Metal-lifespan analysis shows scale of waste

Read the full story in Nature.

Metals might be the foundation of the modern economy, but that doesn’t mean they stick around.

A study looking at the economic lifetimes of 61 commercially used metals finds that more than half have a lifespan of less than 10 years. The research, published on 19 May in Nature Sustainability, also shows that most of these metals end up being disposed of or lost in large quantities, rather than being recycled or reused.

How a few geothermal plants could solve America’s lithium supply crunch and boost the EV battery industry

A pilot plant near the Salton Sea in California pairs lithium extraction with geothermal energy production. Michael McKibben

by Bryant Jones, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, University of California, Riverside

Geothermal energy has long been the forgotten member of the clean energy family, overshadowed by relatively cheap solar and wind power, despite its proven potential. But that may soon change – for an unexpected reason.

Geothermal technologies are on the verge of unlocking vast quantities of lithium from naturally occurring hot brines beneath places like California’s Salton Sea, a two-hour drive from San Diego.

Lithium is essential for lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles and energy storage. Demand for these batteries is quickly rising, but the U.S. is currently heavily reliant on lithium imports from other countries – most of the nation’s lithium supply comes from Argentina, Chile, Russia and China. The ability to recover critical minerals from geothermal brines in the U.S. could have important implications for energy and mineral security, as well as global supply chains, workforce transitions and geopolitics.

As a geologist who works with geothermal brines and an energy policy scholar, we believe this technology can bolster the nation’s critical minerals supply chain at a time when concerns about the supply chain’s security are rising.

A power plant surrounded by fields with a large lake behind it and mountains in the distance.
The Elmore geothermal plant near the Salton Sea began operating in 1989. Berkshire Hathaway Energy

Enough lithium to far exceed today’s US demand

Geothermal power plants use heat from the Earth to generate a constant supply of steam to run turbines that produce electricity. The plants operate by bringing up a complex saline solution located far underground, where it absorbs heat and is enriched with minerals such as lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium and boron.

Geothermal brines are the concentrated liquid left over after heat and steam are extracted at a geothermal plant. In the Salton Sea plants, these brines contain high concentrations – about 30% – of dissolved solids.

If test projects now underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost effectively, 11 existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand.

How lithium is extracted during geothermal energy production. Courtesy of Controlled Thermal Resources.

Three geothermal operators at the Salton Sea geothermal field are in various stages of designing, constructing and testing pilot plants for direct lithium extraction from the hot brines.

At full production capacity, the 11 existing power plants near the Salton Sea, which currently generate about 432 megawatts of electricity, could also produce about 20,000 metric tons of lithium metal per year. The annual market value of this metal would be over $5 billion at current prices.

Satellite image of the Salton Sea showing a wide valley
The Salton Trough, seen from a satellite with the Salton Sea in the middle, is a rift valley that extends from east of Los Angeles, in the upper left, to the Gulf of California, visible at the bottom right. The San Andreas fault system crosses here, where two tectonic plates meet. Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory

Geopolitical risks in the lithium supply chain

Existing lithium supply chains are rife with uncertainties that put mineral security in question for the United States.

Russia’s war in Ukraine and competition with China, as well as close ties between Russia and China, underscore the geopolitical implications of the mineral-intensive clean energy transformation.

China is currently the leader in lithium processing and actively procures lithium reserves from other major producers. Chinese state mining operators often own mines in other countries, which produce other vital clean energy minerals like cobalt and nickel.

There is currently one lithium production facility in the U.S. That facility, in Nevada, extracts saline liquid and concentrates the lithium by allowing the water to evaporate in large, shallow ponds. In contrast, the process for extracting lithium while producing geothermal energy returns the water and brines to the earth. Adding another domestic source of lithium could improve energy and mineral security for the United States and its allies.

By pairing with geothermal power production, lithium extraction reduces the need for excess water consumption.

A lack of policy support

Geothermal power today represents less than 0.5% of the utility-scale electricity generation in the U.S.

One reason it remains a stagnant energy technology in the U.S. is the lack of strong policy support. Preliminary findings from a research study being conducted by one of us indicate that part of the problem is rooted in disagreements among older and newer geothermal companies themselves, including how they talk about geothermal energy’s benefits with policymakers, investors, the media and the public.

Geothermal power has the ability to complement solar and wind energy as a baseload power source – it is constant, unlike sunshine and wind – and to provide energy and mineral security. It could also offer a professional bridge for oil, gas and coal employees to transition into the clean energy economy.

The industry could benefit from policies like risk mitigation funds to lessen drilling exploration costs, grant programs to demonstrate innovations, long-term power contracts or tax incentives.

Adding the production of critical metals like lithium, manganese and zinc from geothermal brines could provide geothermal electrical power operators a new competitive advantage and help get geothermal onto the policy agenda.

