Why I am still anti Lithium and EV

13 04 2017

Originally published at Alice Friedemann’s excellent blog, energyskeptic.com/

[ This is by far the best paper explaining lithium reserves, lithium chemistry, recycling, political implications, and more. I’ve left out the charts, graphs, references, and much of the text, to see them go to the original paper in the link below.

I personally don’t think that electric cars will ever be viable because battery development is too slow, and given that oil can be hundreds of times more energy dense than a battery of the same weight, the laws of physics will prevent them from ever achieving enough energy density — see my post at Who Killed the Electric Car. (and also my more-up-to-date version and utility-scale energy storage batteries in my book When Trains Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation.  Some excerpts from my book about lithium and energy storage:

Li-ion energy storage batteries are more expensive than PbA or NaS, can be charged and discharged only a discrete number of times, can fail or lose capacity if overheated, and the cost of preventing overheating is expensive. Lithium does not grow on trees. The amount of lithium needed for utility-scale storage is likely to deplete known resources (Vazquez, S., et al. 2010. Energy storage systems for transport and grid applications. IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics 57(12): 3884).

To provide enough energy for 1 day of storage for the United states, li-ion batteries would cost $11.9 trillion dollars, take up 345 square miles and weigh 74 million tons (DOE/EPRI. 2013. Electricity storage handbook in collaboration with NRECA. USA: Sandia National Laboratories and Electric Power Research Institute) 

Barnhart et al. (2013) looked at how much materials and energy it would take to make batteries that could store up to 12 hours of average daily world power demand, 25.3 TWh. Eighteen months of world-wide primary energy production would be needed to mine and manufacture these batteries, and material production limits were reached for many minerals even when energy storage devices got all of the world’s production (with zinc, sodium, and sulfur being the exceptions). Annual production by mass would have to double for lead, triple for lithium, and go up by a factor of 10 or more for cobalt and vanadium, driving up prices. The best to worst in terms of material availability are: CAES, NaS, ZnBr, PbA, PHS, Li-ion, and VRB (Barnhart, C., et al. 2013. On the importance of reducing the energetic and material demands of electrical energy storage. Energy Environment Science 2013(6): 1083–1092). ]

Vikström, H., Davidsson, S., Höök, M. 2013. Lithium availability and future production outlooks. Applied Energy, 110(10): 252-266. 28 pages

 

Abstract

Lithium is a highly interesting metal, in part due to the increasing interest in lithium-ion batteries. Several recent studies have used different methods to estimate whether the lithium production can meet an increasing demand, especially from the transport sector, where lithium-ion batteries are the most likely technology for electric cars. The reserve and resource estimates of lithium vary greatly between different studies and the question whether the annual production rates of lithium can meet a growing demand is seldom adequately explained. This study presents a review and compilation of recent estimates of quantities of lithium available for exploitation and discusses the uncertainty and differences between these estimates. Also, mathematical curve fitting models are used to estimate possible future annual production rates. This estimation of possible production rates are compared to a potential increased demand of lithium if the International Energy Agency’s Blue Map Scenarios are fulfilled regarding electrification of the car fleet. We find that the availability of lithium could in fact be a problem for fulfilling this scenario if lithium-ion batteries are to be used. This indicates that other battery technologies might have to be implemented for enabling an electrification of road transports.

Highlights:

  • Review of reserves, resources and key properties of 112 lithium deposits
  • Discussions of widely diverging results from recent lithium supply estimates
  • Forecasting future lithium production by resource-constrained models
  • Exploring implications for future deployment of electric cars

Introduction

Global transportation mainly relies on one single fossil resource, namely petroleum, which supplies 95% of the total energy [1]. In fact, about 62% of all world oil consumption takes place in the transport sector [2]. Oil prices have oscillated dramatically over the last few years, and the price of oil reached $100 per barrel in January 2008, before skyrocketing to nearly $150/barrel in July 2008. A dramatic price collapse followed in late 2008, but oil prices have at present time returned to over $100/barrel. Also, peak oil concerns, resulting in imminent oil production limitations, have been voiced by various studies [3–6].

It has been found that continued oil dependence is environmentally, economically and socially unsustainable [7].

The price uncertainty and decreasing supply might result in severe challenges for different transporters. Nygren et al. [8] showed that even the most optimistic oil production forecasts implied pessimistic futures for the aviation industry. Curtis [9] found that globalization may be undermined by peak oil’s effect on transportation costs and reliability of freight.

Barely 2% of the world electricity is used by transportation [2], where most of this is made up by trains, trams, and trolley buses.

A high future demand of Li for battery applications may arise if society choses to employ Li-ion technologies for a decarbonization of the road transport sector.

Batteries are at present time the second most common use, but are increasing rapidly as the use of li-ion batteries for portable electronics [12], as well as electric and hybrid cars, are becoming more frequent. For example, the lithium consumption for batteries in the U.S increased with 194 % from 2005 to 2010 [12]. Relatively few academic studies have focused on the very abundance of raw materials needed to supply a potential increase in Li demand from transport sector [13]. Lithium demand is growing and it is important to investigate whether this could lead to a shortfall in the future.

 

[My comment: utility scale energy storage batteries in commercial production are lithium, and if this continues, this sector alone would quickly consume all available lithium supplies: see Barnhart, C., et al. 2013. On the importance of reducing the energetic and material demands of electrical energy storage. Energy Environment Science 2013(6): 1083–1092.]

Aim of this study

Recently, a number of studies have investigated future supply prospects for lithium [13–16]. However, these studies reach widely different results in terms of available quantities, possible production trajectories, as well as expected future demand. The most striking difference is perhaps the widely different estimates for available resources and reserves, where different numbers of deposits are included and different types of resources are assessed. It has been suggested that mineral resources will be a future constraint for society [17], but a great deal of this debate is often spent on the concept of geological availability, which can be presented as the size of the tank. What is frequently not reflected upon is that society can only use the quantities that can be extracted at a certain pace and be delivered to consumers by mining operations, which can be described as the tap. The key concept here is that the size of the tank and the size of the tap are two fundamentally different things.

This study attempts to present a comprehensive review of known lithium deposits and their estimated quantities of lithium available for exploitation and discuss the uncertainty and differences among published studies, in order to bring clarity to the subject. The estimated reserves are then used as a constraint in a model of possible future production of lithium and the results of the model are compared to possible future demand from an electrification of the car fleet. The forecasts are based on open, public data and should be used for estimating long term growth and trends. This is not a substitute for economical short-term prognoses, but rather a complementary vision.

Data sources

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been particularly useful for obtaining production data series, but also the Swedish Geological Survey (SGU) and the British Geological Survey (BGS) deserves honourable mention for providing useful material. Kushnir and Sandén [18], Tahil [19, 20] along with many other recent lithium works have also been useful. Kesler et al. [21] helped to provide a broad overview of general lithium geology.

Information on individual lithium deposits has been compiled from numerous sources, primarily building on the tables found in [13–16]. In addition, several specialized articles about individual deposits have been used, for instance [22–26]. Public industry reports and annual yearbooks from mining operators and lithium producers, such as SQM [27], Roskill [28] or Talison Lithium [29], also helped to create a holistic data base.

In this study, we collected information on global lithium deposits. Country of occurrence, deposit type, main mineral, and lithium content were gathered as well as published estimates for reserves and resources. Some deposits had detailed data available for all parameters, while others had very little information available. Widely diverging estimates for reserves and resources could sometimes be found for the same deposit, and in such cases the full interval between the minimum and maximum estimates is presented. Deposits without reserve or resource estimates are included in the data set, but do not contribute to the total. Only available data and information that could be found in the public and academic spheres were compiled in this study. It is likely that undisclosed and/or proprietary data could contribute to the world’s lithium volume but due to data availability no conclusions on to which extent could be made.

Geological overview

In order to properly estimate global lithium availability, and a feasible reserve estimate for modelling future production, this section presents an overview of lithium geology. Lithium is named after the Greek word “lithos” meaning “stone”, represented by the symbol Li and has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions, lithium is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element. Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali group of elements.

