“If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined”. Or recycled. True. But back to the point. Even things that are grown require mining. That’s where fertilizer comes from. Yes, you can fertilize with manure, but there aren’t that many plant nutrients in manure. Sheep and horse manure can be very low in phosphorus. Phosphorus promotes root growth, flowering and setting seed. Steer manure can be very low in nitrogen. All plants require nitrogen for healthy growth and reproduction. Commercial fertilizers are composed of various components, many of which are mined. So, we can’t have farming without mining (I won’t even make you hear about the metals needed for tractors and all of the other farm equipment needed to plant, maintain and harvest crops). Even with recycling, we can’t match the needs of civilization during a growing economy. Only about 24% of the people in India have cell phones right now. With a population of 1.4 billion, that’s a lot of growth to expect.
Speaking of cell phones, they require a lot of things that are mined. The glass is made from aluminum oxide and silicon dioxide with an ultra-thin layer of indium tin oxide. Mined. All of those. A cellphone is made using a variety of metals, with the most common being aluminum alloys commonly found in the phone case. Lithium cobalt oxide and carbon graphite are used to make the batteries. Elements like gold, copper and silver are used in the wiring of the phone. Platinum and tungsten are used in the circuitry. Rare elements, such as neodymium-iron-boron alloys, dysprosium and praseodymium, are also used to make the magnets, speakers and motors found in cell phones. Again, all of those are mined.
Let’s talk about mining for a second. For anyone not actively in the industry, modern, first world mining is nothing like what you see on reality TV shows. Those shows are akin to the moonshiners and ginseng hunters who run on the wrong side of the law. One mine general manager told me that if he operated like they do on those reality shows, he’d be in jail. In third world nations, there are illegal mines who operate like they do in the reality shows. These so-called “artisanal” miners pollute their own rivers and streams with cyanide and mercury.
Green energy can’t be accomplished without mining. According to the Northwest Mining Association, a single 3-MW wind turbine needs 335 tons of steel, 4.7 tons of copper, 1,200 tons of concrete, 3 tons of aluminum, 2 tons of rare earth elements, together with aluminum, zinc, and molybdenum. All that has to be mined. We need to mine our way to a green energy future.
Speaking of a green energy future, Elon Musk’s Tesla cars require many things that are mined. Not counting the glass and metals in the car body (which is mostly aluminum) and frame, they need boron steel (to reinforce the body at critical points), titanium (to protect the battery) nickel, cobalt, lithium, copper, and rare earth metals.
Recycle, reuse and repurpose as much as possible.
And mine responsibly.