Rare Metals : Pollution Key Figures
With the energy transition, some rare metals have come to be indispensable to our new consumption modes. However, their extraction accelerates and becomes harmful for the planet. Indeed, their availability is no longer assured. Thus, we are becoming independent of hydrocarbon while we must prepare for an increase in dependence of metals.
What are these rare metals ?
According to the Great Continent, it is first necessary to differentiate the abundant metals (iron, lead, zinc, etc.) and the rare ones (tungsten, graphite or indium) from the earth’s crust.
These have 3 characteristics that differentiate them from abundant metals :
- Their quantities are much smaller. For example, the soil contains 1,200 times less neodymium and 2,650 times less gallium than iron. It gives you a ratio of the proportion of soil between abundant metals and rare metals.
- Their markets are reduced. 130,000 tons of rare earths are produced each year, compared with 2 billion iron, or 15,000 times less.
- Their prices are high. 1 kilogram of gallium is worth $ 150, that is, 9,000 times more than iron.
Where are they used ?
Today, rare metals are used in green tech and digital. Thus, they are found in batteries and electric vehicles, renewable energies (wind turbines, photovoltaic panels), aeronautics, metallurgy, chemicals and fertilizers, electronics and telecoms.
To give you an idea, according to Christian Thomas, the founder of Terra Nova Development, electronic equipment consumes 60% of indium.
The limits of rare metals
95% of the rare metals are produced in China
Since the 1980s, China has a monopoly on the exploitation of rare metals (95% of the world market). European countries have dropped their production because it was too polluting. Today, the world is completely dependent on China for all productions made from rare metals.
The refining and extraction of these metals are extremely polluting. In fact, their quantity in the earth’s crust is so small that it takes a large quantity of pebble and water to recover them. In addition, the recycling of some “green tech” is difficult such as smartphones or photovoltaic panels.
What can we do ?
Simple actions can reduce these extractions.
- You can fight against planned obsolescence. It is better to repair one’s equipment than to buy a new one. Thus, you will spare the purchase of new technologies built from rare metals.
- You can also empty your mailbox of all useless emails and spams with Cleanfox, an application IOS and Android. These are all data that will not be stored unnecessarily for several years on servers at the other end of the world. Therefore as much energy saved.
To read also :
Guillaume Pitron, La guerre des métaux rares. La face cachée de la transition énergétique et numérique, Ed : Les Liens Qui Libèrent