As all alkali elements, Li is highly reactive and flammable. For this reason, it never occurs freely in nature and only appears in compounds, usually ionic compounds. The nuclear properties of Li are peculiar since its nuclei verge on instability and two stable isotopes have among the lowest binding energies per nucleon of all stable nuclides. Due to this nuclear instability, lithium is less abundant in the solar system than 25 of the first 32 chemical elements [30].

Resources and reserves

An important frequent shortcoming in the discussion on availability of lithium is the lack of proper terminology and standardized concepts for assessing the available amounts of lithium. Published studies talk about “reserves”, “resources”, “recoverable resources”, “broad-based reserves”, “in-situ resources”, and “reserve base”.

A wide range of reporting systems minerals exist, such as NI 43-101, USGS, Crirsco, SAMREC and the JORC code, and further discussion and references concerning this can be found in Vikström [31]. Definitions and classifications used are often similar, but not always consistent, adding to the confusion when aggregating data. Consistent definitions may be used in individual studies, but frequently figures from different methodologies are combined as there is no universal and standardized framework. In essence, published literature is a jumble of inconsistent figures. If one does not know what the numbers really mean, they are not simply useless – they are worse, since they tend to mislead.

Broadly speaking, resources are generally defined as the geologically assured quantity that is available for exploitation, while reserves are the quantity that is exploitable with current technical and socioeconomic conditions. The reserves are what are important for production, while resources are largely an academic figure with little relevance for real supply. For example, usually less than one tenth of the coal resources are considered economically recoverable [32, 33]. Kesler et al. [21] stress that available resources needs to be converted into reserves before they can be produced and used by society. Still, some analysts seemingly use the terms ‘resources’ and ‘reserves’ synonymously.

It should be noted that the actual reserves are dynamic and vary depending on many factors such as the available technology, economic demand, political issues and social factors. Technological improvements may increase reserves by opening new deposit types for exploitation or by lowering production costs. Deposits that have been mined for some time can increase or decrease their reserves due to difficulties with determining the ore grade and tonnage in advance [34]. Depletion and decreasing concentrations may increase recovery costs, thus lowering reserves. Declining demand and prices may also reduce reserves, while rising prices or demand may increase them. Political decisions, legal issues or environmental policies may prohibit exploitation of certain deposits, despite the fact significant resources may be available.

For lithium, resource/reserve classifications were typically developed for solid ore deposits. However, brine – presently the main lithium source – is a fluid and commonly used definitions can be difficult to apply due to pumping complications and varying concentrations.

Houston et al. [35] describes the problem in detail and suggest a change in NI 43-101 to account for these problems. If better standards were available for brines then estimations could be more reliable and accurate, as discussed in Kushnir and Sandén [18].

Environmental aspects and policy changes can also significantly influence recoverability. Introduction of clean air requirements and public resistance to surface mining in the USA played a major role in the decreasing coal reserves [33].

It is entirely possible that public outcries against surface mining or concerns for the environment in lithium producing will lead to restrictions that affect the reserves. As an example, the water consumption of brine production is very high and Tahil [19] estimates that brine operations consume 65% of the fresh water in the Salar de Atacama region. [ The Atacama only gets 0.6 inches of rain a year ]

Regarding future developments of recoverability, Fasel and Tran [36] monotonously assumes that increasing lithium demand will result in more reserves being found as prices rise. So called cumulative availability curves are sometimes used to estimate how reserves will change with changing prices, displaying the estimated amount of resource against the average unit cost ranked from lowest to highest cost. This method is used by Yaksic and Tilton [14] to address lithium availability. This concept has its merits for describing theoretical availability, but the fact that the concept is based on average cost, not marginal cost, has been described as a major weakness, making cumulative availability curves disregard the real cost structure and has little – if any – relevance for future price and production rate [37].

Production and occurrence of lithium

The high reactivity of lithium makes it geochemistry complex and interesting. Lithium-minerals are generally formed in magmatic processes. The small ionic size makes it difficult for lithium to be included in early stages of mineral crystallization, and resultantly lithium remains in the molten parts where it gets enriched until it can be solidified in the final stages [38].

At present, over 120 lithium-containing minerals are known, but few of them contain high concentrations or are frequently occurring. Lithium can also be found in naturally occurring salt solutions as brines in dry salt lake environments. Compared to the fairly large number of lithium mineral and brine deposits, few of them are of actual or potential commercial value. Many are very small, while others are too low in grade [39]. This chapter will briefly review the properties of those deposits and present a compilation of the known deposits.

Lithium mineral deposits

Lithium extraction from minerals is primarily done with minerals occurring in pegmatite formations. However, pegmatite is rather challenging to exploit due to its hardness in conjunction with generally problematic access to the belt-like deposits they usually occur in. Table 1 describes some typical lithium-bearing minerals and their characteristics. Australia is currently the world’s largest producer of lithium from minerals, mainly from spodumene [39]. Petalite is commonly used for glass manufacture due to its high iron content, while lepidolite was earlier used as a lithium source but presently has lost its importance due to high fluorine content. Exploitation must generally be tailor-made for a certain mineral as they differ quite significantly in chemical composition, hardness and other properties[13]. Table 2 presents some mineral deposits and their properties.

Recovery rates for mining typically range from 60 to 70%, although significant treatment is required for transforming the produced Li into a marketable form. For example, [40, 41] describe how lithium are produced from spodumene. The costs of acid, soda ash, and energy are a very significant part of the total production cost but may be partially alleviated by the market demand for the sodium sulphate by-products.

Lithium brine deposits

Lithium can also be found in salt lake brines that have high concentrations of mineral salts. Such brines can be reachable directly from the surface or deep underground in saline expanses located in very dry regions that allow salts to persist. High concentration lithium brine is mainly found in high altitude locations such as the Andes and south-western China. Chile, the world largest lithium producer, derives most of the production from brines located at the large salt flat of Salar de Atacama.

Lithium has similar ionic properties as magnesium since their ionic size is nearly identical; making is difficult to separate lithium from magnesium. A low Mg/Li ratio in brine means that it is easier, and therefore more economical to extract lithium.

Lithium Market Research SISThe ratio differs significant at currently producing brine deposits and range from less than 1 to over 30 [14]. The lithium concentration in known brine deposits is usually quite low and range from 0.017–0.15% with significant variability among the known deposits in the world (Table 3).

Exploitation of lithium brines starts with the brine being pumped from the ground into evaporation ponds. The actual evaporation is enabled by incoming solar radiation, so it is desirable for the operation to be located in sunny areas with low annual precipitation rate. The net evaporation rate determines the area of the required ponds [42].

It can easily take between one and two years before the final product is ready to be used, and even longer in cold and rainy areas.

The long timescales required for production can make brine deposits ill fit for sudden changes in demand. Table 3. Properties of known brine deposits in the world.

Lithium from sea water

The world’s oceans contain a wide number of metals, such as gold, lithium or uranium, dispersed at low concentrations. The mass of the world’s oceans is approximately 1.35*1012 Mt [47], making vast amounts of theoretical resources seemingly available. Eckhardt [48] and Fasel and Tran [36] announce that more than 2,000,000 Mt lithium is available from the seas, essentially making it an “unlimited” source given its geological abundance. Tahil [20] also notes that oceans have been proclaimed as an unlimited Li-source since the 1970s.

The world’s oceans and some highly saline lakes do in fact contain very large quantities of lithium, but if it will become practical and economical to produce lithium from this source is highly questionable.

For example, consider gold in sea water – in total nearly 7,000,000 Mt. This is an enormous amount compared to the cumulative world production of 0.17 Mt accumulated since the dawn of civilization [49]. There are also several technical options available for gold extraction. However, the average gold concentration range from <0.001 to 0.005 ppb [50]. This means that one km3 of sea water would give only 5.5 kg of gold. The gold is simply too dilute to be viable for commercial extraction and it is not surprising that all attempts to achieve success – including those of the Nobel laureate Fritz Haber – has failed to date.

