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Sun Oct 30, 2016, 03:09 PM

Some insight to the environmental impacts of so called "renewable energy": LCA of the Lanthanides.

The weekly readings published at the Mauna Loa Carbon Dioxide Observatory (accessed 10/30/16) show that the value recorded on October 21, 2016 (402.07 ppm) is 3.57 ppm higher than recorded one year ago, when the reading was 398.50. Just ten years ago, this increase would have seemed extreme; in 2016 it's distressingly ordinary, rather typical of what we've been seeing all year.

These figures, as I never tire of pointing out, demonstrate in rather unambiguous terms, that the worldwide popular enthusiasm for solar and wind energy is delusional, and that the exercise in throwing vast amounts of money at these international exercises in wishful thinking is a flat and grotesque failure.

Solar and wind energy fall under the general rubric of so called "renewable energy."

I've been poking through back issues of some of my favorite scientific journals in the last day or two, and came across a paper of a type that has been catching my eye recently, since I certainly question the wisdom of investing in the wind and solar industries based on the experimental result of betting the planetary atmosphere on their viability. I would argue that just like many of other popular myths associated with these industries - for example that they will result in reductions in the use of dangerous fossil fuels - that the very name under which these industries justify themselves, that they are, in fact, "renewable" is, well, to put it bluntly, a lie.

The so called "renewable energy" industry relies on the mining and refining not only of prodigious amounts of iron and coal for steel, and bauxite for aluminum, but also of vast amounts of elements that are clearly subject to depletion, several, like indium and gallium, in the short term, in some cases very toxic like cadmium and tellurium, and others very expensive in carbon terms to refine, as well as presenting security and availability risks to their supply.

In the case of the wind and "green" electric car industry, many of these elements are the lanthanides.

The paper to which I refer, which talks about the "LCA" (Life Cycle Analysis) of the lanthanides is this one: Environmental Life Cycle Perspective on Rare Earth Oxide Production ( ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2015, 3 (2), pp 237244) ("Rare Earths" is an older, but still widely used term for the lanthanides.)

Some text from the paper:

Rare earth elements (REEs) are a collection of 17 chemical elements composed of the 15 lanthanides as well as scandium (Sc) and yttrium (Y),(1) and are critical to the functionality of multiple modern commercial technologies(2) such as electric vehicles (batteries and magnets),(3) wind turbines (magnets),(4) fluorescent lighting (phosphors), catalytic converters, medical devices, and defense applications(5) (see Table 1). REEs are of significant national interest, as these chemical elements are pivotal for the development of emerging clean energy(6) technologies and are vital to the U.S. national security and economic well-being.(7)

REEs are a relatively abundant resource, however they are often widely dispersed and found in low concentrations, resulting in energy intensive and environmentally taxing mining, extraction, and refining processes.(9) REEs are often utilized for their special luminescent and magnetic properties.(10) However, because they are found in low concentrations, REEs are typically mined as coproducts of more concentrated materials. As such, REEs are typically more resource intensive and costly to recover, as compared to traditional ores such as iron or coal. In the past, the United States (U.S.) produced enough REEs to meet domestic demands, but now relies primarily on imports from China due to lower-cost labor and regulations.(9) In 2011, 95% of global rare earth oxides (REO) were produced in China; (11) the largest REE mine is located in Bayan Obo, Inner Mongolia,(9) see Figure 1...

Here is figure 1:

Some more text:

...Prior reports have shown that REE extraction at Bayan Obo has brought the surrounding area serious environmental and health issues such as land depletion, water pollution, air pollution, and exposure to radioactive materials,(24) and highlights the importance of quantifying the human health and environmental impacts of REOs before their widespread adoption and use in multiple industries. Given the critical need for environmental sustainability assessments of rare earth element production, this work performs a LCA of REO production from the Bayan Obo mine located in Inner Mongolia, China. This work serves to add to the growing body of work on environmental impacts of REOs/REEs via providing a comprehensive understanding of the life cycle environmental profile of REOs produced in China, including details specific to China via Chinese REE industry reports. The following 15 rare earth oxides are evaluated in this study: cerium (Ce2O3), dysprosium (Dy2O3), erbium (Er2O3), europium (E2O3), gadolinium (Gd2O3), holmium (Ho2O3), lanthanum (La2O3), lutetium (Lu2O3), neodymium (Nd2O3), praseodymium (Pr6O11), samarium (Sm2O3), terbium (Tb4O7), thulium (Tm2O3), ytterbium (Yb2O3), and yttrium (Y2O3). The results of this work provide several important insights including (1) quantifying the environmental impacts of REO production on 10 key environmental sustainability and human health metrics; (2) identifying areas for process improvement in the REE supply chain; (3) environmental comparison of REO production to the primary production of several common metals. Furthermore, the analysis provided in this work can be synthesized with metallurgical and sustainability reports to provide a holistic understanding of the environmental sustainability of the growing REE and metals industry...

Of course, a better approach to dealing with the possible effects of "land depletion, water pollution, air pollution, and exposure to radioactive materials,(24)" highlighting "the importance of quantifying the human health and environmental impacts of REOs" would be to simply get all weepy eyed and willing to applaud at any length the billionaires and millionaires who tool around in the bourgeois never never land with their swell Tesla cars.

Anyway, the people who mine and refine lanthanides are not like us, they're um, poor people, and Chinese to boot. It's not our job to care about them, since they, um, well, um, they're far away.

Anyway, a graphic on the processing of "green" lanthanide processing is provided in the paper:

Another graphic about the energy and carbon cost of refining these metals:

I could go on, but why should I? I'm sure we couldn't care less.

We're all in favor of "green" stuff of course, all new stuff, and all of these scientific issues questioning whether they're actually "green" and actually "sustainable" is as annoying as hell. I mean, our embrace of "all new stuff" certainly doesn't mean that we're in favor of being blind consumers in a disposable culture, does it, if someone's here to tell us that our "all new stuff" is "green," does it? Close this post right now and go over to Joe Romm's website, where you can learn that solar and wind industries will save the day, even if they haven't, they aren't, and they won't.

It's not reality that counts; it's wishing real hard for some other kind of reality, even imaginary reality, that counts.

Have a nice Sunday evening.

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