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The Renewable Revolution Has A Lithium Problem

The Renewable Revolution Has A Lithium Problem

Lithium ponds

As the global middle class rapidly expands, so too does the worldwide demand for energy and its subsequent carbon footprint. Global climate change will be one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, challenges of this next century, and one of the few feasible solutions that is generally agreed upon by scientists and politicians alike is a wide-scale transition from the use of traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy resources.

Around the world, there is a race among researchers to more efficiently and cost-effectively implement renewable energy as a long-term solution to global climate change, and there is even a concerted effort to switch Europe’s energy consumption to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as the year 2050. However, even if Europe achieves this target and takes the lead as the rest of the world follows down a path toward 100 percent renewable energy, we still would not be living in a completely sustainable, green energy utopia–there is a considerable downside to this seemingly perfect plan.

Even renewable energy relies on certain decidedly non-renewable resources. Even the eco-friendliest solutions such as solar panels can’t be made without the use of finite rare earth elements. Batteries, too, are completely dependent on finite earth-sourced materials for their fabrication. What’s more, China currently has an overwhelming monopoly on a great number of these rare earth elements (although not all are as rare as this label implies). This means that in a renewable energy-based world, energy security could become a major issue. In addition to rare earth elements, there are myriad other non-renewable materials used in the production of renewable energy. Currently, the one that has everyone talking is lithium.

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