What follows on this blog over the next few weeks will be a series of five important essays on sustainable energy, by David Jones (who also blogs as NNadir on Daily Kos, bio here). A previous article on BNC by David, on world energy demand and uranium supply, can be read here.

Here is Part I.

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A lanthanide processing facility in China.  From Lim, Nature 520, 426–427 (23 April 2015)[1] 

A group calling itself “The FS-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance,” working out of the Frankfurt School, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program and the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Group has published study called “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment,[2] according to which, in the period between 2004 and 2014, the world expenditure on so called “renewable energy” amounted to 1.801 trillion dollars (US).  Of this, 711 billion dollars was applied to developing wind energy, an amount exceeded only by the investment in solar energy, which was 875.1 billion dollars in that same period.

The total “investment” in so called “renewable energy” in the last ten years is greater than the annual GDP (2013) of 179 of 192 nations as recorded by the World Bank[3], only 75 billion dollars smaller than the GDP of India, a nation estimated to contain a population of 1.396 billion human beings as of 2015, roughly 20% of the human race.[4]  For the amount of money spent on so called “renewable energy” in the last decade we could have written a check for about $1,200 dollars to every man, woman and child in India, thus almost doubling the per capita income[5]of that country.  It is roughly comparable to the 2013 GDP of Canada, a few hundred billion dollars larger than the annual 2013 GDP of Australia.

Here is a graphic from the text[6] of the FS-UNEP report showing the trends:

We shall look in this series at what we have to show for this “investment,” and then discuss what is and is not “sustainable energy.”  For the record, though we need not agree, what the Frankfurt School defines as “Sustainable Energy,” is pretty much what one expects these days.   The definition includes solar, wind, biofuels, small hydro, geothermal and marine energy.

The Frankfurt School does not define nuclear energy or “large hydro” as “sustainable energy.”

I agree, by the way, with the latter omission, since, on our path to “sustainable energy” as we have designed that path, a path more or less officially endorsed by the powers that be, we have basically killed or nearly killed every major river system on the planet, and are well on our way to destroying the major mountain glacier systems on which many of these already dying major rivers depend.

Irrespective of my opinion, that the designed path to “sustainable energy” – the path discussed in the Frankfurt School’s finance report – represents the general thinking of humanity is supported by the fact that the foreword to the report is written by none other than Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations who, nominally at least, represents all of humanity.   So called “renewable energy” is insanely popular; enthusiasm for it is endemic.

It ought to be obvious to even the most cursory student of history that what has been popular often proved not only unwise, but even sometimes grotesquely immoral, at least as we understand morality today.   Therefore the question exists, does the designed path to “sustainable energy” make sense?   Will it really prove viable?  What assumptions lie beyond it?  Are they realistic?   What is the data on which these assumptions are based?   How has that data been analyzed, or even, has been analyzed at all?   Surely with a 1.8 trillion dollar investment data exists, does it not?   Most importantly in my view, we need to ask the question about who will win and who will lose as a result of following through on this program to produce “sustainable energy?”   That is, we need to ask whether the designed path to “sustainable energy” ethical.

“Sustainable energy…sustainable energy…”

“Sustainability” has become a buzzword in energy, as anyone who has had even the most cursory thought about the subject knows.  That this word is bandied about in conversations about energy, I think, has some ethical merit, since it at least reflects some lip service, if nothing else, to the idea that some of us actually care about future beyond our own times and reflect with some sense of sense of fairness, if not love, on the rights of the generations who may live after us, and are concerned about how they will, if not thrive, at least survive.

We will play with that word in this series, “sustainability,” focusing initially on the comparison of two much discussed forms of obtaining primary energy, nuclear energy and wind energy, moving more broadly into issues of material resources available to support either industry, (and other industries on which they depend or serve) indefinitely.   We will attempt to add or subtract some weight to the common assumptions surrounding these two forms of energy, examine our current policies surrounding them, examine some powerful assumptions underlying suggested changes to these policies to see if they are wise or unwise.

Because of the size of the questions that follow, it will be necessary to break this discussion, “Sustaining the Wind” into five parts:

Part I, the part before us presently, is called “Is So Called ‘Renewable Energy’ the Same as ‘Sustainable Energy?’”  This part, serving as an introduction, will lay out the questions the series intends to examine.   As an example, we will then foray into the issue by suggesting a new kind of “currency” by which we may measure sustainability, beginning with a somewhat superficial look – employing this currency – at wind energy, using actual data readily available on the internet relating to wind power’s modern industrial history. In doing this we will accept, with deliberate credulousness, the veracity of a prediction made for its potential, this while taking a cursory look at what those predictions imply structurally.