Average lithium concentration in the oceans has been estimated to 0.17 ppm [14, 36]. Kushnir and Sandén [18] argue that it is theoretically possible to use a wide range of advanced technologies to extract lithium from seawater – just like the case for gold. However, no convincing methods have been demonstrated this far. A small scale Japanese experiment managed to produce 750 g of lithium metal from processing 4,200 m3 water with a recovery efficiency of 19.7% [36]. This approach has been described in more detail by others [51–53].

Grosjean et al. [13] points to the fact that even after decades of improvement, recovery from seawater is still more than 10–30 times more costly than production from pegmatites and brines. It is evident that huge quantities of water would have to be processed to produce any significant amounts of lithium. Bardi [54] presents theoretical calculations on this, stating that a production volume of lithium comparable to present world production (~25 kt annually) would require 1.5*103 TWh of electrical energy for pumping through separation membranes in addition to colossal volumes of seawater. Furthermore, Tahil [20] estimated that a seawater processing flow equivalent to the average discharge of the River Nile – 300,000,000 m3/day or over 22 times the global petroleum industry flow of 85 million barrels per day – would only give 62 tons of lithium per day or roughly 20 kt per year. Furthermore, a significant amount of fresh water and hydrochloric acid will be required to flush out unwanted minerals (Mg, K, etc.) and extract lithium from the adsorption columns [20].

In summary, extraction from seawater appears not feasible and not something that should be considered viable in practice, at least not in the near future.

Estimated lithium availability

From data compilation and analysis of 112 deposits, this study concludes that 15 Mt areImage result for lithium reasonable as a reference case for the global reserves in the near and medium term. 30 Mt is seen as a high case estimate for available lithium reserves and this number is also found in the upper range in literature. These two estimates are used as constraints in the models of future production in this study.

Estimates on world reserves and resources vary significantly among published studies. One main reason for this is likely the fact that different deposits, as well as different number of deposits, are aggregated in different studies. Many studies, such as the ones presented by the USGS, do not give explicitly state the number of deposits included and just presents aggregated figures on a national level. Even when the number and which deposits that have been used are specified, analysts can arrive to wide different estimates (Table 5). It should be noted that a trend towards increasing reserves and resources with time can generally be found, in particularly in USGS assessments. Early reports, such as Evans [56] or USGS [59], excluded several countries from the reserve estimates due to a lack of available information. This was mitigated in USGS [73] when reserves estimates for Argentina, Australia, and Chile have been revised based on new information from governmental and industry sources. However, there are still relatively few assessments on reserves, in particular for Russia, and it is concluded that much future work is required to handle this shortcoming. Gruber et al. [16] noted that 83% of global lithium resources can be found in six brine, two pegmatite and two sedimentary deposits. From our compilation, it can also be found that the distribution of global lithium reserves and resources are very uneven.

Three quarters of everything can typically be found in the ten largest deposits (Figure 1 and 2). USGS [12] pinpoint that 85% of the global reserves are situated in Chile and China (Figure 3) and that Chile and Australia accounted for 70 % of the world production of 28,100 tonnes in 2011 [12]. From Table 2 and 3, one can note a significant spread in estimated reserves and resources for the deposits. This divergence is much smaller for minerals (5.6–8.2 Mt) than for brines (6.5– 29.4 Mt), probably resulting from the difficulty associated with estimating brine accumulations consistently. Evans [75] also points to the problem of using these frameworks on brine deposits, which are fundamentally different from solid ores. Table 5. Comparison of published lithium assessments.

Recycling

One thing that may or may not have a large implication for future production is recycling. The projections presented in the production model of this study describe production of lithium from virgin materials. The total production of lithium could potentially increase significantly if high rates of recycling were implemented of the used lithium, which is mentioned in many studies.

USGS [12] state that recycling of lithium has been insignificant historically, but that it is increasing as the use of lithium for batteries are growing. However, the recycling of lithium from batteries is still more or less non-existent, with a collection rate of used Li-ion batteries of only about 3% [93]. When the Li-ion batteries are in fact recycled, it is usually not the lithium that is recycled, but other more precious metals such as cobalt [18].

If this will change in the future is uncertain and highly dependent on future metal prices, but it is still commonly argued for and assumed that the recycling of lithium will grow significantly, very soon. Goonan [94] claims that recycling rates will increase from vehicle batteries in vehicles since such recycling systems already exist for lead-acid batteries. Kushnir and Sandén [18] argue that large automotive batteries will be technically easier to recycle than smaller batteries and also claims that economies of scale will emerge when the use for batteries for vehicles increase. According to the IEA [95], full recycling systems are projected to be in place sometime between 2020 and 2030. Similar assumptions are made by more or less all studies dealing with future lithium production and use for electric vehicles and Kushnir and Sandén [18] state that it is commonly assumed that recycling will take place, enabling recycled lithium to make up for a big part of the demand but also conclude that the future recycling rate is highly uncertain.

There are several reasons to question the probability of high recycling shares for Li-ion batteries. Kushnir and Sandén [18] state that lithium recycling economy is currently not good and claims that the economic conditions could decrease even more in the future. Sullivan and Gaines [96] argue that the Li-ion battery chemistry is complex and still evolving, thus making it difficult for the industry to develop profitable pathways. Georgi-Maschler [93] highlight that two established recycling processes exist for recycling Li-ion batteries, but one of them lose most of the lithium in the process of recovering the other valuable metals. Ziemann et al. [97] states that lithium recovery from rechargeable batteries is not efficient at present time, mainly due to the low lithium content of around 2% and the rather low price of lithium.

In this study we choose not to include recycling in the projected future supply for several reasons. In a short perspective, looking towards 2015-2020, it cannot be considered likely that any considerable amount of lithium will be recycled from batteries since it is currently not economical to do so and no proven methods to do it on a large scale industrial level appear to exist. If it becomes economical to recycle lithium from batteries it will take time to build the capacity for the recycling to take place. Also, the battery lifetime is often projected to be 10 years or more, and to expect any significant amounts of lithium to be recycled within this period of time is simply not realistic for that reason either.

The recycling capacity is expected to be far from reaching significant levels before 2025 according to Wanger [92]. It is also important to separate the recycling rates of products to the recycled content in new products. Even if a percentage of the product is recycled at the end of the life cycle, this is no guarantee that the use of recycled content in new products will be as high. The use of Li-ion batteries is projected to grow fast. If the growth happens linearly, and high recycling rates are accomplished, recycling could start constituting a large part of the lithium demand, but if the growth happens exponentially, recycling can never keep up with the growth that has occurred during the 10 years lag during the battery lifetime. In a longer time perspective, the inclusion of recycling could be argued for with expected technological refinement, but certainties regarding technology development are highly uncertain. Still, most studies include recycling as a major part of future lithium production, which can have very large implications on the results and conclusions drawn. Kushnir and Sandén [18] suggest that an 80% lithium recovery rate is achievable over a medium time frame. The scenarios in Gruber et al. [16], assumes recycling participation rates of 90 %, 96% and 100%. In their scenario using the highest assumed recycling, the quantities of lithium needed to be mined are decreased to only about 37% of the demand. Wanger [92] looks at a shorter time perspective and estimates that a 40% or 100% recycling rate would reduce the lithium consumption with 10% or 25% respectively by 2030. Mohr et al. [15] assume that the recycling rate starts at 0%, approaching a limit of 80%, resulting in recycled lithium making up significant parts of production, but only several decades into the future. IEA [95] projects that full recycling systems will be in place around 2020–2030.

The impact of assumed recycling rates can indeed be very significant, and the use of this should be handled with care and be well motivated.

Future demand for lithium

To estimate whether the projected future production levels will be sufficient, it isImage result for lithiuminteresting to compare possible production levels with potential future demand. The use of lithium is currently dominated by use for ceramics and glass closely followed by batteries. The current lithium demand for different markets can be seen in Figure 7. USGS [12] state that the lithium use in batteries have grown significantly in recent years as the use of lithium batteries in portable electronics have become increasingly common. Figure 7 (Ceramics and glass 29%, Batteries 27%, Other uses 16%, Lubrication greases 12%, Continuous casting 5%, Air treatment 4%, Polymers 3%, Primary aluminum production 2%, Pharmaceuticals 2%).

