It is said to be difficult to predict, especially with regard to the future. Medieval German miners who believed that Kobold rock troll and raw nickel had bewitched ore and minerals that contained no precious metal had probably never been able to guess that cobalt and nickel would become some of the raw materials. most coveted in the world. early next millennium.
But when the battery of a single electric car can hold 35 kilograms of nickel and 14 kilograms of cobalt, some are needed when the world is electrified.
More mines are needed to exploit the gold of the new era, such as cobalt, nickel, graphite and, not least, rare earth metals, which is the name of a group of 17 metals similar to each other. They have very useful properties and are used in everything from TV screens to wind turbines.
The latest report from the European Commission on commodities of crucial importance or “commodities that are economically more important and that present a high risk of supply” were presented last year. There are now 30 substances on the Commission’s list. The number has increased for each report, from 14 in 2011, 20 in 2014 and 27 raw materials in 2017. In addition to natural rubber, all the substances on the most recent list are metals and other substances from the earth’s crust.
There are simply no free lunches. We want to reduce the use of fossil fuels while developing increasingly advanced electronic systems. At the same time, we are also increasingly dependent on substances which, in the words of the European Commission, are “essential for a large number of different industrial ecosystems to function and not be disturbed”, and which are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.
More mines are needed to extract gold from the new era, such as metals such as cobalt, nickel, graphite and, not least, from rare earths, which is the name of a group of 17 metals that resemble each other. They have very useful properties and are used in everything from TV screens to wind turbines. Eight of them, including yttrium, ytterbium, terbium and erbium, were first found in the Ytterby mine in Resarö, in the Stockholm archipelago. But today, China accounts for most of world production. Although metals are not as rare as thought when the group received their name, it is still rare to find them in concentrations so large that mines can be profitable.
Mining has important consequences for the environment. But, as in everything we do, there has to be a balance, with fewer fossil fuels and a more tolerable life on one scale and more mines on the other. We can recycle some of the shortcomings, but there will hardly be enough. We are increasingly urbanized and when many people can leave poverty in countries like India and China or South America, the pressure increases even more. Of course, the new middle class also wants electricity, computers, cars and cell phones, just like us.
Read more: Peter Alestig: Mineral change in climate change is far from clean and fine