In Part II, “Peak Indium and Beyond” after briefly introducing we will look at an element in the periodic table that most people don’t think about, but perhaps should think about, indium.   In looking at indium, we will use it as a surrogate for other elements in the periodic table that are described, in various contexts, as “endangered.”   In this way, we will look at the concepts of “peak this,” and “peak that,” that one hears bandied about here and there, as in the commonly discussed “peak oil,” or “peak uranium,” “peak coal” and now “peak indium.”

Then we’ll hit the question of “peak uranium” head on:  Part III, “Is Uranium Exhaustible?” will take a detailed look at the macroscopic geochemistry of the element and compare the crustal and mantle flows, technologies for tapping these flows, and compare the associated potential energy content of these flows with foreseeable human energy demand, to the extent that such a thing as human energy demand can be predicted.    We will also look in this part at the question of some historical health consequences of handling uranium and consider the current health consequences of not handling uranium, with a brief return, by way of comparison, to the question of the health consequences of handling indium.

In Part IV “Drawn to the Rare Earth:  Elements of Magnetism and the Wind” we will look at the history and technology associated with the development and properties of permanent magnets, with particular attention paid to the lanthanide (rare earth) elements neodymium, samarium and dysprosium as they relate to such magnets.   Here we will look carefully at the external costs – the environmental and health costs – of mining and isolating the lanthanides, touching on the question of the sustainability of these practices.     (The opening photograph, coming from the first reference in this series, is of a modern, if ramshackle, lanthanide refinery.)    This discussion will focus, quite naturally, on the application of permanent magnets to the wind industry.

The concluding part of this series, Part V, “Channeling Macbeth:   Predicting the Fate of Wind” will look at various historical and current predictions about the wind industry, particularly focusing on the predictive writings, many published in prestigious journals, by a Professor of Civil Engineering at a prestigious university – Stanford University – the rote anti-nuke Mark Z. Jacobson.

Throughout the series one question we will ask is the question posed in the subtitle of this part of the series:   Are the terms “renewable energy” and “sustainable energy” equivalent?

We will also discuss the sustainability of nuclear energy, which isnot “renewable energy” inasmuch when an atom of uranium, either the 235U isotope or the 233U isotope made from thorium, is fissioned; or when an atom of plutonium, prepared from 238U, is fissioned; or when an atom of americium or curium, made from plutonium, is fissioned; the process is essentially – except under extreme and esoteric laboratory conditions – irreversible.    So another question we will ask throughout the series is this:   Does the fact that nuclear fission irreversibly destroys its fueling atoms mean that nuclear energy is not sustainable, or can an argument suggesting otherwise “hold water?”

Water…

The discussion in the aforementioned Frankfurt School’s report focuses on money.   Money, of course, is a widely used abstraction for the value of services, manufactured goods, and the commodities utilized to make those goods.  We often forget that money is indeed just that, an abstraction, and as an abstraction about value, it may be accurate or inaccurate, depending on our systems of belief by which we define value.   Economists use this abstraction, money, widely.   They also like to speak in terms of “growth,” speaking as if “economic growth” can continue indefinitely, as if the resources their abstraction us supposed to represent are infinite.    However we are learning, perhaps too late, that our planet is, in fact, finite, irrespective of whatever dreams economists, like those at the Frankfurt School, relay in their preaching.

Water…

For example, as extreme droughts are observed around the planet in various places, we are learning that water, among other things, is a finite resource.    Humanity now controls and/or influences the fate of almost all of the fresh water on this planet – major bodies of water like the Aral Sea in Russia and Owens Lake and Mono Lake in California have either dried up completely or nearly dried up because of the diversion of their feed waters to human use.

