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The Dirty Truth About Green Batteries

Earther: “Making that future a reality will, among other things, require a lot of batteries: batteries to charge our electric cars; batteries to store solar power collected while the sun’s up and wind power harnessed when it’s gusty out. And as a new report by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney warns, that’s likely to drive demand for the metals used to build green batteries—as well as wind turbines and solar panels—through the roof. In other words the clean tech boom is, at least in the short term, likely to fuel a mining boom. And that won’t come without cost. “We already know about the environmental, social, and human rights impacts extraction is posing to front line communities right now,” Payal Sampat, mining program director at Earthworks, which commissioned the new report, told Earther. “It’s kind of unimaginable to think about… how it would be considered sustainable to scale up those impacts that many fold and still be reaping benefits.”

Much like our smartphones and computers, the high-tech energy infrastructure of tomorrow requires a host of metals and minerals from across the periodic table and the planet. The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs and energy storage require not just lithium, but often cobalt, manganese, and nickel. Electric vehicle engines rely on rare earths, as do the permanent magnet-based generators inside some wind turbines. Solar panels gobbles up a significant share of the world’s supply of tellurium, and gallium, along with a sizable fraction of mined silver and indium. Most renewable technologies demand heaps of copper and aluminum…”

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