In an effort to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to enter an energy revolution. Specifically, we’ll need to find ways to replace dirty, fossil fuel-based grids and vehicles with clean, carbon-free grids and electric vehicles (EVs). However making this into a reality will be a challenge due to the fact that an increase in renewable energy means an increase in the need for batteries to power EVs and store energy from solar panels and wind turbines. And as a new report by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney warns, that’s likely to drive demand for the metals used to build green batteries, solar panels and wind turbines through the roof.
The researchers calculated how the demand for “green batteries” will rise if countries do not uphold their Paris Agreement commitments and transitions to 100 percent renewable energy and transportation by 2050. Their findings indicate that the demand will exceed the amount of cobalt, that is currently available and will consume 86 percent of the earth’s lithium reserves.
From phones to solar panels and wind turbines, the batteries that these and many other devices use are made from a variety of metals. In addition to lithium, batteries use cobalt, manganese and nickel. Solar panels are made from tellurium, gallium, silver and indium. Other renewable devices also use copper and aluminum.
Despite the negative impact of battery materials, experts still argue that the transition to renewable energy is worth it. Energy professor, Charles Barnhart of Western Washington University, told the media: “I want to be clear that when we talk about environmental impacts, we’re not trying to decide between ‘lesser evils,'” the destructive legacy of fossil fuels is simply incomparable.
Although metal mining may never be clean, there are a few ways to improve the problem:
- Demand transparency from battery and electronic companies:
- If mining operations and electronic companies know that consumers are paying attention to their supply chains, human rights practices and environmental impacts they are more likely to do the right thing.
- Respect rights of indigenous communities:
- The sovereignty and voices of dissent from local communities must be recognized and supported both legally and financially in places from the DRC to Alaska.
- Increase energy efficiency:
- The world’s transition to renewable energy seems to be the path forward, however people can still reduce their need for electricity in their everyday lives. For example, homes built to make the most of natural light and use less electricity during the daytime.
- Recycle batteries:
- The lithium and cobalt recycling industry will be worth $23 billion by 2025 and will rise with increasing demand. Major companies like Tesla, Apple and Amazon are developing battery recycling programs for their products.