A particularly exigent case relating to water concerns the Ganges River[7] and its delta, which largely contains the nation Bangladesh, a nation with close to 170 million people.  Barrages, dams, and irrigation canals in India have reduced water flow significantly in the Ganges Basin, so much so that one of the Bengali “distributaries” of the Ganges, the Gorai, sometimes becomes disconnected from the main river.[8]  The water supply in many places in Bangladesh now comes from mining fossil water, fossil water that has been percolating through natural arsenic minerals for thousands of years[9].   This predictably has resulted in a huge health crisis that has been called the “greatest mass poisoning in human history.”[10]   (Interestingly, arsenic, which is very important to the semiconductor industry because of the utility of gallium arsenide, is considered by some to be one of the “threatened elements” that will be broadly discussed in other parts of this series.)   Although the issues of water flows to Bangladesh are supposed to have been addressed by a 1996 treaty,[11] it is not clear that the terms will be respected, particularly as more new 600 dams are planned for its source rivers, largely in Uttarakhand, an Indian State in the Himalayan foothills.   If the dams are built to provide so called “renewable energy” for India, it is claimed that a 935 km stretch of the Ganges will go dry.[12]    This point about rivers and fresh water is to show that this form of so called “renewable energy,” hydroelectricity –which is undeniably the most successful, arguably the onlysuccessful example of the same – comes at a price, not only a human price, but an environmental price as well.

Similar to its domination of fresh water, the human race dominates the use of arable land.   Major forest systems and grassland systems around the planet have been destroyed not only for the purpose of growing food but also to make palm oil plantations, to grow sugarcane and corn for ethanol, or to provide for minable forests – the Canadian boreal forest for example – to make disposable items like paper towels and toilet paper.

Arguably most importantly, our planetary atmosphere is currently showing the effects of about two centuries of use as a vast dump for dangerous fossil fuel waste, agrochemical waste, halogenated organic compounds and other chemical wastes.    The capacity of the atmosphere to absorb this waste, or lack thereof, has impacted, is impacting and will impact not only every human being on the earth, but almost every living thing on the planet as well.

Finally there is the issue of the earth’s crust and the minerals in it.    In an earlier post[13] in this space, I remarked, as an aside that, “Our modern industrial culture relies on the separation and refining of significant quantities of some sixty to seventy elements from their sources, be they rocks, gases, or liquids…”  In terms of resources, that post focused largely on the element uranium and the wondrous element plutonium made from it.

Herein in this series I would like to broaden the discussion, to include not only the resource demand associated with what I regard as the last, best hope of humanity, nuclear energy, but also include the elements associated what is officially, if not realistically, regarded as “sustainable energy,” so called “renewable energy.” Herein we will focus, so far as so called “renewable energy” is concerned, mostly on wind energy, although what is said about wind might also apply to its even less successful (in terms of usable energy produced) sister, solar energy.   The currency employed here will not be so much US dollars (or any other national or supranational currency) as in the Frankfurt School report, but rather the elements in the periodic table, their ores and their compounds.

Let us begin:

According to a commentary published in Nature Geoscience[14]solar and wind facilities require 15 times more concrete, 90 times more aluminum, and 50 times more iron, copper and glass than equivalent scale nuclear or dangerous fossil fuel facilities.   The paper reports that as of 2010, the world was producing about 400 TWh of electricity utilizing wind power, which translates into about 1.44 exajoules of primary energy.   In terms of average continuous power, this is the equivalent of about 45-46 average 1000 MW dangerous gas plants operating at 100% of capacity.   This total is not equivalent to 45-46 similarly sized nuclear plants, since nuclear plants are designed to operate pretty much continuously and do not, as wind plants do, require redundant dangerous fossil fuel powered plants to back them up. The energy demand for the entire planet was, in 2012, according to the IEA’s 2014 Key Energy Statistics[15] was 560 EJ (exaJoules) of energy, meaning that the wind industry provided in 2013 about 0.26% of the energy demand of the world at large in 2012.   In 2011, world energy demand, according to the IEA’s 2013 edition of Key Energy Statistics, was 549 exajoules.   Thus the 2012 figure represented an 11 EJ increase over the previous year.[16]   The notable thing is that the total production of all of the wind plants on the entire planet, built over more than a third of a century of wild cheering for their construction, did not match even 15% of humanity’s energy consumption increases in a single year.

(For the record, the paper’s internal reference for wind production was the 2012 World Energy Outlook report put out by the IEA, presumably giving data from two years earlier, 2010.    The 2014 edition of the same report[17] indicates that the 2012 wind energy output was 521 TWh, or 1.87 exajoules, suggesting that the rate at which wind energy production, as opposed to the continuously used and wildly misleading term capacity – which tries to represent that the wind is always blowing at 100% strength – was growing at a rate of a little over 0.2 exajoules per year.   According to the data posted by the US EIA for international total energy consumption[18], since 1980 has averaged, while fluctuating wildly year to year, 7.9 exajoules of increase per year over the previous year.)

