Can Metals Replace Fossil Fuels ?

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  • Nations of the world are only too aware that fossil fuels need to be phased out for two reasons.
  • First, oil is a finite commodity. It’ll run out in time.
  • Secondly, fossil fuel emissions such as CO2 are destroying the planet’s climate system.

A recent news article published in the Counter Currents talks about the presence of metals to replace oil.

Phasing out fossil fuels

Is There Enough Metal To Replace Oil? The short answer: No, not even close.

However, a recent study puts a damper on the prospects of phasing out fossil fuels in favor of renewables. More to the point, a phase out of fossil fuels by mid century looks to be a nearly impossible Sisyphean task. It’s all about quantities of minerals/metals contained in Mother Earth. There aren’t enough.

Simon Michaux, PhD, Geological Survey Finland has done a detailed study of what’s required to phase out fossil fuels in favor of renewables, to wit:

“The quantity of metal required to make just one generation of renewable tech units to replace fossil fuels is much larger than first thought. Current mining production of these metals is not even close to meeting demand. Current reported mineral reserves are also not enough in size. Most concerning is copper as one of the flagged shortfalls. Exploration for more at required volumes will be difficult, with this seminar addressing these issues.” (Source: Simon P. Michaux, Associate Research Professor of Geometallurgy Unit Minerals Processing and Materials Research, Geological Survey of Finland, August 18, 2022 – Seminar: What Would It Take To Replace The Existing Fossil Fuel System?)

There’s not enough metal

Metals/minerals required to source gigafactories producing renewables to power the world’s economies when fossil fuels phase out looks to be one of the biggest quandaries of all time. There’s not enough metal.

Michaux researched and analyzed the current status of the internal combustion engine fleet of cars, trucks, rail, maritime shipping, and aviation for the US, Europe, and China, accessing data bases to gather information as a starting point for the study.

Michaux’s calculations for what’s required to phase out fossil fuels uses a starting point of 2018 with 84.5% of primary energy still fossil fuel based and less than 1% of the world’s vehicle fleet electric. Therefore, the first generation of renewable energy is only now coming on stream, meaning there will be no recycling availability of production materials for some time. Production will have to be sourced from mining.

When Michaux presented basic information to EU analysts, it was a shock to them. To his dismay, they had not put together the various mineral/metal data requirements to phase out fossil fuels replaced by renewables. They assumed, using guesstimates, the metals would be available.

Power storage

A key issue for accomplishment of renewables is power storage because of the impact of wind and solar intermittency, both of which are highly intermittent. Most studies assume gas will be the buffer for intermittency. Other than using a fossil fuel such as gas as a buffer, an adequate power storage system to handle intermittency will require 30 times more material than what electric vehicles require with current plans, meaning the scope is much larger than the current paradigm allows.

One factor that will influence what materials and systems are used to build out renewables is the fact that EVs require a battery that is 3.2 times the mass of the equivalent of a hydrogen fuel tank. Therefore, an analysis of EVs versus hydrogen fuel cells indicates it’ll be necessary to the build out the global fleet with EVs for city traffic and hydrogen fuel cells for all long-range vehicles like semi-trailers, rails, and maritime shipping.

The entire renewable build out requires 36,000 terawatt hours to operate, meaning 586,000 new non-fossil fuel power stations of average size. The current fleet of power stations is only 46,000, meaning it’ll take 10 times the current number of power stations, yet to be built.

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Source: Counter Currents

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