Earth’s Resources are finite. We may be able to drag stuff down from the space around us but only in very small quantities, the cost per pound of getting stuff from the moon works out to about $250,000 per gram. From low earth orbit it is probably a lot cheaper, being bargain basement at maybe $10,000 per gram, about 1/5th of the size of a level teaspoonful of sugar, so apart from its novelty value to science, it’s probably a poor return. The equivalent of 1 gramme of pure gold is about 50 cubic millimetres, and worth about $57, so even getting stuff from low earth orbit is currently around about 175 times as expensive as that, the moon 4,000 times and Mars probably around 20-50,000 times. If you regard a fully fuelled Saturn V as around about 2.8 million Kg, and the rocks it returns around 64Kg, then the moon is probably 40,000 times in the red in proportion, low earth around 1600 times, if there was in fact anything up there to grab that was worth it.
So space mining is pretty poor in that respect, even getting paper back from another planet costing in the region of $5 million per sheet. A bit of a difference between the $5 that a 500 sheet pack at the local store costs. The Mars Paper company quoting $2.5 billion per pack, any takers?
So, unless we are living in space or on the moon, the ‘Fred Bloggs, Space Miner’ books are a bit on the fantasy side. If you could mine tritium or Helium 3, then maybe the balance is not so one sided.
That said, the world is running short of resources. I see the current set of fossil fuels, or easy to get at power something like the graph below:
Probably by 2070 there won’t be any simple drillable oil available, gas will have been 50% depleted, and even shale oil will be down to about 83% of all reserves. Shale oil will be around for a very long time, but it’s likely that for each 10% used up, obtaining the next 10% will mean using twice the energy to do it. So the last 10% may take half a million times the energy of the first 10% to release it. Get to this stage and mankind is back to the stone age within decades, possibly for 50,000 years and resources taking this long to recover to usable levels.
This of course may have happened in the past, and we occasionally see remnants and relics just hanging on, hoping for a return to glory.
Light speed, can we bypass it? That is the question. At the moment we need stellar energy level capacity to do things like warps to send single craft out. Play around with antimatter and get it wrong, nobody would know, even at planetary distances, as the planet you did it on may never be detected again, mistaking it for an asteroid field. Without faster than light capacity. entropy means dead craft being aimed at other stars. With accretion we might even mistake them for inter-stellar objects.
I must admit, I am not sold on the idea of purely man made CO2 driving climate change, but I am aware of it having little effect, and the fact that to reduce our CO2 outputs we are using up resources at a faster rate than just producing CO2. The pragmatic view is that this will continue whatever we do, and mankind is still sitting on one target with a big bulls eye painted on it waiting for extinction.
We have a number of key resources in the world: Air, water, foodstuffs, animals and animal diversity, land, sun, wind, minerals. Many are being subverted, hogged, and used up at an alarming rate, thinking or planning as if there is no tomorrow. Things already produced cannot be unproduced, so their production pollution has passed and irrelevant, but new or planned have additional pollution. We have the fixation that ‘old is good, new is bad,’ not based on any logical consideration. Any new product is bad, but, any new product that is better than the previous one and is there to directly replace it because the old one is now unusable, is good. Simply producing it when things do not need it usually turns out bad. A full pollution for continued use, against full pollution of production and continued use equation. This gives a completely different set of practical values than the theoretical figures borne from ideology. We live in the real world, not a model or the theoretical, which are just estimates, and dependent on the theoretical starting values, theoretical running values and the theoretical ends values depending on what or not is included by an individuals choice, views and the society they live in. Even then, models are only good as if you know exactly how things work and what alters what. Most people think they do, but don’t, so you end up with a model which is an estimate of an estimate of an estimate of a guess, exact to 4 decimal places.
So, we currently live on a world where its utility is diminishing. The government and business world see a theoretical infinite amount of resources according to their ideologies, where nothing will run out. ‘Growth is necessary for a healthy economy,’ being stated as a universal and unchallengeable truth, but the actual truth, not the fiction or fantasy quoted is that a 5% yearly growth over 100 years requires 131.5 times the resources that were needed at the start, so a small country will require about the current worlds resource provision just for itself at the end of that time period, and the current universes resource provision after a couple of thousand years. Even a modest 1% per year will need 3 times the resource provision after 100 years and 400 million times the start after a couple of thousand years. This is clearly living in a fantasy world, yet this fantasy persists and runs everything on the planet.
We therefore have a free market and little control in the world on provision or trivial use of resources, little control on energy, much being volatile and with little resilience found anywhere, trusting on luck rather than judgement, on a planet that is unstable and in the middle of a shooting gallery. Are we alone in the universe, nobody knows, except people who believe we aren’t without providing any evidence to back it up, just unqualified and unquantifiable theoretical figures. Just thinking of a number at random between 0 and infinity will probably be more accurate, skewed to 0.