This failure of the wind industry to meaningfully address human energy demands has not arrested partisans of the technology from predicting that the wind industry will ultimately be a triumphant energy source in the future.     The authors of the paper in reference 14 refer to one such prediction, suggesting a consequence of its realization.    Quoting directly from the paper:

If the contribution from wind turbines and solar energy to global energy production is to rise from the current 400 TWh (ref. 2) to 12,000 TWh in 2035 and 25,000 TWh in 2050, as projected by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)7, about 3,200 million tonnes of steel, 310 million tonnes of aluminium and 40 million tonnes of copper will be required to build the latest generations of wind and solar facilities….

Even if one questions whether the “World Wide Fund for Nature” ought to change its name to the “World Wide Fund for Mining,” assuming – probably with justification – that this organization advocates for the outcome they predict, in the case of steel at least, the steel demand is not unmanageable under conditions obtained as of 2015.   According to figures available online from the World Steel Organization[19] the world produced, in the first quarter of 2015, about 390 million metric tons of steel, for the thousands of things for which we use this material, the bulk of said production occurring in China.   The “WWF” figures assume that the steel for the predicted energy production for wind energy will take place over a period of 35 years.   This would mean that two year’s steel production more or less would go to make wind turbines, and 33 years of production would produce other things, if, and this is a very big if, steel production can be maintained through this period at the levels now obtained.

The situation with respect to aluminum is more problematic.   According to the World Aluminum Institute, in 2014, the world produced 53,034,000 MT of aluminum.[20]   Thus over the next 35 years, about the total of 7 years of production of this metal, at current levels, would be needed to construct the wind plants that the WWF happily predicts.   Aluminum, which until the 20thcentury was a rare metal owing to the difficulty of refining it, is now made by the energy intensive Hall process, which involves electrolysis in molten cryolite, a double sodium aluminum fluoride salt, Na3AlF6.   Historically cryolite was mined as a mineral, chiefly in the world’s largest deposit in Ivigut, Greenland.   This mine was depleted in 1987, and since then, the world has relied on synthetic cryolite made chemically using reserves of the mineral fluorspar (CaF2).    The process for making cryolite goes like this:   CaF2 is treated with sulfuric acid to yield the highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid, HF, which must be handled in either Monel nickel or Teflon reactors.   Silica, SiO2 is dissolved in aqueous HF to give H2SiF6, which is then used to treat bauxite, Al2O3 and back titrated with electrolytically produced NaOH (sodium hydroxide) to precipitate the cryolite, which is then dried by heating.   Pure cryolite melts at 1012oC, which obviously requires energy, as does the electric current for the electrolysis of bauxite, the primary aluminum ore.   The energy intensity of the production of aluminum has seen modest reductions in the last 32 years:   We now, as of 2013, use roughly 86% of the energy per MT to produce aluminum as we did in 1980.   The 2013 figure for the energy intensity of aluminum was 14,560 kWh/MT.[21]  (It is not clear, however, whether these figures incorporate the energy cost of producing synthetic cryolite; most likely they don’t.)  Utilizing this 2013 intensity figure for 2014 production, we can estimate that the world used about 770 billion kWh of electricity to produce aluminum, or about 2.8 exajoules of electrical energy.   Thus we see that the entire wind industry on the entire planet as of 2012 was only capable of producing just 67% of the electricity required to produce aluminum in 2014, never mind the electricity for running computers to host and read websites telling us how great the so called “renewable energy” industry is.     It may be true that we actually use electricity for other things besides making aluminum and running web sites devoted to the praise of so called “renewable energy,” and – assuming one believes this – one might question whether the wind energy industry is meaningful at all, never mind as meaningful as advertised.

(An aside:  The aluminum industry website is quite up front and open about its fluoride emissions, which include the very potent greenhouse gases perfluoromethane (CF4) and perfluroethane (C2F6).   They report[22] that these releases in 2013 were the equivalent of 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or about 0.1% of current annual CO2 emissions.  This figure does notinclude carbon dioxide from electricity generation but only from these pefluoroorganics.  Perfluoromethane (CF4) has been described as “the most recalcitrant organic gas molecule ever made, whose atmospheric lifetime exceeds 50,000 yrs”[23])

The WWF prediction of 25,000 TWh of energy produced in 2050 is the equivalent to 90 exajoules of energy.   Were energy consumption to advance more or less linearly – in a least squares sense – at 8 exajoules per year, as it has been doing in recent decades despite all the increasingly insipid howling about the power of “energy conservation,” 35 years from now the world would be consuming around 840 exajoules of energy, and wind energy would be providing just over 10% of the world’s primary energy, a significant amount.   But these are, of course, crude extrapolations, but note that 90% of the world’s energy would notbe produced by wind energy were it the case that the predictions were of any merit whatsoever, which, assuredly, they are not.

