Critical Elements for Green Technologies – A critical review of climate change
Harald G. Dill
Green technologies installed for the supply and storage of electricity from renewable energies make use of different platforms such as photovoltaic systems, solar thermal systems, hydroelectric power plants, geothermal heat and power plants, lithium-ion battery storage systems, vanadium redox flow technology, bio fuel production, and wind turbines.
To render these devices for supply of electricity to work efficiently you need a wide spectrum of elements, some of which are common in the earth crust, whereas others are rather rare constituents of it. Fe, Mn, Mg, Si , Ti and Zn are abundant in the earth crust but not in all cases available in a quality meeting the requirements set up for the built-up and installation of the afore-mentioned systems of power supply and storage. This is the more so in terms of quality and quantity when it comes to elements like Nb, Ta, Li, REE , Ge, In, and Ga.
A great deal of these elements is available in sufficient quantities from the geoscientific point of view but temporary shortages of them may be expected for economic, social or political reasons. To assess the potential risk of raw material supply a graphic approach is taken plotting, the ratios of the Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index (HHI) vs. the Weighted Country Risk (GLR).
To show the geogene and anthropogenic impacts on the global raw material supply some case histories involving the elements Li, Nb/Ta (“Coltan”), Ge, In, Ga, and REE are discussed in the presentation. Lithium is won by exploiting of “soft-rock lithium ore” from, e.g., salars and brines and from “hard-rock lithium ore” commonly exploited from pegmatites. This so-called “green-technology” element can be taken as a case-in-point for low-grade-large-tonnage and high-grade-low-tonnage deposits. Particularly the metals Ge, Ga and In are recovered either as a by-product in the course of mining base-metal deposits or from low-grade-large tonnage deposits, e.g., coal or bauxite. To fulfill the requirements of the customers as to the grade and purity, some metals like the rare earth elements (REE) need to be treated after being mined and enriched by means of complex beneficiation processes prior to sale so as to be suitable for their final use in different products of the green technology. Such a way of treatment would not be hailed by many of us in the western world as environment-friendly. Processing often goes along with a high energy consumption, leaving behind residues of acid mine drainage (AMD) and causing air pollution. Conflicts of interest as to the water supply for the indigenous population are nothing out of the ordinary and in some places the poor working conditions cannot be ignored, irrespective of the style of recovery, be it an artisanal or large-scale mining operation. Mining low- grade ore deposits has one serious side-effect. Large dumps, tailing ponds and residues of toxins resultant from the highly sophisticated ore processing techniques are necessarily applied to extract the pure metals from a huge pile of “trash minerals”.
Many politicians, NGOs and media representatives propagate and push ahead with an ever increasing built-up of systems of green technology across the countries in the western world to catering for the supply and storage of electricity derived from renewable energies. It is to maintain and increase the standard of living of the electorate, calm down their devotees and partisan audience by providing them with a morally sustainable product, pretending to safeguard the environment and the climate. Many of us may take all this for granted and turn a blind eye to the processes lying outside our semi-natural and protected habitats. This is an unequal distribution of burdens and anything but cosmopolitan. While we benefit from the raw materials others may suffer from them. Are we “Eco Pharisees”? We shut down coal-fired power plants based upon brown and hard coal for environmental reasons and do the same with nuclear power plants for safety reasons poised to pave the way to a renewable-energy-only power supply. Where does the electrical energy come from? To guarantee a reliable power supply per annum we need 15000 wind turbines of the 5-mega-watt type in Germany. Recycling cannot provide all the elements we need, we need new resources for “green elements”. And our neighbors are faced with just the same problems during the working time and the pleasure gain climaxes during vacation. Can you imagine the queue of cars on the “German Autobahn” ahead of the “plug-in stations” (petrol stations no longer exist!). Pray for the climate change with the sun shining day and night for 365 days per year.
There are unsolved issues related to nuclear energy such as the final waste disposals but it is a climate-friendly and a virtually endless resource in view of the seawater and the high-tech reactors. The shareholders´ wisdom, to do not put all your eggs in one basket and have at least two pillars, one for renewable and one for fossil energies should be taken more seriously, especially in a cross-linked society. Each source of energy has pros and cons.
