were produced in 2016. (Wiki)
Nickel cost is volatile costing almost $33,000 per metric ton March 22, 2022, dropped to $21,482 per metric ton July 22, 2022.
The price October 31, 2018 was $12,314.91 per metric ton. Source: https://ycharts.com/indicators/nickel_price
Russia is one of the worlds largest nickel producers. They are not eco-friendly either. To quote another source and this is typical for most metal mining:
Nickel deposits are typically found in low-grade ores (~1-2% nickel) thus making it highly energy intensive to extract and refine the metal.
Mining 1 ton (2000 lbs) of nickel, not counting the energy used even at 2%, yields ~40 lbs nickel and 1,960 lbs toxic waste. Only half of the nickel is recovered.
Toxic nickel waste is also being dumped into the oceans.
“Less than 20 nickel mines worldwide use deep-sea disposal, but these new facilities would account for millions of tonnes of waste material each year. This method is typically used because it is cheaper.
Indonesia accounts for the largest supply of nickel. In 2019, the country banned exports of raw nickel ore to boost their domestic processing industry."
Indonesia is not eco-friendly.
Lithium fortunately is not toxic in small concentrations. It is a chemical cousin to sodium and potassium. There are efforts to replace lithium with sodium, but the technology is years off if ever.
Barron's claims 380,000 tons of lithium carbonate was produced in 2019. That market is dominated like rare earths by China the world's largest polluter with low environmental standards.
"A lithium-ion battery pack for a single electric car contains about 8 kilograms (kg) of lithium, according to figures from US Department of Energy science and engineering research center Argonne National Laboratory. July 20, 2022"
8kg is 17.6 pounds. Note lithium is a very lite metal that would float on oil or water. (Lithium is highly reactive don't expose to air or water.)
Lithium is expensive and energy intensive to refine to a metal.
"May 6, 2022 - The highest offer was placed at $59,720 per tonne increasing from $47,148 per tonne from the previous week.
This is lithium carbonate which is the form it is sold in. Forbes.com notes,
"But, in large part due to the demand for EVs, the price... (lithium is) ...now reaching over $40,000 per ton. This looks like a dire situation, because EV demand is only going up and some are now saying that production can’t scale because lithium prices will hold it back, along with surging prices of other minerals.
According to Trading Economics, cobalt has gone from $30,000 in 2020 to $80,000 per ton today and nickel has surged even more, relatively speaking, from $20,000 to $80,000 per ton."
The chemical formula for lithium carbonate is Li2CO3. The atomic mass of lithium is ~7, in this case ~14 with two atoms. Carbon has an atomic weight of 12. Oxygen has an atomic weight of ~16 times 3 atoms equals 48. Total atomic mass equals 74 of which only 14 is lithium or by atomic weight ~19%
Thus 1 ton or 2,000 lbs of lithium carbonate yields 380 lbs of pure lithium metal. That ~$211 per pound based on $80,000 per ton. I'm assuming short ton, they may refer to long ton which is 2,204 lbs.
Graphite is a form of carbon, the same thing used in pencils. As such is non-toxic other than breathing dust. Graphite mining is also dominated by China the king of pollution.
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