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Metals, metals

Bit of a pity here. Someone’s just written a book on how terrible the environmental damage is of getting all those metals for renewables. At which point we get told this:

As these rare elements are distributed in tiny quantities, vast piles of ore need to be dug up, processed and refined to produce minuscule amounts. For a single kilo of gallium – used in energy-efficient light bulbs – 50 tonnes of rock needs to be excavated, according to Pitron.

They mean LEDs but. The actual amount of rock dug up to gain a kg of Ga is zero. Because no one at all goes mining for Ga. It would be a very silly thing indeed to do.

What you actually do is go collect Ga. Bauxite is the ore for alumina, the extraction method is to boil in caustic. Sorta. As part of that process the Ga in the bauxite comes out into solution and can be collected by a doohickey on the side of the tank.

You don’t process bauxite for Ga, you process it for alumina. Whether or not you collect the Ga you’d still be boiling the bauxite. So, the amount of bauxite boiled to gain gallium is zero.


17 thoughts on “Metals, metals”

  1. I’d just use nice energy dense uranium. A lot less effect on the environment, even if you don’t extract it from seawater.

  2. Open cast mining and quarrying makes a terrible mess when it is in progress but it doesn’t need to be permanent. There is a very pleasant wooded area near the Humber Bridge that used to be a quarry, I’ve done quite a few parkruns there. There is also a couple of lakeside holiday parks near my home that used to be quarries. One of them is used for open water swimming.

  3. Double-win, really, since the aluminium from the alumina is also used for the cheap-ass transformers and elco’s used in LED lights. And in the grid to get that precious “Green” ‘leccie to your home.

    Given the vast difference in power-to-lumen ratio of LED v/s incandescent/fluorescent lighting, and the fact that the main “source” is actually used *everywhere* this is what we’d call “efficient”.

    But there’s never going to be a happy Greenie isn’t it?
    If they ever get what they want, and we’re back to huddling in damp caves, they’d be complaining we’d just didn’t properly deploy the Green Principle

    Can I borrow some lions off someone?

  4. Those interested in the LED lighting topic can read an excellent story, well told, in “Brilliant” by Bob Johnstone.
    Firstly the physicists vs chemists thing 🙂
    Nakamura was a chemist working for a Japanese business that made phosphors: principally for fluorescent lights. It was a stable market and the business was slowly fading into collapse.
    Nakamura invented a practical blue LED and blue laser diode, using GaN, creating an entirely new $bn industry, which his employer did very well from.
    Ironically, the need for white light (from blue LED) also created a $bn demand for yellow phosphors, revitalising the remainder of the company too.
    Bonus? You are joking, this is Japan.
    Nakamura left and was sued by his ex-employer for daring to change jobs. Nakamura won.

    NB Never mind the Ga, how much rock is mined for all that nitride? 🙂

    NB2 An excellent yellow phosphor is based on Cadmium Sulphide. Cadmium: lovely stuff for greenies.
    Not used, but as another commentator says above, lies are open season!

  5. Stonyground,

    That is true of the developed world, not true of the developing world. In the developing world, there are not only environmental impacts, but often social ones, such as child miners in an industry with a poor safety record.

  6. I’ve been pointing out for sometime now that all these carbon free targets, 2025, 2030, 2035 and even 2050 are mere pie in the sky.

    To completely remove fossil fuels from the energy mix requires one hell of a lot of wind turbines, solar panels and batteries. For a given unit of energy, the former two require twice as many materials to be mined as coal, batteries require ten times. Due to the massive expansion required in these products, it will be necessary to build more manufacturing facilities to construct them and, due to their greater geographical spread, it will also be necessary to expand the distribution network. Many current wind turbines will come to the end of their 20 year life during this period and will need replacing. On top of that, tossers like BoJo want all cars to be electric which greatly increases the demand for battery materials.

    To achieve all this will require a massive expansion in extraction of numerous minerals, including copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel, iron and rare earth minerals. And, in order to make steel and cement, there will need to be an expansion in the mining of metallurgical coal. Most of the mines required to extract all these minerals do not currently exist. The typical time to bring a mine on stream from initial exploration is ten years.