Geothermal energy gets a boost in California

Trends might be moving in the right direction for geothermal energy producers.

In February, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a new Preferred System Plan that encourages the state to develop 1,160 megawatts of new geothermal electricity. That’s on top of a 2021 decision to procure 1,000 megawatts from zero emissions, renewable, firm generating resources with an 80% capacity factor – which can only be met by geothermal technologies.

The California decisions were primarily meant to complement intermittent renewable energy, like solar and wind, and the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. They suggest that the era of geothermal as the forgotten renewable energy may be ending.

Bryant Jones, Ph.D. Candidate of Energy Policy, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, Research Professor of Geology, University of California, Riverside

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blockchain based circular system being developed to assess rare earth sustainability

Read the full story at Circular.

The project aims to help strengthen the transition to a circular economy through tracking and traceability of critical materials.

New toolkit aids discovery of mineral deposits crucial to ‘green economy’ transition

Read the full story from the University of Exeter.

Scientists have developed a new toolkit for the discovery of mineral deposits crucial to our transition to a ‘green economy’.

America’s supply chains and our clean energy story

When we tell the story of our clean energy future, technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles take center stage. These technologies will be crucial to producing 100% clean electricity by 2035 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But to tell the full story, it’s important to go back to where it all begins – within America’s manufacturing sector and the supply chains that support it. 

U.S. manufacturing is the heartbeat of our nation’s clean energy future. It pumps life into our economy, creating thousands of jobs while moving materials through intricate supply chains to manufacture clean energy technologies.  

To achieve a clean energy future that is made in America, we must strengthen and secure these domestic manufacturing supply chains. As part of a DOE-wide supply chain analysis for the energy sector industrial base for Executive Order 14017, “America’s Supply Chains,” the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) released three deep dive assessments. These assessments explore challenges and opportunities to build U.S. supply chains for clean energy technologies, including rare earth magnets for electric vehicles and wind energy, energy efficient semiconductors and power electronics, and platinum group metal catalysts for fuel cells and water electrolysis. 

The supply chains for these critical technologies are often concentrated in a single country. Even where the U.S. has significant resources and production capacities, downstream domestic refining and manufacturing is often lacking. To secure domestic manufacturing and American competitiveness in these sectors, AMO supports RD&D and workforce development throughout multiple stages of these supply chains. In the deep dive assessments, AMO highlights key supply chain bottlenecks and opportunities for the nation to lead the global clean energy economy. 
 

Rare Earth Magnets

Rare earth permanent magnets are critical components of clean energy technologies including wind turbines and electric vehicles. Despite their growing global demand, the U.S. currently relies primarily on foreign supply chains for rare earth magnets. AMO’s new assessment presents opportunities to strengthen domestic supply chains, drawing on our nation’s wealth of rare earth resources and technical know-how. 

To build a domestic secure supply chain for rare earth magnets, AMO’s assessment found that the U.S. can strengthen the market through increased public-private partnerships, catalyze innovation in rare earth magnet manufacturing, and provide tax credits and other incentives to encourage capacity expansion. 

AMO remains committed to establishing domestic capacity for these important components. Through the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), an Energy innovation hub supported by AMO and led by Ames National Laboratory, AMO is fostering public-private partnerships to eliminate and reduce international reliance on rare earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies. 

CMI scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory recently developed a novel technology to cost-effectively separate rare-earth elements – a critical step in the rare earth magnet supply chain that currently occurs overseas. In a broader sense, CMI continues to create innovative solutions to supply chain challenges through their cutting-edge research, which has garnered six R&D 100 Awards since the hub’s creation in 2013. Their most recent award was for innovative development of Samarium Cobalt magnets. 

Download the Rare Earth Magnets deep dive assessment and view the fact sheet.

Semiconductors

Semiconductors are essential for the operation of every electronic device, including those critical to a clean energy economy. Of the three types of semiconductors identified in the report, conventional semiconductors bring our world online with communication devices, machine learning, and the Internet of Things. Wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, used in power electronics, are crucial for power management circuits that integrate renewable energy into tomorrow’s more distributed electric grids, electrified transport, and industrial efficiency and control applications. 

While the U.S. invented and historically dominated the global semiconductor market, its dominance in manufacturing has shrunk in recent decades. Furthermore, as world demand for semiconductors grows along with the demand for clean energy, their use is driving what will soon become an unsustainable demand for energy and associated growth in carbon emissions. AMO’s new assessment found that the U.S. has an opportunity to develop ultra-energy efficient conventional semiconductors with increased performance and a lower carbon footprint. Additionally, investments in WBG semiconductor manufacturing technologies point the way to a more efficient, strong, and secure domestic power electronics industrial base that will support electrification of a range of technologies. 

