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Topic: Lithium

[Episode #152] – No Limits

Are there fundamental limits to the energy transition that will slow it down, or prevent us from decarbonizing our energy systems? Critics and skeptics of the energy transition have pointed to issues like the problems of producing key minerals, or the costs of renewable energy, or path dependency in emerging economies. Some have questioned whether renewables resources even exist in sufficient quantities to displace the existing energy system, or whether there is enough land to site the requisite new wind and solar capacity.

In this show, we tackle these questions one by one, and explain why there are no fundamental limits that will bring the energy transition to a hard stop in the decades ahead. Quite the opposite, in fact. The safest assumption now is that renewables will continue to grow exponentially, and we should be thinking about the implications of that, rather than asking how the current system can struggle to persist. We’ll also explain why the transition will actually encourage economic growth, rather than restrict it.

Our guide for this discussion is Kingsmill Bond of the Carbon Tracker clean energy think tank based in London. We review several recent reports that he and his colleagues at Carbon Tracker have produced which specifically address these questions, and show how incredibly large our resources of renewable energy and key minerals really are. We’ll also discuss why emerging economies are more likely to leapfrog over the older conventional energy systems and go straight for the new technologies of the transition.

Finally, we share a number of exciting announcements about the future direction of this show and some new features we’re making available to annual subscribers!

Geek rating: 6


[Episode #99] – Metals Supply in Energy Transition

Is the supply of certain key metals—like lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt—and “rare earth” metals—like vanadium and indium—potentially a limiter on the progress of energy transition? Or is there enough of them to realize our ambitions? Are they being produced in a sustainable way? How will the geographic concentration of these metals affect geopolitics and trade as the energy transition progresses? How confident can we be about our assessments of their abundance? And how confident can we be about how much of them we’ll need in the future, given the rapid evolution of many of these technologies, and the many alternate ways of producing them?

Our guest in this episode brings all of these questions into a whole new focus, and shows why these questions can’t be answered with some back-of-the-envelope calculation. Instead of asking whether there is enough of these metals in the Earth’s crust, he says, or about how they are mined, we should be asking much more sophisticated questions about the chemical industry, the opaque, illiquid markets in which these metals are traded, and the geopolitical implications of their trade.

Geek rating: 1


[Episode #59] – Lifecycle Assessment

When we need to compare the environmental consequences of energy technologies — between an internal combustion vehicle or an EV, or between a compact natural gas generator and a big wind farm — what’s the best way to understand the full picture? Should we just look at pollutant emissions? Or should we take a broad view, and consider the total lifecycle, including mining, manufacturing, transport and waste? The latter is what lifecycle assessment (LCA) is all about, and although it can be used to compare very complex sets of things in a helpful way, it can also be abused to suit an agenda.

To really be sure we’re comparing apples with apples, we need to understand the right ways and the wrong ways to do LCA. And then we need to think carefully about the implications of our research, and how to communicate them to a lay audience in such a way that they can inform policy without being misunderstood or misrepresented. It’s a tricky art, but our guest in this episode is an LCA veteran from NREL who can show us the way.

Geek rating: 6