Are any such predictions of any merit?     We need only look back, as the WWF looks forward, thirty-five years to suggest an answer.

Thirty five years ago, 1980 as of this writing, no one knew that the United States would fight two terrible wars against the Iraqi Army in the mid-East, this in order to maintain access to its oil and that of neighboring Kuwait.  (Indeed, in the 1980’s, the U.S. actively supported Iraq with intelligence and weapons during the horrible Iraq-Iran oil war.   Lest we forget, a million human lives were lost in that war over oil fields.)

No one knew that nuclear reactors at Chernobyl and Fukushima would fail and that the majority of the dead resulting would come not from the release of radioactive materials, but from the replacement of the failed reactors with dangerous fossil fuel power plants that kill people not only in accident situations but whenever they operate normally.

No one predicted that these reactor failures would lead to an orgy of stupidity[24] connected -to give just one example – with the discovery of a few atoms of “Fukushima derived” 134Cs in a Tuna fish caught off the coast of California, leading to the burning of what may have amounted to thousands, if not tens of thousands of tons of coal, oil and gas to discuss said atoms on something that was unknown 35 years ago, something called “the internet.” Maybe 35 years ago – I can’t say for sure – no one would have expected this orgy would take place even though the authors original scientific paper[25] reporting the atoms in the Tuna fish in question viewed their discovery as a wonderful tool for tracing migratory sea animals  (like Tuna) and clearly and unambiguously included the following text in said paper:

Total radiocesium concentrations of post-Fukushima PBFT[26] were approximately thirty times less than concentrations of naturally occurring 40K in post-Fukushima PBFT and YFT and pre-Fukushima PBFT (Table 1). Furthermore, before the Fukushima release the dose to human consumers of fish from 137Cs was estimated to be 0.5% of that from the α-emitting 210Po (derived from the decay of 238U, naturally occurring, ubiquitous and relatively nonvarying in the oceans and its biota (13); not measured here) in those same fish (12). Thus, even though 2011 PBFT showed a 10-fold increase in radiocesium concentrations,134Cs and 137Cs would still likely provide low doses of radioactivity relative to naturally occurring radionuclides, particularly 210Po and 40K.

Thirty five years ago, no one would have believed that humanity would squander 1.8 trillion dollars (US) in a single decade on “investments” in so called “renewable energy” while producing no meaningful result.   No one predicted that the rise of climate change gases, then only under nascent public discussion would be unabated, despite this trillion dollar scale investment, as the question of such gases morphed into a serious international concern.   No one predicted that, as an ancillary issue involved in the combustion of dangerous fossil fuels and renewable biomass, that the death toll from air pollution would reach the staggering total of 7 million people per year,[27] this without producing a whimper of concern to match the concern over the few radioactive atoms in the “Fukushima Tuna Fish.”

Thirty five years ago, few would have predicted that the international powerhouse of the steel industry would be China, and that the economy of that nation would be surging toward first place in the world, this event powered by its massive reserves of coal, the same deadly and toxic fuel that fueled the earlier rise of Britain and then the rise of United States.   No one predicted that the impact of that nation, China, on the planetary atmosphere would be as baleful as the then champion of baleful impacts on the environment, the far less populous United States, this as the world’s most populous nation, understandably, made efforts to climb out the mass poverty that characterized its citizens in an attempt to match or at least approximate the US living standards.

We will return to the question of the effect of making sweeping predictions about energy, in particular, wind energy, in part V of this series, as the series concludes.

Be all that as it may, let’s, in any case, close out this introductory Part I with a demonstration of how we will look at the question of sustainability with a brief look at “renewable” wind energy in the context we have just introduced:

A recent paper in the scientific literature[28] evaluates the material requirements of the “EU 27” based on their planned additions of wind power capacity.    The paper is less speculative than some of the other stuff you hear about wind energy’s future since it projects only 5 years into the future, presumably the time frame in which actual orders are placed.   It does not focus on materials that are readily available in Europe and elsewhere, for instance steel and concrete, (at least directly) but rather on those elements and materials which are defined as “critical materials,” “critical materials” being those whose near term future supplies are in question, even though they are regarded as essential materials for the maintenance of the bourgeois lifestyle that many of us, albeit a minority of the citizens of the planet, enjoy.    The critical materials evaluated, with the quantities of ore required for an 800 kW on shore wind turbine (as found in table 3 in the reference) are fluorspar (145 kg), cobalt (196 grams), tantalum (545 grams), gold (514 grams), silver (1.5 kg), as well as, of most immediate concern, indium (1.21 kg), and small amounts of the elements palladium, platinum, rhodium and rhenium.  I have chosen to report here the figures for an 800 kw on-shore wind turbine, but figures are also reported for off-shore turbines on a larger scale.   The interested reader (with access) is invited to view the data in the original paper for onshore and offshore turbines.  The paper does not focus, as we will do, later in this series, on supplies of the lanthanide elements neodymium and dysprosium, although these elements are very critical to the best performing wind turbines, not that the performance of any wind turbine, given their poor capacity utilization, can be described as “good.”

The Danes – and we will see that despite all the hoopla that has surrounded their wind program their actual energy production from wind energy is very small, even compared to wind capacity in other countries like the United States, Germany and China – keep an exhaustive and very detailed database of every single wind turbine they built in the period between the 1978 and the present day.[29]   If one downloads the Excel file available in the link for reference 29 one can show that the Danes, as of the end of March 2015, have built and operated 8,002 wind turbines of all sizes.   Of these, 2727, or 34.1% of them have been decommissioned.  Of those that were decommissioned, the mean lifetime was 16.94 years (16 years and 310 days).   Twenty-one of the decommissioned wind turbines operated less than two years, two never operated at all, and 103 operated for less than 10 years.   Among decommissioned turbines, the one that lasted the longest did so for 34 years and 210 days.  Among all 2727 decommissioned wind turbines, 6 lasted more than 30 years.

Of the 5,275 turbines still operating there are 13 that lasted longer than 34 years and 210 days, the longest, having operated (as of March 31, 2015) for 36 years and 303 days.   The mean age of operating Danish wind turbines is 15.25 years, 15 years and 92 days.

In March of 2015, the entire Danish wind industry produced 1,137,405,953 kWh (or 1.13 TWh) of electricity, which is the equivalent of 4.0967 petajoules (0.0041 exajoules).    Thus for the 31 days of March 2015, the average continuous power output of the 5,275 operating wind turbines was 1529 MW.  Since the rated (peak) capacity of the wind turbines operating in March of 2015 was 4096 MW, it follows that the capacity utilization of wind turbines in Denmark was 31.2%.    These figures should make it clear that two average sized nuclear power plants, which would not have required thousands of trucks and cranes to travel all over Denmark trashing the landscape nor barges in the parts North Sea that the Danes have not yet trashed with oil and gas rigs as well as wind turbines, could have easily out produced all of the Danish wind turbines.   Further there is no reason, other than appeals to stupidity and selective attention on the part of vociferous anti-nukes crying over a few atoms of tritium or some other such nonsense, that two hypothetical nuclear reactors could not be designed to last 60 or even 80 years.  Even further, the nuclear power plants would not need redundant infrastructure to back them up.

The reason for this diversion from the subject of critical materials to the subject of the data surrounding the Danish wind energy program is to make a point.   In Denmark, around 8,000 wind turbines needed to be constructed to produce an amount of energy that was less than the amount of energy that could be produced by two average sized nuclear reactors.    Moreover, if nuclear reactors can be constructed to last 60 years, it follows that 16,000 wind turbines would be required to match the nuclear plants GJ for GJ, if we assume, generously, that wind turbines can be constructed (or are being constructed) that can routinely last 30 years, although the existing data suggests otherwise.   Granted, many of the Danish wind turbines are small, although one can also see when looking through the database of Danish wind turbines, that some of the shortest lifetime wind turbines were also some of the largest.   The average capacity of wind turbines still operating in Denmark is 930 kW, very close to the 800 kW figure to which the authors of reference 28 appealed when giving figures for critical materials.

Recall that the authors of reference 28 made two statements.  One was that the WWF predicted that by 2050 the world would have 25,000 TWh of electricity produced by wind power.   For the last full year for which we have the Danish data, 2014, the wind industry in Denmark produced 13.04 TWh of electricity.   Thus to scale up to 25,000 TWh/yr, the wind industry would need to be about 1900 times larger than the Danish wind industry, requiring, if the Dane’s averages hold, about 8,000 X 1900 = 15,200,000 turbines averaging 930 kW capacity.   The second statement was that each 800 kW turbine required 1.2 kg of indium.   Thus if 930 kW turbines could ultimately be built in the future using as much indium as 800 kW turbines use now, over 18,000 tons of indium would be required.