AMO is committed to driving the research and development that our nation needs to increase domestic manufacturing for high-efficiency semiconductors. With this report, we are planting a flag as a global leader in ultra-energy efficient electronics. In 2021, AMO convened stakeholders from across America’s manufacturing and innovation ecosystems to identify pathways for manufacturing energy efficient semiconductors. These workshops focused on numerous aspects of the semiconductor supply chain, including integrated sensor systems and ultra-high-efficiency devices

AMO is also driving innovation to secure the domestic WBG semiconductor supply chain. Through PowerAmerica, a public-private partnership within Manufacturing USA, AMO supports domestic manufacturing of WBG semiconductors that can operate at higher temperatures, frequencies, and voltages needed for clean energy deployment.

Download the Semiconductors deep dive assessment and view the fact sheet.

Platinum Group Metal Catalysts

Catalysts based on platinum group metal (PGMs) have a variety of applications such as automotive catalytic converters and petroleum refining. They are also central to emerging decarbonization technologies such as water electrolyzers for green hydrogen production, fuel cells for vehicles and stationary energy storage, and the electrochemical manufacturing of chemicals. 

As we strive to confront the climate crisis, the demand for PGM catalysts is expected to rapidly grow. AMO’s assessment found that, to secure the supply chains for clean energy technologies, as well as green hydrogen and chemical manufacturing, the U.S. has an opportunity to invest in its domestic resources and in innovations in PGM substitutions, material efficiency, and recycling.  

Through the Dynamic Catalysts Science Program, AMO is investing in next-generation catalysts and catalytic reactors that efficiently produce high-volume, energy-intensive chemicals. AMO has made a $19 million investment in seven projects that use PGMs as catalysts to efficiently produce ammonia, ethylene, benzene, and hydrogen through thermal and electrochemical processes.  

One of these projects, led by Forge Nano, is working to develop Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) technology that can reduce PGM loading while producing the same targeted chemical product yield. 

Download the Platinum Group Metal Catalysts deep dive assessment and view the fact sheet.

Tomorrow’s Clean Energy Economy

The narrative of our clean energy transition is complex and multi-faceted, involving global, interconnected supply chains, disparate technologies and resources, and geopolitical actors and events. American manufacturing strength is the common thread that will weave together and connect the ideas, technologies, resources, and workforces to achieve our clean energy future. Secure supply chains are the foundation of this narrative, and the United States has an opportunity to build this integral foundation for tomorrow’s clean energy economy.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office

Artificial intelligence paves the way to discovering new rare-earth compounds

Read the full story from Ames Laboratory.

Artificial intelligence advances how scientists explore materials. Researchers from Ames Laboratory and Texas A&M University trained a machine-learning (ML) model to assess the stability of rare-earth compounds. This work was supported by Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program (LDRD) program at Ames Laboratory. The framework they developed builds on current state-of-the-art methods for experimenting with compounds and understanding chemical instabilities.

How a high-tech twist on a 19th-century process could clean up steel and cement making

Read the full story at The Verge.

Greenhouse gas emissions need to virtually disappear within the next few decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and the most difficult emissions to erase could come from industries like steel and cement set to play a big role in new, green infrastructure. Wind turbines, for example, are made mostly of steel — but, at least until now, it’s been almost unheard of to make that steel using renewable energy.

That could start to change if a startup developing a “heat battery” can successfully move from the lab to the real world. It’s what Oakland, California-based Rondo Energy aims to do with $22 million in new funding from Bill Gates’ climate investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and utility-backed investment firm Energy Impact Partners.

How a few geothermal plants could solve America’s lithium supply crunch and boost the EV battery industry

A pilot plant near the Salton Sea in California pairs lithium extraction with geothermal energy production. Michael McKibben

by Bryant Jones, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, University of California, Riverside

Geothermal energy has long been the forgotten member of the clean energy family, overshadowed by relatively cheap solar and wind power, despite its proven potential. But that may soon change – for an unexpected reason.

Geothermal technologies are on the verge of unlocking vast quantities of lithium from naturally occurring hot brines beneath places like California’s Salton Sea, a two-hour drive from San Diego.

Lithium is essential for lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles and energy storage. Demand for these batteries is quickly rising, but the U.S. is currently heavily reliant on lithium imports from other countries – most of the nation’s lithium supply comes from Argentina, Chile, Russia and China. The ability to recover critical minerals from geothermal brines in the U.S. could have important implications for energy and mineral security, as well as global supply chains, workforce transitions and geopolitics.

As a geologist who works with geothermal brines and an energy policy scholar, we believe this technology can bolster the nation’s critical minerals supply chain at a time when concerns about the supply chain’s security are rising.

