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Topic: Rare Earth Metals

[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 #75] – Transportation Transition

Vehicle electrification is gaining real momentum in 2018, from light duty passenger vehicles, to medium and heavy duty vehicles, port equipment, and even ferries. But this rapid transition in transportation isn’t without its risks, its critics, and its incumbent opposition. Will EVs take over the personal vehicle market, and if so, how quickly? How much of a role will ridesharing services play in the future? What’s the future of autonomous vehicles? How will the future of personal vehicle ownership look? Is there going to be enough supply of rare earth metals to support the EV revolution? Are lithium ion batteries going to become an environmental hazard or will we recycle them?  Are EVs cleaner than high-efficiency gasoline vehicles on a lifecycle basis? Will EVs or robotaxis increase the vehicle miles traveled, and if so, what will be the net effect on emissions in that scenario? How should we be planning to accommodate the loads of EV charging on the power grid? And what about the loads of the medium- and heavy-duty sectors? Can drivers and bicyclists and robotaxis learn to share the road? And what would a transition-friendly transportation infrastructure look like?

Our guest in this episode has researched all of these questions, and shares with us the best available knowledge on the rapidly evolving sector of new mobility. Costa Samaras is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who has published numerous studies related to new mobility and the effect of EVs on emissions and on the power grid.

Geek rating: 7