There’s only one problem with that figure.   As far as we can tell, economically recoverable indium reserves on the entire planet are thought to be somewhere between 11,000 tons and 50,000 tons.[30] Moreover, the current concern with indium supplies has nothing to do with wind power.   The chief uses for indium right now are to produce “ITO,” Indium Tin Oxide, for use in touch screen cell phones and computer monitors and to manufacture CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) thin film solar cells.   (In the latter case, let’s not go there right now.)  Annual mined indium – it is a very low concentration “hitch-hiker element” in sphalerite, a zinc ore in which indium concentrations range between 1 and 100 parts per million[31] – is on the order of 600 MT/year, incidentally at the highest rate of production ever observed.  It is worth noting that the isolation of elements from very dilute sources is always an energy intensive process in its own right, although in the case of indium most of this energy is actually expended in the isolation of the zinc parent.

In the next part in this series we will take a look at “Sherwood Plots” that crudely approximate the effect of dilute sources of elements on their cost, (suggesting, if not explicitly, an external as well as internal cost) as we look at indium, again, as a surrogate example of “endangered elements.”

That’s all for now.

Next, Part II:  “Peak Indium and Beyond…”

Have a nice day.    See you next time.


[1] Nature Vol. 520 Issue 7548 (2015) pp. 426-427

[2] Angus McCrone (Lead Author, Chief Editor) Ulf Moslener (Lead Editor), Eric Usher, Christine Grüning, Virginia Sonntag-O’Brien, Eds, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2015  Published online by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management gGmbH 2015. (Downloaded 5/16/15)  The download is free but registration is required.   The figures given in the text were obtained by transcribing the numbers from the yearly data Section 4 in the table contained in Figure 3 on page 15 of this report into Excel and summing them from 2004 to 2014.

[3] World Bank GDP figures, 2013.  (Accessed May 19, 2015)

[4] International Database of World Population Figures. (US Census)  (Accessed May 18, 2015)

[5] World Bank Table of Per Capita Income, by Country (Accessed May 19, 2015)

[6] Op. Cit. McCrone, page 12

[7] Rashmi Sanghi, Ed, Our National River Ganga, Lifeline of Millions, Springer, 2014  ISBN 978-3-319-00529-4

This is an interesting discussion of the state of the Ganges, including not only many physical issues associated with the river’s health – such as dams, irrigation, industrial and residential pollution and climate change – but also many cultural issues also associated with the river and its fate.  It has been published by the Springer scientific publishing house.   The book contains some rather vehement polemics and even some desperate political theory.  In the name of “saving” the river, the polemics include a mildly amusing proposal for a “Presidential Democracy” which is actually a dictatorship of the well educated, who will get either 1,000 or 10,000 votes as opposed to “grass cutters” who, according to the proposal will get one vote – cf. pg 183, Chapter 6, by Devendra Swaroop Bhargava).  If nothing else, the passion herein demonstrates how impassioned the discussion of this important river system can be.

[8] Mahmud et al, Journal of Water Resources and Ocean Science 2014; 3(1): 10-16

[9] A very recent and very good review of the arsenic problem in Bangladesh has just, as of this writing (May 25, 2015)  been published on line: W. M. Edmunds, K. M. Ahmed and P. G. Whitehead, Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015,17, 1032-1046.   Figure 5 in the text shows the distribution of severely impacted wells, those having more than 50 μg/liter of arsenic.   Unfortunately quite a number of these contaminated wells in the Southwestern region of Bangladesh are located in the region supplied by the Gorai distributary.

[10]  Andrew A. Meharg and Md. Mazibur Rahman, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2003, 37 (2), pp 229–234  See also, Allan H. Smith, Elena O. Lingas, & Mahfuzar Rahman3 Bull. World Health Org (2000) 78, 1093.

[11]   Pandey, Asian Survey, Vol. 54, No. 4 (July/August 2014), pp. 651-673

[12] Op. Cit Sanghi, Ed. Chapter 2, pg. 60, chapter authored by Subhajyoti Das.

[13] NNadir, Current Energy Demand, Ethical Energy Demand, Depleted Uranium, and the Centuries to Come, Brave New Climate. (Accessed May 23, 2015)

[14] Olivier Vidal, Bruno Goffé and Nicholas Arndt, Nature Geoscience 6, 894–896 (2013).  The source references for the calculations are found in the supplementary information for this paper.

