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Flower or power? Campaigners fear lithium mine could kill rare plant

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Flower or power? Campaigners fear lithium mine could kill rare plant


Flower or power? Campaigners fear lithium mine could kill rare plant

By Romain FONSEGRIVES

Rhyolite Ridge, United States (AFP) May 23, 2024






Delicate pink buds sway in the desert breeze, pregnant with yellow pompoms whose explosion will carpet the dusty corner of Nevada that is the only place on Earth where they exist.

Under their roots lie vast reserves of lithium, vital for the rechargeable electric car batteries that will reduce planet-heating pollution.

But campaigners fear the extraction of the precious metal could destroy the flower’s tiny habitat.

“This mine is going to cause extinction,” says Patrick Donnelly, an environmentalist who works at the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-governmental organization.

“They somehow claim that they’re not harming the (plant). But can you imagine if someone built an open-pit mine 200 feet from your house? Wouldn’t that affect your life profoundly?”

The plant in question is Tiehm’s buckwheat.

There are only around 20,000 known specimens, growing in a few very specific places on a total surface area equivalent to around five soccer fields.

In 2022, the wildflower was classified as endangered by US federal authorities, with mining cited as a major threat to its survival.

The plant and the lithium reserve on which it grows embody one of the key challenges and contradictions of the global climate struggle: how much damage can we inflict on the natural world as we seek to halt or reverse the problems we have already created?

– ‘Coexist’ –

Bernard Rowe, boss of Australian miner Ioneer, which holds the mineral rights to the area, says the lithium produced at Rhyolite Ridge “will be sufficient to provide batteries for about 370,000 vehicles” a year.

“We’ll do that year-on-year for 26 years,” he said.

Those nearly 10 million vehicles will go a long way towards meeting the goal President Joe Biden has set of cutting down the nation’s fleet of gas-guzzlers as a way to slash US production of planet-warming pollutants.

So-called zero-emission cars make up around 7.5 percent of new vehicle sales in the United States today — more than double the percentage just a few years earlier.

In California, the figure is more than 20 percent.

And while expansion in the sector has slowed, the category remains the fastest-growing, according to Kelley Blue Book.

And it’s not only in the United States: Global demand for lithium will increase five to seven times by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.

The difficulty for US manufacturers is that much of the world’s lithium supply is dominated by strategic rival China, as well as Australia and Chile.

“The United States has very, very little domestic production,” said Rowe.

“So it’s important to develop a domestic supply chain to allow for that energy transition, and Rhyolite Ridge will be an integral part of that.”

Ioneer’s plans show that over the years the mine is in operation — it is projected to start producing lithium in late 2027 — around a fifth of the plant’s habitat will be directly affected.

But the company, which has spent $2.5 million researching the plant, says mining will not affect its survival; it is already growing well in greenhouses and biologists think it can be replanted.

“We’re very confident that the mine and Tiehm’s buckwheat can coexist,” Rowe said.

– ‘Greenwashing’ –

Donnelly counters that Ioneer is “basically greenwashing extinction.”

“They’re saying. ‘We’re going to save this plant,’ when actually they are going to send it to its doom,” he said.

Under the company’s plans, the strip mine will use hundreds of trucks, which Donnelly says will raise clouds of dust that will affect photosynthesis and harm the insects that pollinate the plants.

Ioneer says it has already planned mitigation methods, like dust curtains, and keeping the roads wet.

Still, Donnelly says, why not just move the mine? But Rowe counters that it’s not as simple as just digging somewhere else.

Ioneer has invested $170 million since 2016 to demonstrate the feasibility of this site, which it believes is one of the best around.

“Many of these other deposits haven’t had that amount of work, so they’re not viable alternatives to a project like this,” he said.

The US Department of Energy has offered Ioneer a $700 million loan for the project, if the Bureau of Land Management signs off on an operating permit.

Donnelly insists the issue is not just the future of one obscure wildflower, but rather just one example of large-scale biodiversity loss that is threatening millions of plants and animals.

“If we solve the climate crisis, but we drive everything extinct while we do it, we’re still going to lose our world,” he said.

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2 solar projects to supply power for 5 military installations

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2 solar projects to supply power for 5 military installations


2 solar projects to supply power for 5 military installations

by Mike Heuer

Washington DC (UPI) Jun 18, 2024






The Department of Defense is partnering with Duke Energy to provide solar power for five military bases in North and South Carolina.

The DOD announced the power partnership with Duke Energy in which all power produced by two new Duke Energy solar energy facilities in South Carolina will power the five military bases.

The military bases are the Army’s Fort Liberty, the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point Air Station bases, and the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

The Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina also will obtain power from the two Duke Energy solar power plants that are under construction and expected to be operational by September 2026.