Current government ‘thinking’ is that to help with the environment we should devote our time to certain paths. Electric vehicles being phased out quickly, but requiring all of the world’s lithium resources for just the UK to do this. Power being based on clean and renewable sources, but being neither clean, really renewable, extremely fickle, and prone to breakdown and restrictions. Much of the thinking is based on compartmentalised and discrete theoretical ideas, forgetting about dependent and related areas completely, only including them as an afterthought when things start to go wrong. A lot of ‘quick fix’ ideas with obsessive people pushing through bad, unpractical or unfeasible ideas, becoming part of the problem, not its solution. Out energy policies are so bad we probably couldn’t make them worse unless we decided that was what we originally intended and decided to intentionally damage the energy industry. Even now we are working towards a full removal of any energy resilience, having made moves in that direction for decades with an obsession on price without having sense of any value. ‘Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.’
If we’re it, then the likelihood is that all life will end with us. With so many government and business leaders planning for total extinction of all life, the odds are against us. The only option is maybe a persistence project. https://doomwatch.org/persistance/
What about the shortage of lithium? This, at that moment, is a vital constituent of most high efficiency batteries. It used to be lead, but that has gone out of favour as a power sources except for standard fossil fuel engines as a starter and regulator. There isn’t really a shortage of lithium, just lithium we can get at. So where is the problem? Lithium occurs at around 200 parts per billion in the world, there is about 250 billion tonnes of lithium in sea water alone, s there is a hell of a lot of it, probably in the region of 20 million tonnes worldwide easier to get at. The problem comes from only 100,000 tonnes a year being produced, up from 28,000 ten years ago. This has changed little until about 4 years ago when there was a big jump and doubled, then tripled, but seemingly has just reached a new plateau rather than a continuous gain. Now the increases are similar again. Therefore, it’s become a rare resource, being demonstrated by its price going up by 7 times during the past 10 years, or +20% a year on average.
It first started to open up when the first lithium batteries were produced in about 1970, that only properly took off in the 1990’s. Since then, virtually every electronic device that needs some form off battery storage uses lithium in some form.
Most of the lithium is produced by evaporation, using the sun to do the work and provide the energy for concentration. To not do so would mean doubling the cost and losing a lot of the advantages of this source of power. But it does mean large numbers of standing pools, environmental damage and loss of land use for other things that is often not included.
Standardisation of electric car batteries mean that you probably need about 40kg of lithium per vehicle, but the bigger and more mileage you want from your car, the more lithium, so could be as high as 85kg. So, if all lithium was diverted to vehicles and none for anything else, such as mobile phones and portable devices, this would be about 2.5 million standard vehicles worth a year, maybe 1.5 million long range. Practically, people wouldn’t like to lose their mobiles completely, so you’re probably looking at a maximum of 1 million standard electric vehicles a year at the current rate of lithium production, maybe increasing by 10% a year, or 0.5 million enhanced range ones with no sudden changes in view. Considering there are 1.4 billion operational cars in the world, this mean it would take maybe 1400 years to replace all of them. Very good in theory, resources calculated 0 to infinity. Not a lot is known about the longevity of electric vehicles but I expect they would be similar to fossil fuel ones, but more vehicles these days are now dying and being scrapped because of electrical failings than mechanical ones or rusting away. What we gain in the reliability of solid state components being lost in sensor and ECU failing, trying to keep cars to a non-capable long term standard.
The recent premature scrapping incentives, supposedly replacing dirty old inefficient cars with clean new efficient ones was more a marketing and sales triumph rather than anything do do with reality and the environment, where removing cars that still had a useful life and weren’t in fact that much different in pollution terms, so increasing pollution and making the problem worse shows how far we still have to go, where rhetoric and bad science rules the day.
Somebody said that the car batteries will probably be recycled, but not at the moment. There is a claim the batteries may last 15 years, so they may start to return into lithium amounts in 15 years time, not immediately, if we can recycle them. There are very few objective statistics on this matter. If they don’t last that long then more will come into the pot, but the expense of new batteries will increase above that suggested by a 15 year life. How many fossil fuel cars prior to 2005 are still on the road? Does an electric car with no batteries have much of a value or use, probably costing more to restore it than it originally cost. With little continuity of support from manufacturers I doubt few of the parts will be easily replaceable, so the only option is to scrap it completely. How many people are prepared to pay money to have iphones below 5 repaired even. The iphone 4 was produced 12 years ago, and very few people want to, or still use one, even though most would still work. So we have the latest in automotive consumable and discardable products.
Are Western Governments Ideas About Electric Cars a Pipedream?
Electric cars have a lot of advantages. Overall, they are more efficient at providing power and because electricity generation can be done on a large scale using power stations of various types they will be cleaner overall. The problem comes with how to provide that mobile power on the road. This is done mainly with lithium batteries, most of the other forms of power being a fail in that respect. LPG cars, although cleaner than petrol or diesel never really took off, in most cases being an afterthought than really designing cars for this fuel.
Electric power is still a relatively new source of motive power, though this is changing slowly, there being few electric power points and those that are there tend to be expensive compared to charging the car from home, sometimes 4 times the cost. Because of the recent problems with electricity provision the cost of power using those is getting close to the cost of petrol, forgetting that at the moment the depreciation for electric cars is around twice that of petrol or diesel. So, in economic terms, if you use the car travelling around a lot and things like quick charging stations you will probably be paying about 50% more in cost than conventional fuels for doing so, adding to the transport burden of your business, resources that will need to be accounted for in conventional pollution.
