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Cobalt Mining: The Dark Side of the Renewable Energy Transition

 

The Importance of Cobalt in the Renewable Energy Transition 

There is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and address global warming in order to limit existing rises in temperatures. Meeting these goals, however, requires a complete transformation – changes to the ways that energy is produced, transported and consumed. A movement away from a fossil fuel-based economy requires the generation of alternative energy sources. 

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) “Net Zero by 2050” report notes that roughly 75% of current greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the energy sector. As such, decarbonising the energy sector has dominated both technological and social innovation efforts, with electric vehicles being just one example. 

At the most basic level, EV batteries are charged and discharged through the flow of lithium ions between the anode (positively charged) and the cathode (negatively charged). The cathodes contain nickel, and play a role in delivering high energy density, which allows the vehicle to travel further. Cobalt in the cathodes ensures they don’t easily overheat or catch fire and helps to extend the life of batteries. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report notes that a typical EV battery needs 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of lithium, 35 kilogram of manganese and 6-12 kilograms of cobalt.

In the race to develop battery-power to meet net-zero commitments, however, it is important not to overlook the global implications of such a transition. New energy sources, such as those required for batteries and electric vehicles, are now exerting enormous pressures on the environment. Two questions are quickly arising: Are there sufficient resources and ability to meet these increasing demands? And, just as importantly, what are the societal costs of meeting these demands in this way?

 

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Published on 11/2/2022 (90 days ago) General