“By supporting the construction of new clean, renewable energy, we are enhancing our resilience in support of the warfighter and DOD’s mission,” Brendan Owens, the DOD’s chief sustainability officer, said in a news release Tuesday.

Owens said the two Duke Energy solar arrays will “deliver power exclusively to [the] DOD over the agreement’s 15-year term and contribute to a more reliable and resilient commercial electric grid.”

The DOD agreed to pay $248 million over 15 years to obtain an estimated 4.8 million megawatt hours of carbon-free solar energy from Duke Energy.

The federal government is the nation’s largest user of energy, and President Joe Biden in 2021 ordered federal agencies to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity usage by 2030.

Biden’s executive order requires government officials to ” support the growth of America’s clean energy industry … in ways that are good for taxpayers and communities,” said Andrew Mayock, chief sustainability officer at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Duke Energy recently undertook its Green Source Advantage program to provide renewable energy for the five military bases.

“As our large business customers plan for the future, they also have increasingly specific goals around decarbonization,” Duke Energy Vice-President Meghan Dewey said.

Dewey said those goal “require access to renewable energy sources that can support those needs.”

DOD officials agree.

“This project is a great opportunity to assist our military departments and our warfighters in their decarbonization goals,” Air Force Col. Jennifer Neris said.

The Army’s Assistant Secretary for Installation, Energy and Environment Rachel Jacobson said the Duke Energy partnership is “essential for delivering energy resilience for the Army.”

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Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border

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Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border


Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border

by AFP Staff Writers

Santiago (AFP) June 17, 2024






Argentina on Monday began removing solar panels that were installed by accident on the wrong side of its shared border with Chile, after a complaint from Chilean President Gabriel Boric.

In late April, the Argentine Navy inaugurated a maritime surveillance post on the border with Chile, in the Patagonia region of South America.

But the solar panels, which provide energy to that military unit, were set up on the Chilean side of the frontier.

In a statement, the Argentine Navy acknowledged the mistake and said it had “transferred personnel and means to begin the removal of a solar panel installed in the territory of the sister republic of Chile, north of the Island of Tierra del Fuego.”

Earlier in the day, Boric demanded that the panels be removed or Chile itself would do it.

“Borders are not something that can be ambiguous. It is a basic principle of respect between countries and therefore they must remove those solar panels as soon as possible or we are going to do it,” Boric told reporters during a visit to Paris.

Chile and Argentina share a border of about 5,000 kilometers (more than 3,000 miles).

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Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit

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Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit


Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit

by AFP Staff Writers

Sydney (AFP) June 18, 2024






Premier Li Qiang toured a Chinese-controlled lithium refiner in Perth on Tuesday, a sign of his country’s vast appetite for Australian “critical minerals” required for clean energy technologies.

Li ended his four-day visit to Australia with a tour of the low-carbon energy industry in resource-rich Western Australia.

His first stop was Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia, a 51-percent Chinese-owned venture comprising a mine for hard rock lithium ore, and a lithium refinery.

Along with at least a dozen other officials, China’s second most powerful man donned a white helmet during a rainy visit to the facility south of Perth.

The Chinese premier will also view a private research facility for clean energy-produced “green hydrogen” — touted as a fuel of the future to power heavy-duty items such as trucks and blast furnaces.

Australia extracts 52 percent of the world’s lithium, the vast majority of it exported as an ore to China for eventual refining and use in batteries, notably in China’s world-dominant electric vehicle industry.

But despite being a huge Australian customer, China’s involvement in the country’s critical mineral industry is sensitive because of its dominance of global supply chains.

Australia has only recently begun refining lithium rather than exporting the ore.

And the government has announced a strategic plan to develop new supply chains with friendly countries for critical minerals such as lithium, nickel and so-called rare earths.

Earlier this year, the government ordered five China-linked shareholders to sell off a combined 10 percent stake in Northern Minerals, a producer of the rare earth dysprosium.

Such foreign ownership was against Australia’s “national interests”, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said.

About 99 percent of the world’s dysprosium — used in high-performance magnets — is currently produced in China.

China has invested in critical minerals in Latin America, Africa and Australia over the past 10-20 years, said Marina Zhang, associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s Australia-China Relations Institute.

Developing supply chains independent of China is “fine and dandy” but unlikely to be achieved even in the short to medium term, she said.

“We are facing a very time-pressing issue that is fighting against climate change — so that issue should be at the centre of the discourse,” Zhang said.

“But unfortunately the Western allies are taking the approach that China’s dominance across the supply chains of critical minerals is imposing national security threats,” she said.

China’s narrative, however, was that it was investing and making a contribution to sustainability and environmental protection, the analyst said.

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