Global lithium demand for different end-use markets. Source: USGS [12] USGS [12] state that the total lithium consumption in 2011 was between 22,500 and 24,500 tonnes. This is often projected to grow, especially as the use of Li-ion batteries for electric cars could potentially increase demand significantly. This study presents a simple example of possible future demand of lithium, assuming a constant demand for other uses and demand for electric cars to grow according to a scenario of future sales of

electric cars. The current car fleet consists of about 600 million passenger cars. The sale of new passenger cars in 2011 was about 60 million cars [98]. This existing vehicle park is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels, primarily gasoline and diesel, but also natural gas to a smaller extent. Increasing oil prices, concerns about a possible peak in oil production and problems with anthropogenic global warming makes it desirable to move away from fossil energy dependence. As a mitigation and pathway to a fossil-fuel free mobility, cars running partially or totally on electrical energy are commonly proposed. This includes electric vehicles (EVs), hybrid vehicles (HEVs) and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid vehicles), all on the verge of large-scale commercialization and implementation. IEA [99] concluded that a total of 1.5 million hybrid and electric vehicles had been sold worldwide between the year 2000 and 2010.

Both the expected number of cars as well as the amount of lithium required per vehicle is important. As can be seen from Table 9, the estimates of lithium demand for PEHV and EVs differ significantly between studies. Also, some studies do not differentiate between different technical options and only gives a single Li-consumption estimate for an “electric vehicle”, for instance the 3 kg/car found by Mohr et al. [15]. The mean values from Table 9 are found to be 4.9 kg for an EV and 1.9 kg for a PHEV.

As the battery size determines the vehicles range, it is likely that the range will continue to increase in the future, which could increase the lithium demand. On the other hand, it is also reasonable to assume that the technology will improve, thus reducing the lithium requirements. In this study a lithium demand of 160 g Li/kWh is assumed, an assumption discussed in detail by Kushnir and Sandén [18]. It is then assumed that typical batteries capacities will be 9 kWh in a PHEV and 25 kWh in an EV. This gives a resulting lithium requirement of 1.4 kg for a PHEV and 4 kg for an EV, which is used as an estimate in this study. Many current electrified cars have a lower capacity than 24 kWh, but to become more attractive to consumers the range of the vehicles will likely have to increase, creating a need for larger batteries [104]. It should be added that the values used are at the lower end compared to other assessments (Table 9) and should most likely not be seen as overestimates future lithium requirements.

Figure 8 shows the span of the different production forecasts up until 2050 made in this study, together with an estimated demand based on the demand staying constant on the high estimate of 2010– 2011, adding an estimated demand created by the electric car projections done by IEA [101]. This is a very simplistic estimation future demand, but compared to the production projections it indicates that lithium availability should not be automatically disregarded as a potential issue for future electric car production. The amount of electric cars could very well be smaller or larger that this scenario, but the scenario used does not assume a complete electrification of the car fleet by 2050 and such scenarios would mean even larger demand of lithium. It is likely that lithium demand for other uses will also grow in the coming decades, why total demand might increase more that indicated here. This study does not attempt to estimate the evolution of demand for other uses, and the demand estimate for other uses can be considered a conservative one. Figure 8. The total lithium demand of a constant current lithium demand combined with growth of electric vehicles according to IEA’s blue map scenario [101] assuming a demand for 1.4 kg of lithium per PHEV and 4.0 kg per EV. The span of forecasted production levels range from the base case Gompertz model

Concluding discussion

Potential future production of lithium was modeled with three different production curves. In a short perspective, until 2015–2020, the three models do not differ much, but in the longer perspective the Richards and Logistic curves show a growth at a vastly higher pace than the Gompertz curve. The Richards model gives the best fit to the historic data, and lies in between the other two and might be the most likely development. A faster growth than the logistic model cannot be ruled out, but should be considered unlikely, since it usually mimics plausible free market exploitation [89]. Other factors, such as decreased lithium concentration in mined material, economics, political and environmental problems could also limit production.

It can be debated whether this kind of forecasting should be used for short term projections, and the actual production in coming years can very well differ from our models, but it does at least indicate that lithium availability could be a potential problem in the coming decades. In a longer time perspective up to 2050, the projected lithium demand for alternative vehicles far exceeds our most optimistic production prognoses.

If 100 million alternative vehicles, as projected in IEA [101] are produced annually using lithium battery technology, the lithium reserves would be exhausted in just a few years, even if the production could be cranked up faster than the models in this study. This indicates that it is important that other battery technologies should be investigated as well.

It should be added that these projections do not consider potential recycling of the lithium, which is discussed further earlier in this paper. On the other hand, it appears it is highly unlikely that recycling will become common as soon as 2020, while total demand appears to potentially rise over maximum production around that date. If, when, and to what extent recycling will take place is hard to predict, although it appears more likely that high recycling rates will take place in electric cars than other uses.

Much could change before 2050. The spread between the different production curves are much larger and it is hard to estimate what happens with technology over such a long time frame. However, the Blue Map Scenario would in fact create a demand of lithium that is higher than the peak production of the logistic curve for the standard case, and close to the peak production in the high URR case.

Improved efficiency can decrease the lithium demand in the batteries, but as Kushnir and Sandén [18] point out, there is a minimum amount of lithium required tied to the cell voltage and chemistry of the battery.

IEA [95] acknowledges that technologies that are not available today must be developed to reach the Blue Map scenarios and that technology development is uncertain. This does not quite coincide with other studies claiming that lithium availability will not be a problem for production of electric cars in the future.

It is also possible that other uses will raise the demand for lithium even further. One industry that in a longer time perspective could potentially increase the demand for lithium is fusion, where lithium is used to breed tritium in the reactors. If fusion were commercialized, which currently seems highly uncertain, it would demand large volumes of lithium [36].

Further problems with the lithium industry are that the production and reserves are situated in a few countries (USGS [12] in Mt: Chile 7.5, China 3.5, Australia 0.97, Argentina 0.85, Other 0.135]. One can also note that most of the lithium is concentrated to a fairly small amount of deposits, nearly 50% of both reserves and resources can be found in Salar de Atacama alone. Kesler et al. [21] note that Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and China hold 70% of the brine deposits. Grosjean et al. [13] even points to the ABC triangle (i.e. Argentina, Bolivia and Chile) and its control of well over 40% of the world resources and raises concern for resource nationalism and monopolistic behavior. Even though Bolivia has large resources, there are many political and technical problems, such as transportation and limited amount of available fresh water, in need of solutions [18].

Regardless of global resource size, the high concentration of reserves and production to very few countries is not something that bode well for future supplies. The world is currently largely dependent on OPEC for oil, and that creates possibilities of political conflicts. The lithium reserves are situated in mainly two countries. It could be considered problematic for countries like the US to be dependent on Bolivia, Chile and Argentina for political reasons [105]. Abell and Oppenheimer [105] discuss the absurdity in switching from dependence to dependence since resources are finite. Also, Kushnir and Sandén [18] discusses the problems with being dependent on a few producers, if a problem unexpectedly occurs at the production site it may not be possible to continue the production and the demand cannot be satisfied.

Final remarks

Although there are quite a few uncertainties with the projected production of lithium and demand for lithium for electric vehicles, this study indicates that the possible lithium production could be a limiting factor for the number of electric vehicles that can be produced, and how fast they can be produced. If large parts of the car fleet will run on electricity and rely on lithium based batteries in the coming decades, it is possible, and maybe even likely, that lithium availability will be a limiting factor.

To decrease the impact of this, as much lithium as possible must be recycled and possibly other battery technologies not relying on lithium needs to be developed. It is not certain how big the recoverable reserves of lithium are in the world and estimations in different studies differ significantly. Especially the estimations for brine need to be further investigated. Some estimates include production from seawater, making the reserves more or less infinitely large. We suggest that it is very unlikely that seawater or lakes will become a practical and economic source of lithium, mainly due to the high Mg/Li ratio and low concentrations if lithium, meaning that large quantities of water would have to be processed. Until otherwise is proved lithium reserves from seawater and lakes should not be included in the reserve estimations. Although the reserve estimates differ, this appears to have marginal impact on resulting projections of production, especially in a shorter time perspective. What are limiting are not the estimated reserves, but likely maximum annual production, which is often missed in similar studies.