A power plant surrounded by fields with a large lake behind it and mountains in the distance.
The Elmore geothermal plant near the Salton Sea began operating in 1989. Berkshire Hathaway Energy

Enough lithium to far exceed today’s US demand

Geothermal power plants use heat from the Earth to generate a constant supply of steam to run turbines that produce electricity. The plants operate by bringing up a complex saline solution located far underground, where it absorbs heat and is enriched with minerals such as lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium and boron.

Geothermal brines are the concentrated liquid left over after heat and steam are extracted at a geothermal plant. In the Salton Sea plants, these brines contain high concentrations – about 30% – of dissolved solids.

If test projects now underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost effectively, 11 existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand. https://www.youtube.com/embed/oYtyEVPGEU8?wmode=transparent&start=0 How lithium is extracted during geothermal energy production. Courtesy of Controlled Thermal Resources.

Three geothermal operators at the Salton Sea geothermal field are in various stages of designing, constructing and testing pilot plants for direct lithium extraction from the hot brines.

At full production capacity, the 11 existing power plants near the Salton Sea, which currently generate about 432 megawatts of electricity, could also produce about 20,000 metric tons of lithium metal per year. The annual market value of this metal would be over $5 billion at current prices.

Satellite image of the Salton Sea showing a wide valley
The Salton Trough, seen from a satellite with the Salton Sea in the middle, is a rift valley that extends from east of Los Angeles, in the upper left, to the Gulf of California, visible at the bottom right. The San Andreas fault system crosses here, where two tectonic plates meet. Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory

Geopolitical risks in the lithium supply chain

Existing lithium supply chains are rife with uncertainties that put mineral security in question for the United States.

Russia’s war in Ukraine and competition with China, as well as close ties between Russia and China, underscore the geopolitical implications of the mineral-intensive clean energy transformation.

China is currently the leader in lithium processing and actively procures lithium reserves from other major producers. Chinese state mining operators often own mines in other countries, which produce other vital clean energy minerals like cobalt and nickel.

There is currently one lithium production facility in the U.S. That facility, in Nevada, extracts saline liquid and concentrates the lithium by allowing the water to evaporate in large, shallow ponds. In contrast, the process for extracting lithium while producing geothermal energy returns the water and brines to the earth. Adding another domestic source of lithium could improve energy and mineral security for the United States and its allies.

By pairing with geothermal power production, lithium extraction reduces the need for excess water consumption.

A lack of policy support

Geothermal power today represents less than 0.5% of the utility-scale electricity generation in the U.S.

One reason it remains a stagnant energy technology in the U.S. is the lack of strong policy support. Preliminary findings from a research study being conducted by one of us indicate that part of the problem is rooted in disagreements among older and newer geothermal companies themselves, including how they talk about geothermal energy’s benefits with policymakers, investors, the media and the public.

Geothermal power has the ability to complement solar and wind energy as a baseload power source – it is constant, unlike sunshine and wind – and to provide energy and mineral security. It could also offer a professional bridge for oil, gas and coal employees to transition into the clean energy economy.

The industry could benefit from policies like risk mitigation funds to lessen drilling exploration costs, grant programs to demonstrate innovations, long-term power contracts or tax incentives.

Adding the production of critical metals like lithium, manganese and zinc from geothermal brines could provide geothermal electrical power operators a new competitive advantage and help get geothermal onto the policy agenda.

Geothermal energy gets a boost in California

Trends might be moving in the right direction for geothermal energy producers.

In February, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a new Preferred System Plan that encourages the state to develop 1,160 megawatts of new geothermal electricity. That’s on top of a 2021 decision to procure 1,000 megawatts from zero emissions, renewable, firm generating resources with an 80% capacity factor – which can only be met by geothermal technologies.

The California decisions were primarily meant to complement intermittent renewable energy, like solar and wind, and the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. They suggest that the era of geothermal as the forgotten renewable energy may be ending.

Bryant Jones, Ph.D. Candidate of Energy Policy, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, Research Professor of Geology, University of California, Riverside

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scientists developing climate-friendly method to process ‘rare earth’ minerals; could make U.S. less reliant on foreign metals

Read the full story from Case Western Reserve University.

A Case Western Reserve scientist is working on a sustainable way to chemically transform so-called “rare earth” minerals into metals for renewable energy applications.

If successful, the new process could one day help increase American production of the metals, which are now primarily imported from China. Rare earth metals are crucial for making not only wind turbines and electric cars, but also items like smartphones, computer screens and telescopic lenses.

What does it take to achieve net zero? Opportunities and barriers in the steel, cement, agriculture, and oil and gas sectors

Download the document.

The report provides insights from sustainability experts on what is required to achieve net zero transition in climate-intensive sectors such as steel, cement, agricultural commodities and oil and gas, and what investors engaging in these sectors need to know in order to have real economic impacts on green transitions.