Electrification of everything are we really going to be able to achieve it?
Many years ago Nickola Tesla made a number of amazing discoveries some of which are still not understood. But the man did love to play with electricity.
There have been many stories written about Mr Tesla how many of them are true is probably where the real story lies.
But all those years ago he had a vision of how electricity would drive the world.
Nikola was correct about that indeed.
These days we have any amazing array of electrical tools, gadgets and tech. But how much of it is value adding to our lives? Maybe a question for another time.
The Voice of Descent Is it Driving The Electrification Journey in the right direction?
If there is one thing that the last 6 to 7 years has really seen in this space is a changing voice of discontent.
In 2018 I attended the IMARC (International Mining and Resources Conference) in Melbourne it was an interesting event for a number of reasons. But unfortunately the event was clouded by protests.
During the week-long event there were protestors outside the venue clashing with Police and stopping attendees from entering the event.
But one thing really did surprise me. That was just how little the few people I spoke to about what they were protesting about knew about what they were putting their voice to.
All Coal Mining is dirty!
An example of this is that there was a young lady handing out pamphlet’s about how bad the extraction of coal was for the environment and how bad the companies that extracted coal were.
The co worker that I was with and I stopped and decided to hear her out.
Much to our “surprise” she had never been to a mine site let alone a coal mine.
When asked how she had attended the event today she responded by saying that she used the train.
We asked how the train was powered.
“Electricity” was her response.
“Interesting and where does the electricity come from?”
“Renewables” she responded.
Really which renewables?
“Well solar and wind of course”
How much of the power supplied to Melbourne do you think is supplied by renewables?
“If you had to put a figure on it”
Maybe 70 or 80 percent
Now that is super optimistic, would it surprise you that it is actually the other way around that over 85% of the power supplied to the Melbourne power grid comes from coal fired power stations?
Would it also surprise you that there is actually a lot of coal used in the manufacturing of steel that goes into the construction of the trains, rail and power grid that you travelled on.
Would it also surprise you that the majority of the coal produced in Australia is used for the manufacturing of steel. Would it also surprise you that in order to manufacture steel in a commercially viable way that metallurgical coal is required?
Her response was to her credit “No I was not aware, I guess I need to do a little more research”.
Now these numbers are estimates and based on my understanding of the market and they may be out but they are/where directionally correct at the time.
Now let’s talk about the electrification of the world
Even better let’s talk about the green new world.
Before we get into this please know that I am all for creating a more sustainable planet, but also know that I do want to travel, I do what to drive cars, ride motor bikes and play on boats.
I also like my tech, and I love my tools! And I really would like to be able to keep using and accessing these resources.
But there comes a time when we must adjust and improve the process…
The world is forever evolving.
We are improving the way we extract metals and resources from the world.
Are we doing a great job of it everywhere?
No definitely not, but are we getting better at it? Definitely.
Stop and think for a moment, Capricorn metals is now back up in North Queensland reprocessing tailings at a grade that is not only viable but profitable and they are not having to disturb the environment.
Chris Reed and his company Neo Metals are now using good old mining tech (maybe not that old) in the recycling of car batteries in the next big frontier.
But as we get better at processing and extraction our resources are becoming harder to find.
They are becoming harder to get approval for and the red tape that wraps up projects means that the entrepreneurial approach that the Australian culture is renowned for is starting to take a dive!
Some of the critical elements that the world is betting on to support the move to the green new world really are not there in the volumes that we need to make this transition work.
Two example sof what may impact the current evolution of this Green New World.
The amount of copper required in the construction of just 1 BEV (battery electric vehicle) is 50 to 100 times that which goes into a modern diesel vehicle. And that is only what goes into the car. The copper that goes into all the infrastructure around that vehicle like the charging stations and networks required to support the extra electricity load to a population driving these BEV’s is significant.
In fact while we are currently experiencing a shortage of copper in the world, recent estimates suggest that the deficit that we will see in just the next 10 to 15 is very very large especially as some of the larger long term mines start to reach their end of life.
The challenge is that there aren’t any really large projects coming on line, and it is not from a lack of trying, it is because we can find them. The deposits that we are finding are much deeper and technically more difficult to extract, which means that they really aren’t commercially viable.
So what happens to the BEV race once the price of copper becomes un tenable?
How do we meet the gap?
What other metal do we have that has the properties of copper that can last like copper does?
Yes there are a bunch more questions here and this is the point of this article is to get you thinking more about what is going to be impacting us in the not-so-distant future.
We have bet big on lithium being our power storage medium of choice and while it is a great means of storage, it to has it’s floors.
One of which is that it too is suffering in a similar way to copper. That said we haven’t been exploring the world for lithium like we have copper and for as long as we have for copper. So there is still a lot of ground to cover to find the big deposits.
There is no doubt that they will come but to date the deposits that have been found are in fairly remote locations which then presents it’s own challenges.
The biggest challenge for lithium is not the volume but the speed from discovery to production. As the world is changing so are the requirements around approvals and the approval process while important is getting tied up in a lot of red tape.
So how do we progress to the green new world
Taking these couple of points let’s have a little think about the potential outcomes.
If the demand out strips the supply where will the demand come from and more to the point the money. This is important as their will be points on the price curve that makes certain portions of this green new world transition un feasible.
My thought is that the materials will end up going to high end items that may not support the transition to this approach.
What does an under supply mean for the transition
There really aren’t that many “first world” countries that haven’t set aggressive targets to move away from the combustion engine vehicle.
But will these governments chop their noses off to spite their face?
I think that they probably are.
My feel is that there is too much focus on one course of action.
While focus is important it there can also be dual approaches to the “problem”.
What is the problem that Electrification is set to solve
This is really something that I am unsure of. Yes there is direct emissions associated with the use of combustion vehicles, but there are also emissions in the procurement of the raw materials to manufacture battery electric vehicles.
In addition to this these vehicles batteries will also require their batteries to be changed out, and while there is thought being put into this process I have a few questions:
What will the life span of these vehicles become?
Will the vehicles themselves become a consumable?
If BEV’s become a consumable what is the impact on our planet?
In this process and as we look for cheaper manufacturing process and our love for plastics continues to grow, what will the impact on the environment be from micro plastics?
Do I think that we should remain at status quo and not transition to an electrified world?
But also maybe not, wow that is a politicians answer. But in reality it is because I need more data to understand.
If we look at what has taken place between 2019 and 2023 there has been a shift of people starting to learn some of the crafts from years gone by.
People are starting to ask more of their life, but are they changing their consumption behaviours.
If people genuinely start to question their behaviours and understand the impact that social media has on them then maybe there could be a drive away for overt consumption to need.
If this takes place it may slow the demand on raw materials and therefore make electrification an easier to achieve outcome.
If we don’t then electrification of everything will need some re thinking and some new technologies.
Will the electrification of everything really work?
Not with the current approach.
There is too larger gap between demand, supply and actual availability. And yes even with the onset of Urban Mining and companies like Neo Metals with people like Chris Reid adapting to the markets desires, I still think that gap is too large and the bureaucracy too big.
We should still be doing something but it needs to not be a singular focus.
Companies like Fortescue Future Industries is pushing ahead and disregarding the governments direction and they are just getting on with it!
“It only takes one person to change the world, but we can all contribute!”
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