[15] IEA Key Energy Statistics, 2014.  This is the most current available edition as of this writing (May 27, 2015).   As usual the figures are given in MTOE (Million Tons Oil Equivalent) and are converted in the current text using the conversion factor 4.186 X 104 TJ/MTOE.

[16] Regrettably the IEA does not keep earlier editions of this free report available on its website.   I am working off a downloaded copy of “Key Energy Statistics, 2013” from last year.

[17] World Energy Outlook 2014  Published by the International Energy Agency, release date November 12, 2014.    Edited by Robert Priddle under the direction of Maria Van Der Hoeven, Executive Director of the IEA.  The figures for the wind energy output are found on page 242 in table 7.1   One may note that this table predicts in the “450 scenario” that wind power will grow by 2050 to 4,953 TWh.   This is considerably lower than the undoubtedly grandiose scenario painted by the WWF to reported in reference 14.    Throughout this series we will see that predictions of future wind energy production are all over the place, probably because they are more based on wishful thinking and hand waving as opposed to serious considered analysis.

[18] US EIA World Total Energy Consumption 1980-2012 (Accessed June 6, 2015)   The EIA as of this writing is Beta testing its site for a new format.   As of this writing, one may choose the units of energy utilized.  If one selects “joules” the figures are reported in TJ.   To convert to EJ, multiply the figures by 10-6

[19] World Steel Association:  Crude steel production 2014-2015(Accessed May 30, 2015)

[20] World Aluminum Institute Website:  Production Data.  (Accessed June 7, 2015)  To see the annual figures enter “annual” in the drop down “frequency” window.

[21] World Aluminum Institute Energy Intensity Data (Accessed June 7, 2015).

[22] World Aluminum Institute, Fluorocarbon Emissions Data(Accessed June 7, 2015)

[23]Myung Churl Lee, and Wonyong Choi, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2002, 36 (6), pp 1367–1371  (This paper is interesting because, besides suggesting an interesting, if energy intensive scheme for destroying CF4 it suggests a silicothermic reduction of alkali metals from their halides.    I must have collected it when I was studying molten salt nuclear reactor technology.)

[24] One can quickly search the internet to find huge numbers of discussions of the “radioactive tuna fish” caught off the coast of California like these listed on Huffington Huffington Post. (Accessed May 31, 2015)   If one enters the search terms “California” and “Tuna” and “Fish” and “Fukushima” in Google, one will get more than 115,000 hits, each of which will have been produced on a computer and accessed on other computers that are most likely to have run on electricity generated in coal, oil or gas powered generating plants.   If we crudely estimate that each link is responsible for 500 hours of computer time, including the weighted time invested in running the servers where they can be stored and accessed, and that the average computer consumes about 150 Watts, we can estimate that the average continuous power consumption of investigating the “radioactive tuna fish” represents an average annualized continuous power consumption on the order of 1000 MW, equivalent to the output of a fair sized power plant.   These numbers are very crude of course, but they do offer some insight to the fact that information itself is an energy consumer.    It would be useful to think upon, when reading the text above, comparing this energy consumption, if even remotely accurate, with the output of all the wind turbines in Denmark as will be discussed later in the text.

[25]  Daniel J. Madigana,1, Zofia Baumannb, and Nicholas S. Fisherb  PNAS,109, 24,  9483–9486 (2012)

[26] PBFT = Pacific Blue Fin Tuna.  YFT = Yellow Fin Tuna.

[27] Lancet 2012, 380, 2224–60:  For air pollution mortality figures see Table 3, page 2238 and the text on page 2240.

[28] Junbeum Kim, Bertrand Guillaume Jinwook Chung, Yongwoo Hwang Applied Energy 139 (2015) 327–334

[29] The Register of Danish Wind Turbines The link to this page found on the Danish Energy Agency’s website was prepared on June 7, 2015.   To see the up-to-date data, click on the Excel icon on this page. In the Excel file, there is one tab for commissioned turbines and another for decommissioned turbines.   The file containing the data from which the text here was generated was downloaded on May 8, 2015 and calculations using the Excel functions carried out subsequently completed as of this writing (June 7, 2015).   In the file downloaded on May 8, the data was complete through March 31, 2015.   As of this writing, the data is now complete through April of 2015.

[30]Chiara Candelisea, Jamie F. Speirsa, Robert J.K. Grossa  Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15 (2012) 4972–4981

[31] Avatar S. Matharu, Chapter 8, page 212, Element Recovery and Sustainability  Andrew J. Hunt, Ed.  RSC Green Chemistry Series, No. 22, Copyright by the Royal Chemistry Society, 2013.

 

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