If electric vehicles with li-ion batteries will be used to a very high extent, there are other problems to account for. Instead of being dependent on oil we could become dependent on lithium if li-ion batteries, with lithium reserves mainly located in two countries. It is important to plan for this to avoid bottlenecks or unnecessarily high prices. Lithium is a finite resource and the production cannot be infinitely large due to geological, technical and economical restraints. The concentration of lithium metal appears to be decreasing, which could make it more expensive and difficult to extract the lithium in the future. To enable a transition towards a car fleet based on electrical energy, other types of batteries should also be considered and a continued development of battery types using less lithium and/or other metals are encouraged. High recycling rates should also be aimed for if possible and continued investigations of recoverable resources and possible production of lithium are called for. Acknowledgements We would like to thank Steve Mohr for helpful comments and ideas. Sergey Yachenkov has our sincerest appreciation for providing assistance with translation of Russian material.





How “Green” is Lithium?

17 04 2016

Originally published on the KITCO website in 2014….. interesting how this makes no mention of NiFe batteries, they are simply ‘under the radar’……

 

The market for battery electric and hybrid vehicles is growing slowly but steadily – from 0.4% in 2012 to 0.6% in 2013 and 0.7% in 2014 (year-to-date) in the United States alone.

Consumers buy these vehicles despite lower gas prices out of a growing conscience and concern for the environment. With this strong attraction to alternative energy, grows the demand for lithium, which is predominantly mined and imported from countries like Bolivia, Chile, China and Argentina.

Within the U.S., only Nevada, future home of Tesla’s new “Gigafactory” for batteries, produces lithium. However, the overall ecological impact of lithium ion batteries remains somewhat unclear, as does the “well-to-wheel” effort and cost to recharge such batteries.

To fully grasp the relevance and environmental impact of lithium it is important to note that lithium ion batteries are also found in most mobile phones, laptop computers, wearable electronics and almost anything else powered by rechargeable batteries.

Dozens of reports are available on the ecological impact of lithium mining. Unfortunately, many of them are influenced by the perspective of the organizations or authors releasing them. Reducing the available information to studies carried out by government bodies and research institutes around the world, a picture emerges nonetheless:

  • Elemental lithium is flammable and very reactive. In nature, lithium occurs in compounded forms such as lithium carbonate requiring chemical processing to be made usable.
  • Lithium is typically found in salt flats in areas where water is scarce. The mining process of lithium uses large amounts of water. Therefore, on top of water contamination as a result of its use, depletion or transportation costs are issues to be dealt with. Depletion results in less available water for local populations, flora and fauna.
  • Toxic chemicals are used for leaching purposes, chemicals requiring waste treatment. There are widespread concerns of improper handling and spills, like in other mining operations around the world.
  • The recovery rate of lithium ion batteries, even in first world countries, is in the single digit percent range. Most batteries end up in landfill.
  • In a 2013 report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out that nickel and cobalt, both also used in the production of lithium ion batteries, represent significant additional environmental risks.

A 2012 study titled “Science for Environment Policy” published by the European Union compares lithium ion batteries to other types of batteries available (lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride and sodium sulphur). It concludes that lithium ion batteries have the largest impact on metal depletion, suggesting that recycling is complicated. Lithium ion batteries are also, together with nickel-metal-hydride batteries, the most energy consuming technologies using the equivalent of 1.6kg of oil per kg of battery produced. They also ranked the worst in greenhouse gas emissions with up to 12.5kg of CO2 equivalent emitted per kg of battery. The authors do point out that “…for a full understanding of life cycle impacts, further aspects of battery use need to be considered, such as length of usage, performance at different temperatures, and ability to discharge quickly.”

Technology will of course improve, lithium supplies will be sufficient for the foreseeable future, and recycling rates will climb. Other issues like the migration of aging cars and electronic devices to countries with less developed infrastructures will, however, remain. As will the reality of lithium mining and processing. It is therefore conceivable that new battery technologies (sea water batteries or the nano-flowcell, for instance) will gain more importance in years to come, as will hydrogen fuel cells.

We will report about the pros and cons of each of these alternatives in future issues of Tech Metals Insider.

Bodo Albrecht,
tminsider@eniqma.com





Energy storage for the Tasmanian Project

3 02 2016

I’ve done it.  I’ve ordered my Nickel Iron batteries and Victron charger/inverter. Once I’ve ironcoreascertained whether or not I can afford it, I will purchase a second Victron for future backup, fingers crossed the economy (and our funds!) hold out long enough.  The batteries, a 48V 200Ah bank, won’t get here from Russia for another six or so weeks, and when they do, I’ll post more about the installation.

victron

Victron inverter/charger

What really got me started re posting this was the extraordinary episode of Catalyst aired on ABC TV last night….

Anyone watching this will have been totally taken over by techno utopianism of the highest quality.  Dr Jonica Newby is a veterinarian, and unfortunately doesn’t seem to know the difference between power and energy, but maybe I’m just splitting hairs….. it was nonetheless frustrating to constantly hear battery banks rated in kW rather than kWh, big difference….

The “we’ll be saved by these batteries” gushing coming from everyone’s mouths in this show was only interrupted for a few seconds when one commentator expressed his doubt over the financial viability of the very first Tesla power wall installed in Australia.  He asked how this was remotely viable when the payback was 23 years, and the equipment was only warranted for 10? Which was swiftly glossed over for the remaining 25 minutes and never mentioned again…..

Worse, the evangelical fervour used to extol the virtues of Lithium Ion batteries, a technology that I am certain will disappoint a lot of owners in the future, bordered on religion……  think back to how long batteries in your laptops and cell phones last, and wonder how long before all that stuff ends up on landfill.

From Computer World:

Dell plans to recycle however many of the 4.1 million recalled batteries that customers turn in (see Dell battery recall not likely to have big environmental impact), but what happens to the other 2 billion lithium ion batteries which will be sold this year? Most will last for 300 to 500 full recharges (one to three years of use) before failing and ending up in your local municipal landfill or incinerator.

Europeans have a dimmer view of landfilling lithium ion batteries. “There is always potential contamination to water because they contain metals,” says Daniel Cheret, general manager at Belgium-based Umicore Recycling Solutions. The bigger issue is a moral one: the products have a recycling value, so throwing away 2 billion batteries a year is just plain wasteful – especially when so many American landfills are running out of space. “It’s a pity to landfill this material that you could recover,” Charet says. He estimates that between 8,000 and 9,000 tons of cobalt is used in the manufacture of lithium ion batteries each year. Each battery contains 10 to 13% cobalt by weight. Umicore recyles all four metals used in lithium ion batteries.

The reason why more lithium ion batteries aren’t recycled boils down to simple economics: the scrap value of batteries doesn’t amount to much – perhaps $100 per ton, Cheret says. In contrast, the cost of collecting, sorting and shipping used batteries to a recycler exceeds the scrap value, so batteries tend to be thrown away. Unfortunately, the market does not factor in the social cost of disposal, nor does it factor in the fact that recycling metals such as cobalt has a much lower economic and environmental cost than mining raw materials. So we throw them away by the millions.

To be fair, Professor Thomas Maschmeyer also introduced zinc bromide battery technology to the show, and it sounds impressive, with very fast charging times, which by the way is irrelevant to home battery charging. Amusingly, our veterinarian presenter had never heard of gel cells and looked mightily impressed with that too.  It’s easy to be impressed with technology you’re not familiar with, or don’t understand I guess….. and a timeline of 10 or 20 years was mentioned, as if we actually have 10 or 20 years to solve our climate and energy predicaments.

As was to be expected, the main theme of the show was all about how much money could be made from this, not how it was going to save us from climate change or anything else important.  I could not stop laughing when, poised over a computer monitor, Josh Byrne of Gardening Australia fame makes five cents from exporting battery power to his electricity supplier…… what a waste of batteries. How anyone can think that shortening the life of one’s battery bank for five cents is worthwhile truly staggers me. Especially when the service provider then sells it to his neighbours for four times that much!

