The Dilemma of “Going Green”
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The Dilemma of “Going Green”

By Tobias Campbell

Humans currently mine 61.1 billion tons of material from Earth every year, and are still not able to keep up with the rapidly growing demand for raw materials. While mining emissions are currently minimal compared to other sectors, as we convert to clean energy and require more raw materials, these emissions will increase. 

The benefits of going “green” are clear: we would be slowing catastrophic climate change. However, many argue that it is necessary to reanalyze how we go “green.” Current technologies require unprecedented amounts of silicon and lithium, which are unrenewable resources that also produce significant emissions when extracted. Harnessing wind energy also requires massive amounts of energy and steel (the steel industry emits approximately 1.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually). Additionally, solar panels are not necessarily perfect solutions, as they only last 25-30 years. 

Lithium batteries seem promising. The chemical makeup of lithium makes it optimal for use in the storage of electricity. With energy produced by things like wind (which isn’t blowing all day), there needs to be a way to store and save energy for later use. Batteries are a way to hold that energy so that it can be redistributed when needed. It also means that places that rely on solar energy will have power on a cloudy day. However, lithium batteries currently have an average lifespan of just 300-500 charge cycles or 2-3 years, depending on the makeup of the battery and the amount of energy being stored. 

Mining lithium also has significant environmental impacts. In the Andes, lithium is sucked from brine deposits in the salt plains of the tall mountains, and vast amounts of water are required to clean the lithium and separate it from other minerals. In Australia, hard rock mining is used to obtain lithium, which requires explosives. These two locations hold about half of the world’s lithium reserves, and both of these methods have ecological costs. 

This means that the environment is torn apart for a few years of energy storage. It is important for scientists to look further into additional green solutions—ones that don’t require us to tear up our planet more than we already have.


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