    Greenies are instinctively opposed to mining, it is in their DNA, especially coal, even of the metallurgical kind. The expansion of mining, even for “good” minerals, will be opposed by the very people who are responsible for it. At a mining conference in Melbourne in 2019, where activists spat on delegates as they entered each day, there was a group calling for a mining free South America. I don’t suppose they’d asked the mine workers or the communities dependent on the mines, but meeting the global mineral requirements without South American copper and iron would be very difficult.

    Furthermore, thanks to the demonising of mining, few young people want careers in mining. Mining schools have been closing all around the world and those that remain open struggle to attract students. Some in Australia have had single figure student numbers in recent years. There is a skills shortage at current levels of mining, there are not enough specialist engineers to man new mines.

    All this adds up to the simple reality that these targets will not be met, not even 50% replacement is likely by 2050, to a large extent because nobody who wants it to happen is prepared to address the the above realities, they think that saying it will happen is all that is necessary. Reducing red tape, supporting rather than opposing new mines, and encouraging young people to study mining disciplines are things greenies will never do.

  7. “I’ve been pointing out for sometime now that all these carbon free targets, 2025, 2030, 2035 and even 2050 are mere pie in the sky.”

    If anyone was serious about them, they’d be setting 2 year milestones, something they can be measured on. It’s like banal comedy watching panel discussions between supposedly serious people debating how to achieve it. Most of the politicians and media simply do not have a clue about how you can save energy.

    I’m all for better use of resources through technology. Less commuting, using an e-bike, riding a bus, getting shopping delivered. But transport is only about 1/4 of emissions. So, we get rid of commuting, well, we probably lose about 1/3rd of transport, or 1/10th of emissions. The other 90% are really hard to deal with, like washing, heating, refrigeration. A Tesco lorry delivering food to a store is already very efficient. No-one is making huge improvements to diesel engine efficiency.

  8. I read somewhere – probably on Not a Lot of People Know That – that windmills actually INCREASE emissions of CO2 from gas power stations, regardless of any emissions used to make the damn things.

    That’s because the variability of the windmill output requires fast-response open-cycle gas power stations to fill in, instead of just using far more efficient closed-cycle gas power stations.

    You can see the effect on Gridwatch.

    So regardless of the windmill manufacturing problem, and the doubled-up capital requirement, since you need a gas power station anyway, you end up using more gas less efficiently. You’d think after 3 strikes, they’d be out….but no.

    Time has run out though. It takes so long to build new power stations that major grid blackouts are no longer avoidable. And the coal stations closing now, and all but one of the nukes soon too. And dont expect the French to help: almmost all of their ‘leccy power is nuclear and their nukes are older than ours!

  9. BoM4,

    We can tinker all we like, and it will make a difference for us, it makes sense to reduce costs if we can. However, the world population is still growing and we’ll probably add at least another 2 billion people over the next 50 years or so, urbanisation is increasing and the developing world aspires to have the benefits of the cheap, reliable energy that has fuelled growth in the developed world. All this means that energy demand will grow well into the future, irrespective of what savings we make in the developed world, so we not only have to replace current demand, we have to replace future growth in demand. Unless people are going to be denied energy and kept in extreme poverty or returned to extreme poverty, a significant portion of that energy demand will have to come from fossil fuels.

  10. And since western governments and banks are trying to prevent the building of new fossil fuelled plants, who is more than happy to fill the gap?

  11. Looking forward to the calculation of number of windmills necessary to power a smelter or the processing of bauxite, etc.

  12. That is true of the developed world, not true of the developing world. In the developing world, there are not only environmental impacts, but often social ones, such as child miners in an industry with a poor safety record.

    Those child miners would otherwise be child farmers. Forever.

    They are mining because they are poor. The only way out of that trap is that the country become rich. And mining helps that.

  13. Despite all of its mineral riches, which have been extracted for many years, the DRC is the poorest country in the world.

  14. DocBud: I have to agree. The only way to de-carbonise the world in any time frame is nukes. LWR tech is about 70 years old, and they’ve been working on breeder reactors for the same amount of time.

    If the Greens really wish to do this, they have to make sacrifices, not other people. But they even whinge about global thermonuclear war, which would reduce the population to something like what they think is desirable.

    Fortunately for us all, they don’t really intend to do anything. They’re just wanking.

  15. Well, no one does it that way anyway. You find a place where you can build a dam, build the dam then build the smelter next to it.

    Unless you’re in Wales, where you build a nuclear plant then the smelter.

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