To his credit, I hasten to add, Josh Byrne has built a 10 star energy efficient house which, powered by just 3kW (when just about everyone these days installs five…) appears to be managing almost as well as we used to in Queensland. I think a program devoted to this aspect of his energy management would be far more useful than the one being discussed at the moment…

Josh House 3D render

Josh’s house project

There was, as usual, much talk about how we could go fossil fuel free, without any acknowledgement whatsoever that all the stuff that goes into these magic boxes of tricks have to be mined, refined, shipped, manufactured, and installed, using….. fossil fuels of course!!  Nor was there any mention of where the money to make all this stuff would come from.

Fascinatingly, the ‘big three’ electricity suppliers in Australia are getting in on the act. Why they would do this when they are constantly expressing their anti renewables positions is puzzling.  Could it be more ‘we’re greener than thou’?

I remain totally baffled by this race to the bottom.

UPDATE:

I have just been pointed to this paper written by Peter J. DeMar, Battery Research and Testing, Inc. Oswego, NY, USA

pjd@batteryresearch.com

They actually managed to revive 85+ year old NiFe batteries to close to their original capacity, even though most of them had been abused beyond belief….. they’re going to keep them going for another fifteen years, just to show if Edison’s original claim that they would last 100 years isn’t mere marketing…..

They concluded…….:

This find of these old Thomas Edison Nickel-Iron cells has been quite an education for us at Battery Research and Testing, as our work for the past 29 years has been primarily with lead acid and some Nickel-Cadmium, but with nothing of the age of these cells. In fact the oldest lead acid cells that we have load tested and that were still functional were old Exide Manchex strings that were 42 years old, and it appears that the only existing lead acid cells that might be able to be functional at 40 years of age are the Bell developed round cells for Telecom applications.

What we have learned has opened up our minds to explore possibilities for this design long life design cell. It would sure seem that any site that has a requirement for a long life battery that will tolerate abusive conditions would consider the total life costs of these type cells and see which works out to be the most cost effective.

http://www.nickel-iron-battery.com/Edison%20Cell%20Rejuvenation%2085%20yr-old%2013.%20DeMar.pdf

 





Enjoy Life while you can…

23 02 2015

lovelock

James Lovelock

‘Enjoy life while you can: in 20 years global warming will hit the fan’, or so says James Lovelock……  I’ve enjoyed Lovelock’s Gaia books for over 20 years now, and they were largely instrumental in reshaping the way I see most things these days.  His recent interview published in The Guardian written by  inspired me to compile this post.

88 year old Lovelock has been dispensing predictions like “It’s just too late for it [climate change]” and “Perhaps if we’d gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don’t have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can’t say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do.” from his laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since I was knee high to a grasshopper; and the consistent accuracy of these predictions have earned him the reputation as Britain’s most respected independent scientists.

Working on his own since he was 40, he has invented a device that detected CFCs, thus enabling the growing hole in the ozone layer to be detected.  He also introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a theory that the Earth behaves like a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists, that theory today pretty well forms the basis of most climate science, not least modelling…..

Lovelock is an odd mixture.  On the one hand, he ‘gets it’, but his insistence on developing nuclear power further has enraged many (including myself).  “You’re never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours,” he says. “Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time.”  We agree on that…  however, when he goes on to say “I see it with everybody. People just want to go on doing what they’re doing. They want business as usual. They say, “there’s going to be a problem up ahead, but they don’t want to change anything.”  So why have nuclear energy unless you want business as usual continuing?  Why criticise people who champion wind energy for wanting BAU to continue, when he’s doing exactly the same thing but this time using nuclear power? To my way of thinking, this is fence sitting on his part.  From the Guardian..:

He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. “Carbon offsetting? I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you’re offsetting the carbon? You’re probably making matters worse. You’re far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests.”

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take? “No we don’t. Because we can’t.” And recycling, he adds, is “almost certainly a waste of time and energy”, while having a “green lifestyle” amounts to little more than “ostentatious grand gestures”. He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption. “Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam … or if it wasn’t one in the beginning, it becomes one.”

He can’t limit his flights?  Why NOT?  Then, reports that Lovelock was “a socialist as a young man, [but] he now favours market forces”.  The very market forces that got us into this mess…?  I think Lovelock is good at the science, but not economics.  He needs to meet Nicole Foss!

Lovelock fears we won’t invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects “about 80%” of the world’s population to be wiped out by 2100.  “Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began”, he says. “But this is the real thing.”

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when “we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn’t know what to do about it”. But once the second world war was under way, “everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday … so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose – that’s what people want.”  I can’t see too many people thinking WWII was “one long holiday”, but I hope he’s right about that sense of purpose…..

What would Lovelock do now,  asks……. He smiles and says: “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”





Who is William McDonough?

8 10 2013

A follower of DTM left a comment underneath that nuclear energy post of Dave Kimble’s overnight.  Graham pointed me to this architect called William McDonough whom I had never heard of before.  So I did some follow up, and found he was on Ted Talk about six years ago.  Here is the talk in question…….

Now you have also watched this video, I wonder what you think of it?  He is a cool speaker, no doubt about it.  About half way through, I started thinking of the days when I got swept up by Amory Lovins, whose similarly styled optimism had me all sucked in, believing in hydrogen powered fuel celled ‘hypercars’, none of which, after more than ten years, ever made it to the pavement….. now I’ve discovered why: they actually worked together on that carpet project which I remember well from Lovins’ book ‘Factor 4’….

For those who came to know McDonough from within the environmental and design movements — those whose labors rarely reach the ears of Laurie David — an alternative narrative exists about him. Until now, it has been shielded from the mainstream for two reasons: First, McDonough has done more than most to popularize the very idea of cleaning up the world, and for that, even his detractors agree he deserves thanks; second, if word gets out that he may not be all that he appears, the overall cause of sustainability could suffer. “He’s been incredibly important and valuable in this role as visionary,” says Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co. “The problem is that sometimes the theorists like McDonough will represent themselves as practitioners, and that’s where the guys in the trenches get frustrated.”

The carpet company Interface was in the trenches far earlier than most. Way back in 1995, it decided to pull together an Eco Dream Team of the most influential thinkers on the environment who believed business could be a force of change; it included Lovins and her Rocky Mountain Institute cofounder (and then-husband) Amory Lovins, Smith & Hawken cofounder Paul Hawken, and McDonough, then the new dean of UVA’s architecture school. The group was hired to advise on Interface’s environmental transformation, which included recycling — a radical move in a famously dirty industry.

 

There was a time, writes A.K. Streeter from that infamous Tree Hugger website, “when I scoured the Internet for info about the Chinese villages of Huangbaiyu. That’s because I was writing articles about eco-cities of the future, and amazingly enough, Huangbaiyu, design child of William McDonough, and its housing project was an eco-city contender. I wrote my stories, aided immeasurably by a (then) graduate student named Shannon May. Other stories critical of the project surfaced. The hype was over and the Huangbaiyu houses ended up as empty uninhabited shells. What exactly happened? A partial picture emerges from May’s new web site story about the village.  Master Plan crumbles.  As May explains, McDonough’s Master Plan for the Huangbaiyu village was ambitious, and the housing was supposed to be a model of “Cradle-to-Cradle” innovations.  Two model homes would show off systems that handled “biological nutrients” and “technical nutrients” 40 further homes would showcase integrated potable and grey water community systems, and a biomass gasification facility for homes’ heating and cooking.  And that was just Phase 1! But as May says:

“Conflicts of interest, desire for rapid scale, personal aggrandizement, a persistently global perspective, technical inexperience, faulty materials, lack of oversight, and poor communication, amongst other things, ensured that the promise of a model ecological development in Huangbaiyu never came to pass.”

Now the shells of the Huangbaiyu houses sit empty, and McDonough has moved on.”

Has he………  It’s a real bummer to discover a visionary, and on the same day find out he’s “moved on”…

But for me, this comment left on the Ted Talk website beneath McDonough’s talk encapsulates how I felt about the lecture….

