Renewable Energy Transition: A Switch from Carbon to Metals

Nov 18, 2022 | ADVANCED ENERGY, Energy Management

The Benefits of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is an essential tool in the fight against climate change. It can help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and emits far fewer greenhouse gases than traditional energy sources. One key element of this energy transition is the switch from carbon-based materials to metals. Metals are essential to many renewable energy technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy

Transition From Carbon to Metals

The shift from carbon to metals presents a significant opportunity for metal producers. The demand for metals such as copper, aluminum, boron, and lithium will increase dramatically in the coming years.

However, the metal industry faces some challenges in meeting this growing demand. One challenge is the limited availability of certain metals. Another challenge is the high cost of extracting and processing metals.

The metal industry is working to address these challenges and capitalize on the opportunity presented by the renewable energy transition. By investing in new technologies and improving existing ones, the metal industry can ensure a bright future for itself and the planet.

Future of Energy Transition with Metal and Mining Industry

As the world wakes up to the reality of climate change, the metals and mining industry is experiencing a boom. The increased awareness of the need to transition to low-carbon technologies is driving this growth.

For example, an electric car requires boron and lithium for efficient and long-lasting batteries. 

Both wind and solar power plants need copper and boron to construct power lines and other electrical infrastructure. This is causing a surge in metal extraction and processing.

Second, there is a growing realization that traditional sources of metals and minerals are not sustainable. For example, copper mines are becoming increasingly depleted, and there is a need to find new sources of this critical metal.

Third, metals and mining companies benefit from the fact that many investors are looking for ways to profit from the transition to a low-carbon economy. These companies are seen as well-positioned to take advantage of the growing demand for clean energy technologies.

Solar Energy

Copper is an essential component of solar power generation, and its demand will likely rise in the coming years as the world shifts to renewable energy. Although solar panels are manufactured of silicon, the supporting structures are steel and aluminum. 

Copper is also widely used in wiring and thin films (CIGS) that restrict ultraviolet transmission. On the other hand, Boron is used for anti-reflective coatings and increasing the efficiency of solar panels. 

Wind Turbines

Wind turbines are classified into two types: geared turbines, which use gears to turn the turbine’s low rotation speed to a significantly higher speed, and direct-drive turbines, which utilize a low-speed generator. In the generator, both geared and direct drive turbines utilize copper wiring; however, direct drive turbines also use permanent magnets made of rare metals.

Traditionally, these magnets have been made from rare earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium. However, due to their rarity and cost, there has been a push to find alternative materials.

One promising alternative is boron. It enhances the reliability and efficiency of these valuable materials. It also works as an alloying agent to create superior magnets. Permanent magnets are corrosion and heat-resistant, and they generate intense magnetic fields. Furthermore, heated boron forms a protective oxide layer on the metal’s surface, which aids in corrosion resistance.

Batteries for Energy Storage

Electric car manufacturers strive to advance battery technology to make electric propulsion a viable alternative to internal combustion engines. As of now, five countries have decided to completely process out internal combustion vehicles by 2025-40, while ten others have agreed on sales goals for electric cars. Most major automakers are already producing or planning to build all-electric vehicles.

However, one of the most significant challenges for electric vehicles is the time required for charging batteries. Currently, this makes electric vehicles unsuitable for long-distance travel. Manufacturers are improving battery technology to reduce charging times and enable long-distance travel.

Lithium-ion batteries, which are much more efficient than traditional lead-acid batteries and can be recharged much faster, is one such advancement. According to the World Bank, achieving the Paris Climate Change Agreement objectives will increase lithium, and other battery metals demand by more than 1000%.

Manufacturing a highly crystalline graphite structure is one of the most difficult challenges in strengthening lithium-ion batteries. However, incorporating boron into the graphite’s crystalline structure at higher temperatures enhances crystallinity and electrochemical properties. 

A Final Note

Developing a cleaner and greener economy necessitates using essential minerals, but simply replacing carbon with metals and other minerals is insufficient. Energy consumption must fall for new metal mining to halt, and renewable energy generation must be based entirely on recycling and reuse. To put it another way, the green economy should be circular.