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Is there a downside to Green Energy? As the human population continues growing, our demand for energy continues to rise. This has been concerning for some time because energy production tends to be a polluting-process and very resource-intensive. Green Energy solutions such as wind turbines, solar cells, and nuclear reactors can all produce clean energy. However, the creation of these things isn’t an entirely clean process.
Many of our clean energy solutions require rare earth elements such as lithium, copper, and cadmium to function. These elements aren’t harmless and mining them requires a lot of energy. To make matters worse, these elements tend to be supplied from monopolized or poorly functioning markets that make obtaining these heavily-sought elements even more difficult. These conditions have exacerbated a looming problem standing in the way of a clean energy revolution: How can we continue to advance the implementation of clean energy infrastructure without placing an increased amount of stress on our environment? A recent paper in —science today—- has come up with some suggestions.
We need to rethink how we mine these materials. Current mining locations are nearly depleted, resulting in increased amounts of effort yielding less. While the process of opening new mines isn’t a 100% clean solution, these new sites would be effective towards the development of clean energy infrastructure. Data has shown the presence of rare earth elements in areas previously inaccessible. Oceanic mining operations are becoming increasingly worthwhile. In addition, plans for space-based mining are becoming increasingly feasible.
Our current mining operations need to be revamped. Mineral supply markets need to be diversified in order to bolster large and small operations. International coordination and adherence are needed to ensure that current mining is done in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible. To reduce demand, we should try to maximize the reuse of rare earth elements in products today. The extension of producer responsibility for the fate of rare earth elements in electronics would ensure that rare elements in circulation are disposed of properly or recycled.
Clean energy production is undeniably better than our current energy industries based on fossil fuels. However, we must transition towards clean energy with care in order to protect the monumental environmental progress that’s already been made. Join Physis to help fight against climate change!
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