Jan 6 2013: McDonough introduces the honourable goal, “How do we love the children of all species for all time?” He then focuses on design for humans, assuming we need carpet and cars.

He asks anthropocentric questions relating to human quality of life, and leaves an equity gap. Bunny’s live in a hole and eat local plants. Three hundred and fifty pound auto workers in the U.S. live in houses, commute to work, surf the web, and eat processed food.

One building is a liability for birds, the other an asset because it provides a nesting ground. This disregards the disappeared natural habitat, ecological footprint, and modification of the bird species by the human one.

Where’s the love?

The paradigm remains expanding living environments for humans, attempting to mitigate the impact.
His work in China, housing 400 million people in twelve years is gigantic. And the next twelve years? Assuming this type of urban living facilitates happiness lacks humility. Is humanity’s design to continually adjust our happiness criteria to an ever more crowded and unsustainable world?

All nutrient cycling aside, this city will destroy another natural environment for humans. Then, another set of cities? Closed loop systems mean biological or technological nutrients no longer need to be introduced. Meeting the needs of a growing population would require more resource.

Earth is finite. This diverts from determining need and responsibly honouring the earth’s biological carrying capacity. This work is about amending the planet with technology to improve our existence, products, and lifestyles. BAU. Humans as dominant species remains to be seen.

Indigenous need based cultures understand the sacred aspect of humility. Our happiness deficit is a symptom of not understanding our place in the web of life, and our disrupted spiritual connection with nature. That deficit won’t be cleared by efficient buildings or engineered wetlands. When we stop calling “it” the “environment” we can applaud.

Thank you Dennis Duckett, whoever you are….  McDonough doesn’t ‘get it’ any more than Amory Lovins.  Here we are starring in the sixth global extinction, and all these visionaries want is more of the same only different.  Maybe it’s just what people do when they can’t handle the truth.  it’s a shame really, because the solution simply lies in doing nothing…..  and how hard is that?





Nothing we do is sustainable….. been saying it for years now.

1 08 2013

Sustainability is destroying the Earth

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

Don’t talk to me about sustainability.  You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint?  There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring.  This monster is Industrial Civilization.  I refuse to sustain the monster.  If the Earth is to live, the monster must die.  This is a declaration of war.

What is it we are trying to sustain?  A living planet, or industrial civilization?  Because we can’t have both.

Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.  When did this happen, and why?  And how is it possible that no-one noticed?  This is a fundamental shift in values, to go from compassion for all living beings and the land, to a selfish wish to feel good about our inherently destructive way of life.

The sustainability movement says that our capacity to endure is the responsibility of individuals, who must make lifestyle choices within the existing structures of civilization.  To achieve a truly sustainable culture by this means is impossible.  Industrial infrastructure is incompatible with a living planet.  If life on Earth is to survive, the global political and economic structures need to be dismantled.

Sustainability advocates tell us that reducing our impact, causing less harm to the Earth, is a good thing to do, and we should feel good about our actions.  I disagree. Less harm is not good.  Less harm is still a lot of harm.  For as long as any harm is caused, by anyone, there can be no sustainability. Feeling good about small acts doesn’t help anyone.

Only one-quarter of all consumption is by individuals.  The rest is taken up by industry, agribusiness, the military, governments and corporations.  Even if every one of us made every effort to reduce our ecological footprint, it would make little difference to overall consumption.

If the lifestyle actions advocated really do have the effect of keeping our culture around for longer than it would otherwise, then it will cause more harm to the natural world than if no such action had been taken.  For the longer a destructive culture is sustained, the more destruction it causes.  The title of this article isn’t just attention-grabbing and controversial, it is quite literally what’s going on.

When we frame the sustainability debate around the premise that individual lifestyle choices are the solution, then the enemy becomes other individuals who make different lifestyle choices, and those who don’t have the privilege of choice.  Meanwhile the true enemy — the oppressive structures of civilization — are free to continue their destructive and murderous practices without question.  This is hardly an effective way to create a meaningful social movement.  Divide and be conquered.

Sustainability is popular with corporations, media and government because it fits perfectly with their aims.  Maintain power.  Grow.  Make yourself out to be the good guy.  Make people believe that they have power when they don’t.  Tell everyone to keep calm and carry on shopping.  Control the language that is used to debate the issues.  By creating and reinforcing the belief that voting for minor changes and buying more stuff will solve all problems, those in power have a highly effective strategy for maintaining economic growth and corporate-controlled democracy.

ravagedThose in power keep people believing that the only way we can change anything is within the structures they’ve created.  They build the structures in a way that people can never change anything from within them.  Voting, petitions, and rallies all reinforce the power structures, and can never bring about significant change on their own.  These tactics give corporations and governments a choice.  We’re giving those in power a choice of whether to grant our request for minor reform.  Animals suffering in factory farms don’t have a choice.  Forests being destroyed in the name of progress don’t have a choice.  Millions of people working in majority-world sweatshops don’t have a choice.  The 200 species who became extinct today didn’t do so by choice.  And yet we give those responsible for all this murder and suffering a choice.  We’re granting the desires of a wealthy minority above the needs of life on Earth.

Most of the popular actions that advocates propose to achieve sustainability have no real effect, and some even cause more harm than good.  The strategies include reducing electricity consumption, reducing water use, a green economy, recycling, sustainable building, renewables and energy efficiency.  Let’s look at the effects of these actions.

Electricity

We’re told to reduce our consumption of electricity, or obtain it from alternative sources.  This will make zero difference to the sustainability of our culture as a whole, because the electricity grid is inherently unsustainable.  No amount of reduction or so-called renewable energy sources will change this.  Mining to make electrical wires, components, electrical devices, solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal plants, biomass furnaces, hydropower dams, and everything else that connects to the electricity grid, are all unsustainable.  Manufacturing to make these things, with all the human exploitation, pollution, waste, health and social impacts, and corporate profits.  Fossil fuels needed to keep all these processes going.  Unsustainable.  No amount of individual lifestyle choices about electricity use and generation will change any of this.  Off grid electricity is no different – it needs batteries and inverters.

Water conservation

Shorter showers.  Low-flow devices.  Water restrictions.  These are all claimed to Make A Difference.  While the whole infrastructure that provides this water – large dams, long distance pipelines, pumps, sewers, drains – is all unsustainable.

Dams destroy the life of a whole watershed.  It’s like blocking off an artery, preventing blood from flowing to your limbs.  No-one can survive this.  Rivers become dead when fish are prevented from travelling up and down the river.  The whole of the natural community that these fish belong to is killed, both upstream and downstream of the dam.

Dams cause a lowering of the water table, making it impossible for tree roots to get to water.  Floodplain ecologies depend on seasonal flooding, and collapse when a dam upstream prevents this.  Downstream and coastal erosion results.  Anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in dams releases methane to the atmosphere.

No matter how efficient with water you are, this infrastructure will never be sustainable.  It needs to be destroyed, to allow these communities to regenerate.

The green economy

Green jobs.  Green products.  The sustainable economy.  No.  There’s no such thing.  The whole of the global economy is unsustainable.  The economy runs on the destruction of the natural world.  The Earth is treated as nothing but fuel for economic growth.  They call it natural resources.  And a few people choosing to remove themselves from this economy makes no difference.  For as long as this economy exists, there will be no sustainability.

For as long as any of these structures exist: electricity, mains water, global economy, industrial agriculture – there can be no sustainability.  To achieve true sustainability, these structures need to be dismantled.

What’s more important to you – to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for a little longer, or the continuation of life on Earth, for the natural communities who remain, and for future generations?

Recycling

We’re made to believe that buying a certain product is good because the packaging can be recycled.  You can choose to put it in a brightly-coloured bin.  Never mind that fragile ecosystems were destroyed, indigenous communities displaced, people in far away places required to work in slave conditions, and rivers polluted, just to make the package in the first place.  Never mind that it will be recycled into another useless product which will then go to landfill.  Never mind that to recycle it means transporting it far away, using machinery that run on electricity and fossil fuels, causing pollution and waste.  Never mind that if you put something else in the coloured bin, the whole load goes to landfill due to the contamination.

