As some policymakers push to include “green energy” initiatives as a key feature of economic recovery, a new Manhattan Institute report by senior fellow Mark Mills offers a sobering reality check. Any large-scale shift to using so-called green energy technologies instead of oil and gas as primary energy sources would require an unprecedented increase in the mining of key minerals across the globe.
Building wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle batteries is far more resource-intensive than building hydrocarbon-fueled machines. These green technologies require, on average, more than ten times the quantity of materials to deliver the same amount of energy. If widely implemented, this will require far more mining, mainly in foreign countries, often with questionable environmental and labor practices. And while essentially all hydrocarbons America uses are produced domestically, nearly all green energy materials and the components of green machines are produced overseas. An aggressive green-energy path will exacerbate foreign supply-chain vulnerabilities at a time when many policymakers are considering the benefits of reshoring supply chains.
Among the report’s key findings:
- A single electric car contains more cobalt than 1,000 smartphone batteries; the blades on a single wind turbine require more plastic than five million smartphones; and a solar array that could power one data center uses more glass than 50 million smartphones.
- A single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials to obtain the key “energy minerals.” Averaged over a battery’s life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth. Using an internal combustion engine consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile.
- As recently as 1990, the U.S. was the world’s number-one producer of minerals. Today, it is in seventh place. even though the nation has vast mineral reserves worth trillions of dollars, America is now 100 percent dependent on imports for some 17 key minerals, and for another 29, over half of domestic needs are imported.
- Oil, natural gas, and coal are needed to produce the concrete, steel, plastics, and purified minerals used to build green machines. The energy equivalent of 100 barrels of oil is used in the processes to fabricate a single battery that can store the equivalent of one barrel of oil.
- By 2050, with current plans, the quantity of worn-out solar panels—much of it nonrecyclable—will constitute double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste, along with over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastics from worn-out wind turbine blades. By 2030, more than 10 million tons per year of batteries will become garbage.
Source: Manhattan Institute