The UK intends to phase out petrol, diesel and even hybrid cars, following in the world’s footsteps, but is this even a practical intention? AT the moment there are about 1.4 billion active cars in the world, about 34 million in the UK, only a small proportion currently being electric. Electric cars in the world at the moment number about 6 million, 1 million of those in the UK. But the figures are generally fudged, counting all vehicles registered and produced in the world and UK rather than those that are still viable. To do so for non-viable petrol and diesel cars in a similar way pushes the number of cars up by 50%, probably to over 2 billion and 45 million in the UK. Cars that are less than 40KWH for their batteries are becoming rare and the batteries are becoming larger rather than smaller to try and emulate the range of petrol and diesel ones. A good petrol or diesel car can manage about 450 miles on a tank in all weathers, a good electric one around 250 miles.
The idea then is to produce more electric cars. The trouble is that apart from a few very suspect changes most will require a lithium battery. The other forms of battery are still in the provable but commercially unlikely stages, similar to fusion reactors that have constantly been on the cards for over 70 years, making trivial advances, but getting nowhere near a working and commercially viable device. The money spent on this area would have made major advances in other ones, but the research finances available have been virtually hogged by the devout who believe they can make it actual.
Electric commercial vehicles are really only in the car derived level at the moment, electric heavy goods vehicles, planes and ships impractical due to the difference of characteristics between types of motors. Electric trains have become commonplace though, none of them being from mobile storage, and all needing heavy duty cables direct from the grid for power. Try doing this for HGVs, shipping or airlines and you need a lot of cable. It may be possible to create a underground grid for this purpose in a small country, but there may be unacceptable problems and especially extra power losses in doing this. We have pylons to reduce energy loss when massively stepping up power and interconnectors don’t deliver as much power at the other end as goes into them at the start.
So, what of lithium? It’s a highly reactive metal that is very common, but being so reactive and useful it is hard to get at unless you use a lot of power to do so. Evaporation using the suns power to concentrate it, preferably at an elevated altitude, is the most cost efficient, so large pools of standing water that evaporates currently are the practical necessity. Unless a large concentrated deposit is found this is unlikely to change. The downside is the effects on the local area of doing this. You can’t use it for much else and can make the area unusable for anything else for a long time, so doing it in a farming or wildlife area is completely out.
Currently the lithium production is around 100,000 tonnes a year. Various figures concerning amounts of lithium in batteries have been considered and generally a figure of 0.16kg of high-grade lithium is required for 1KWH of motive power. Although people working out practical use of lithium carbonate have come up with figures as high as 2Kg per KWH being the provision, that works out at a 5.3 industry standard to about requiring 0.377Kg per KWH, slightly over double that figure, so a figure of 0.26Kg per KWH is probably currently in the ball park.
Lithium production is about 4 times the level it was 20 years ago when lithium batteries really took off, being in most portable devices, mobile phones being a large amount of this, but only really jumping to its current level 6 years ago when two new production sites came on line with production at the moment unlikely to change much except by small percentages over the next decade. I think it likely that lithium will probably not exceed 250,000 tonnes within the next 10 years, so the requirement will probably push the prices up as fast as this relatively scarce resource have in the past. Due to economies of scale lithium batteries are now 1/8th of the price they were 10 years ago, still requiring a similar amount of lithium, but the cell pack and other cell contents have dramatically reduced by about 9 times. This has happened even though lithium prices have quadrupled in that time, the total lithium content being around 3.5% of the cost of its production 10 years ago and 19% of the cost of its production now, so the overall cost will probably now be on a steady plateau.
Unless there is a dramatic and immediate new set of methods for power storage we are stuck with lithium, at least for the next decade, maybe two. Of the lithium produced for batteries, very little is recycled, most of the processes now being investigated using too much power to make them viable. Old car batteries can be taken apart and repacked with new cells replacing those that have failed and repurposed for home storage, but with a more limited life. The best option would be to simply break them apart and dump them in standing pools of water allowing nature to concentrate the metals, but you would have similar problems of environmental damage that the environmentalists would violently object to, so is probably not a socially acceptable option. They tend to want keep their cake and eat it.
So, allowing for 50% mobile phone and other battery storage equipment and 50% cars and other vehicles we have the UK directive that half of new UK vehicles to be electric by 2030, 8 years’ time and all of them by 2050, 28 years’ time. So, saying about 2 million vehicles a year, drivers not wanting less than a 50KWH battery in each, at about 0.26Kg per KWH that would work out to a requirement of about 26,000 tonnes of lithium a year, or half the world’s current allocation and production at 50% for cars.
I think it unlikely with the prices still likely to double or quadruple in that time the world will allow the UK or any other government to do similar and to hog half of its production of lithium to achieve this, and governments will need to re-think their current naïve assumptions and plans.