Sustainable building

Principles of sustainable building: build more houses, even though there are already enough perfectly good houses for everyone to live in.  Clear land for houses, destroying every living thing in the natural communities that live there.   Build with timber from plantation forests, which have required native forests to be wiped out so they can be replaced with a monoculture of pines where nothing else can live.  Use building products that are slightly less harmful than other products.  Convince everyone that all of this is beneficial to the Earth.

Solar power

Solar panels.  The very latest in sustainability fashion.  And in true sustainability style, incredibly destructive of life on earth.  Where do these things come from?  You’re supposed to believe that they are made out of nothing, a free, non-polluting source of electricity.

If you dare to ask where solar panels come from, and how they are made, its not hard to uncover the truth.  Solar panels are made of metals, plastics, rare earths, electronic components.  They require mining, manufacturing, war, waste, pollution.  Millions of tons of lead are dumped into rivers and farmland around solar panel factories in China and India, causing health problems for the human and natural communities who live there.  Polysilicon is another poisonous and polluting waste product from manufacturing that is dumped in China.  The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere.  This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Rare earths come from Africa, and wars are raged over the right to mine them.  People are being killed so you can have your comfortable Sustainability.  The panels are manufactured in China.  The factories emit so much pollution that people living nearby become sick.  Lakes and rivers become dead from the pollution.  These people cannot drink the water, breathe the air or farm the land, as a direct result of solar panel manufacturing.  Your sustainability is so popular in China that villagers mobilise in mass protest against the manufacturers.  They are banding together to break into the factories and destroy equipment, forcing the factories to shut down.  They value their lives more than sustainability for the rich.

Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill.  More pollution, more waste.  Some parts of solar panels can be recycled, but some can’t, and have the bonus of being highly toxic.  To be recycled, solar panels are sent to majority-world countries where low-wage workers are exposed to toxic substances while disassembling them. The recycling process itself requires energy and transportation, and creates waste products.

Solar panel industries are owned by Siemens, Samsung, Bosch, Sharp, Mitsubishi, BP, and Sanyo, among others.  This is where solar panel rebates and green power bills are going.  These corporations thank you for your sustainable dollars.

Wind power

The processing of rare earth metals needed to make the magnets for wind turbines happens in China, where people in the surrounding villages struggle to breathe in the heavily polluted air.  A five-mile-wide lake of toxic and radioactive sludge now takes the place of their farmland.

Whole mountain ranges are destroyed to extract the metals.  Forests are bulldozed to erect wind turbines.  Millions of birds and bats are killed by the blades.  The health of people living close to turbines is affected by infrasound.

As wind is an inconsistent and unpredictable source of energy, a back-up gas fired power supply is needed.  As the back-up system only runs intermittently, it is less efficient, so produces more CO2than if it were running constantly, if there were no turbines.  Wind power sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.  Another useless product that benefits no-one but the shareholders.

Energy efficiency

How about we improve energy efficiency?  Won’t that reduce energy consumption and pollution?  Well, no.  Quite the opposite.  Have you heard of Jevon’s paradox?  Or the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate?  These state that technological advances to increase efficiency lead to an increase in energy consumption, not a decrease.  Efficiency causes more energy to be available for other purposes.  The more efficient we become at consuming, the more we consume.  The more efficiently we work, the more work gets done.  And we’re working at efficiently digging ourselves into a hole.

The economics of supply and demand

Many actions taken in the name of sustainability can have the opposite effect.  Here’s something to ponder: one person’s decision not to take flights, out of concern about climate change or sustainability, won’t have any impact.  If a few people stop flying, airlines will reduce their prices, and amp up their marketing, and more people will take flights.  And because they are doing it at lower prices, the airline needs to make more flights to make the profit it was before.  More flights, more carbon emissions.  And if the industry hit financial trouble as a result of lowered demand, it would get bailed out by governments.  This “opt-out” strategy can’t win.

The decision not to fly isn’t doing anything to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted, it’s just not adding to it in this instance.  And any small reduction in the amount of carbon being emitted does nothing to stop climate change.

To really have an impact on global climate, we’ll need to stop every aeroplane and every fossil-fuel burning machine from operating ever again.  And stopping every fossil-fuel burning machine is nowhere near the impossible goal it may sound.  It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely achievable.  And it’s not only desirable, but essential if life on this planet is to survive.

The same goes for any other destructive product we might choose not to buy.  Factory-farmed meat, palm oil, rainforest timbers, processed foods.  For as long as there is a product to sell, there will be buyers.  Attempting to reduce the demand will have little, if any, effect.  There will always be more products arriving on the market.  Campaigns to reduce the demand of individual products will never be able to keep up.  And with every new product, the belief that this one is a need, not a luxury, becomes ever stronger.  Can I convince you not to buy a smartphone, a laptop, a coffee?  I doubt it.

To stop the devastation, we need to permanently cut off the supply, of everything that production requires.  And targeting individual companies or practices won’t have any impact on the global power structures that feed on the destruction of the Earth.  The whole of the global economy needs to be brought to a halt.

What do you really want?

What’s more important – sustainable energy for you to watch TV, or the lives of the world’s rivers, forests, animals, and oceans?  Would you sooner live without these, without Earth?  Even if this was an option, if you weren’t tightly bound in the interconnected in the web of life, would you really prefer to have electricity for your lights, computers and appliances, rather than share the ecstasy of being with all of life on Earth?  Is a lifeless world ruled by machines really what you want?

If getting what you want requires destroying everything you need – clean air and water, food, and natural communities – then you’re not going to last long, and neither will anyone else.

I know what I want.  I want to live in a world that is becoming ever more alive.  A world regenerating from the destruction, where every year there are more fish, birds, trees and diversity than the year before. A world where I can breathe the air, drink from the rivers and eat from the land.  A world where humans live in community with all of life.

Industrial technology is not sustainable.  The global economy is not sustainable.  Valuing the Earth only as a resource for humans to exploit is not sustainable.  Civilization is not sustainable.  If civilization collapsed today, it would still be 400 years before human existence on the planet becomes truly sustainable.  So if it’s genuine sustainability you want, then dismantle civilization today, and keep working at regenerating the Earth for 400 years.  This is about how long it’s taken to create the destructive structures we live within today, so of course it will take at least that long to replace these structures with alternatives that benefit all of life on Earth, not just the wealthy minority.  It won’t happen instantly, but that’s no reason not to start.

You might say let’s just walk away, build alternatives, and let the whole system just fall apart when no-one pays it any attention any more.  I used to like this idea too.  But it can’t work.  Those in power use the weapons of fear and debt to maintain their control.  The majority of the world’s people don’t have the option of walking away.  Their fear and debt keeps them locked in the prison of civilization.  Your walking away doesn’t help them.  Your breaking down the prison structure does.

We don’t have time to wait for civilization to collapse.  Ninety per cent of large fish in the oceans are gone.  99 per cent of the old growth forests have been destroyed.  Every day 200 more species become extinct, forever.  If we wait any longer, there will be no fish, no forests, no life left anywhere on Earth.

So what can you do?

Spread the word.  Challenge the dominant beliefs.  Share this article with everyone you know.

Listen to the Earth.  Get to know your nonhuman neighbors   Look after each other.  Act collectively, not individually.  Build alternatives, like gift economies, polyculture food systems, alternative education and community governance.  Create a culture of resistance.

Rather than attempting to reduce the demand for the products of a destructive system, cut off the supply.  The economy is what’s destroying the planet, so stop the economy.  The global economy is dependent on a constant supply of electricity, so stopping it is (almost) as easy as flicking a switch.

Governments and industry will never do this for us, no matter how nicely we ask, or how firmly we push.  It’s up to us to defend the land that our lives depend on.

We can’t do this as consumers, or workers, or citizens.  We need to act as humans, who value life more than consuming, working and complaining about the government.

Learn about and support Deep Green Resistance, a movement with a working strategy to save the planet.  Together, we can fight for a world worth living in.  Join us.

In the words of Lierre Keith, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.”

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Originally posted by Stories of Creative Ecology here.