It goes without saying, that it is everybody’s duty to keep the environment clean and tidy not only in front of his or her own doorsteps. But how realistic are all the measures demanded (even by natural scientists) to reach these ambitious goals. How realistic is this claim put forward to save the global climate and the earth by reducing the temperature by 1.5 to 2°C and stop the sea level rising ?
Climate change is an integral part of the Earth´s evolution just like the death is the end of life for all living beings. The climate is controlled by extraterrestrial and endogenous forces as far as the intensity is concerned (see thallasocracy) and as far as the zonation is concerned by endogenous forces.
The age of the Earth measures 4 530 000 000 years, homo sapiens appeared 300 000 years ago and the onset of the industrial age is set to be 1769 by common consensus when James Watt built the first efficient steam engine and thereby rang the bell for the beginning of man-made carbon dioxide production on an industrial scale. It is said that the carbon dioxide emission increases since 1950, but is this the only and true culprit of environmental and atmospheric pollution?
Carbon dioxide is accountable for one of the most frequent sedimentary rocks on Earth (and also on Mars) called limestone with its major mineral calcite (CaCO3 CaO + CO2). It is accommodated in the tests of a great variety of organism, the oldest of which came into existence more than 2 000 000 000 years ago. Carbon dioxide is part of life (see also assimilation and photosynthesis).
We should not ignore that there is a more dangerous polluter and more risky force for life than men that has left its imprints on our globe: “Nature “.
Note the volcanic catastrophes (e.g. Krakatau), geothermal degassing (e.g. H2S, CO2..), radioactive radiation (e.g. Th, U, + Rn emanation), structural-physical catastrophes (e.g. earthquakes, tsunamis, climatically induced floods and rising sea level), chemical catastrophes (e.g. global forest fires with dioxin in kaolin spilled at the very end into the food chain), and extraterrestrial catastrophes (e.g. impact phenomena, cosmic radiation). Do not forget the “First Tschernobyl”; it was the first nuclear ‘fire’ on Earth 1.7 Ga ago at Oklo, Gabun.
Let us have a look at the North Sea Coast and the Isle of Helgoland “at the heart of Old Europe” , in the middle of the North Sea and take them as a case history of the competition between men´s and nature´s influence to shape the surface of the globe, or to be more precise the coast. The mentioned island has been shrinking in size to its present-day size of 1.7 square kilometers since 800 AD where it covered an area of more than 30 square kilometers. The impact of men on the shape of this island was manifold but it is certainly no match to that of the forces of nature the result of which are confirmed by the above figures.
Long before we were discussing about “Sand Mafias” digging away the sand from the beaches of their neighbors next door to maintain their own welfare but do not care about anything, business man from the North German mainland in search of construction raw materials acted in a similar way and exaggerated their sand pitting operations on the Isle of Helgoland to such an extent that they deprived the island of its natural protection against the storm flood events. In 1721 the island could no longer resist and survive as one island and split apart into the main island and the dune island. It is one of the first negative impacts of men reported from that area at the boundary of land and sea.
It was not an organization established to protecting the environment, or flora and fauna which had a positive effect on the size of Helgoland. It was the “ Kriegsmarine” (German Navy) which in 1938 started its project “Hummerschere” (“Lobster Claw”) to build a large naval base in the North Sea off-shore the mainland, in other words another “Scapa Flow” like the one in northern Great Britain, and started sand filling into coastal area around the island to gain additional land, a process which was successful but grinded to a halt by the beginning of World War II.
Immediately after World War II the biggest non-nuclear man-made blast on the globe (Operation “Big Bang”) using 6700 tons of explosive ordnance on April, 18, in 1947 was triggered by the British Armed Forces to eradicate this island for ever from the sea and avoid another “Scapa Flow” to come up in the North Sea forever. Their attempt re-shaped the surface of the island indeed but did not scratch the outlines of the island thanks to the island´s “sandwich-like-geology” of alternating clay and sand beds. As such it was another example of changing the landmass on the globe but despite the enormous efforts taken by the armed forces in this case it was all in vain and resulted in a size-conservative effect.
The reference Isle of Helgoland is situated off-shore a serrated coast line with several islands. Both of these landforms on the island and along the coast have been shaped by the North Sea since 500 AD by multiple flood events leading to a huge number of casualties of between 315000 and 400000 men and a strong landfall that is still going on and eating away the sand from the mainland and the Frisian islands. The most serious damage to the North Sea Coast and the highest rate of casualties has been reported prior to 1769. Who was the culprit of all these incidents, particulate matter or carbon dioxide in the air? The sun does not produce them all and horse-drawn carriage rides do not do it either.
Each freshman in geology knows that there are thalassocratic periods, where the sea level was tremendously rising and sea was encroaching upon land in a way never seen before, and that these periods occurred several times during the geological past, the last one during the Late Cretaceous, 70 to 100 Ma ago.
There are endogenous changes (e.g. magnetic field, magmatic events), exogenous changes (e.g. climatic regime) and extraterrestrial changes (e.g. cosmic radiation, meteorite impacts) impacting through the past, present and in the future on the evolution of the globe. Have these changes ever been correlated with each other, set in relation to catastrophes affecting human and/or living beings or their influence on the climate thoroughly investigated? Have they ever recorded in the balance sheet when comparing all these phenomena ?
It is obviously common practice to try and be the first to name a new trend even if the database is patchy and the entire ideology based on shaky grounds. I remember the Club of Rome and its false prognosis in 1972 about the “Limits to Growth”. We were told to run out of tin within 10 to 20 years. I had not yet finished my basic studies in geosciences in 1975 when we learnt that companies started shutting down their tin smelters in SE Asia due to overproduction. For whatever reason, scientists trained to teach students slip into the role of panic- and fear mongers and get into a cheap alarmist mode?
There is currently only one trend for sure. The growth of the global population is positive, excluding Europe as a regional wild point and given there is no warfare or an impact of nature. We are still waiting for the true “Big Bang” of the Yellowstone super volcano in the USA or the Katla, Iceland, which are statistically overdue and the eruptions of which will revitalize the large fossil fluvial drainage systems in the Arabian Desert as a consequence of another pluvial period in this region and they will spoil all our plans and calculations centered on the global climate change. To feed the increasing number of living/human beings on Earth we need phosphorus which shows a dissipative consumption being used at the beginning of the human phosphate cycle as a fertilizer, which experiences an accumulation in the intermediate repository called the living beings and subsequently suffers final deposition in municipal sewage plants where we can recycle it from during “urbane mining”. It is a green element sensu stricto of importance for all human beings.
Is green technology help or hype ?
It is the magnitude according to which we can respond to nature and its forces.
The example of the Isle of Helgoland shows us that to a minor extent we can change the shorelines across the globe in a positive or negative way or simply obtain a conservative result. We should, however, not exaggerate our human measures and feel our capabilities to be endless and powerful , like God´s. Going beyond our limits will only provoke “nature to deride these man-made attempts” to tie the hands of its forces and it will end up in what we can call another “Tower of Babel”.
For all those who strive for a change of the climate triggered by human beings, the first and most easy step to save the climate and to reduce carbon dioxide is banning big conferences and assemblies and to replace them by video conferences, if at all necessary. We are living no longer at the beginning of the “Industrial Age” where people were forced to sail across the globe but we are at the beginning of the “Age of Information Technology”. “Chatting” is the magic word of the 21 st century. “Work force”, however, sounds too much like a military assault for many, particularly for these ““Eco Pharisees” travelling across the globe on tax-payer´s account, boasting of their relevance and usefulness in the media, and considering it the most efficacious way to save the climate, for them.
Climate change is a real phenomenon as long as the Earth exists but anthropogenic climate change is a hoax spearheaded by those who want to drain down money from an endless source and feed their image neurosis.
Harald G. Dill
Hannover, October 22, 2018