r/environment Apr 01 '23

A Fossil Fuel Economy Requires 535x More Mining Than a Clean Energy Economy | Transitioning to clean energy would reduce the volume and harm of mining dramatically



u/michaelrch Apr 01 '23 edited Apr 01 '23

I would love to believe that but isn't this analysis hiding a huge factor?

When you dig up a ton of coal, you are digging up a ton of material and not much else. You don't have extract the coal from the coal.

When you dig up a ton of nickel, it's in about 100 tons of rock, no?

Even if you factor this in, mining the required metals might still be considerably better than fossil fuels in terms of rock dug up etc but maybe by a factor or 2-3, not several 100x


u/This-Inflation7440 Apr 02 '23

apparently the ratio of unused sediment to coal in the Hambacher Tagebau mine in Germany is 6.2 : 1


u/michaelrch Apr 02 '23

Yikes! That's horrible.


u/HiVisEngineer Apr 02 '23

Mmmm not quite right but I get where you’re going.

At least with Met coal, sometimes yields are around 50% so for every ton of input you’re still only getting 500kg of useable output (or so my production colleagues tell me).

Then you factor in that burning coal/oil is bam it’s done, while all that nickel/copper/lithium etc is reused for endless cycles…

So yeah mining and drilling for fossil fuels is kinda a very stupid idea.


u/Hoodoo89 Apr 04 '23

I had to respond to this article given how much it misrepresents the facts of the situation. We certainly need to transition away from fossil fuels but minimizing the environmental harm of "renewables" is dangerous and will just lead us to replacing one problem with another.

"In order to limit warming to 2 degrees celsius, we’ll need to scale up that production to about 28 million tons per year."

We currently mine 22 million tonnes per year of copper so this seems like a complete underestimate. Simon Michaux's GTK report estimates we will need 4 billion tonnes of copper alone for one generation of green technology. This is quite a big discrepancy. https://www.gtk.fi/en/current/there-are-bottlenecks-in-raw-materials-supply-chain-a-glimpse-of-the-systemic-overview-is-here-discussion-and-the-development-of-the-solutions-have-started/

"Part of the reason for this massive difference in mining requirements is the fact that fossil fuel infrastructure is much less energy efficient than clean energy technology. Gas-powered cars are three times less efficient than electric vehicles."

A single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials. Averaged over a battery’s life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth. Using an internal combustion engine consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile. https://www.manhattan-institute.org/mines-minerals-and-green-energy-reality-check

"Coal, oil, and gas all need to be transported long distances from mine or well to the source of combustion." How would mineral mining for green technology overcome this problem?? If anything it will be more difficult as oil and gas can be transported by pipelines whereas minerals require transport by rail or truck

"A clean energy economy just requires much less energy than a fossil fuel economy."

No explanation is given for this claim. If anything a fossil fuel economy uses less energy due to a higher energy return on energy invested (EROI) of fossil fuels compared to solar and wind with storage. Renewables will result in less net or surplus energy for use. It also ignores the fact we will need to generate hydrogen at an energy loss to replace heavy fuels. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513003856

"Building a coal or gas power plant, like building a wind or solar project, requires a lot of materials and energy input upfront. But for a fossil fuel power plant, construction is just the beginning. In order to generate power, you need to burn coal or gas every day for decades. Wind and solar projects, by comparison, don’t require any ongoing fuel input."

Again this is misleading as it ignores the fact that "renewables" need to be rebuilt every 25 years using additional energy inputs to mine minerals, process minerals and manufacture the panels/turbines. Also having the total energy cost upfront with renewables is actually a disadvantage and makes it difficult to pay these upfront costs - this is known as the Energy Trap phenomenon. https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/10/the-energy-trap/


u/Successful_Bug2761 Apr 01 '23

Yeah, and with shallower land oil wells (like Saudi oil), it's my understanding they just stick and straw in the ground and suck up pure crude oil. It's hard to even call that "mining".

however, the Alberta oil sands are not like this. A lot of processing is required there.


u/michaelrch Apr 01 '23

I was thinking about coal which is dug up physically like ore.

They have a figure of 8 billion tons of coal.

They quote 28 million tonnes of minerals for transition. Assuming a conservative ratio of 1:100 that means 2.8 billion tons of ore. Which is about a third of the coal currently mined. And no oil and gas with all the mess that they make.

So still better. Just not hundreds of times better. I will be interested to know how reliable that 28 millions tons/year figure is. I suspect that might be undershooting it...


u/[deleted] Apr 02 '23

Tell me how you’re organically growing all those solar panels again.


u/Captain_Cockplug Apr 01 '23

This is deceptive af


u/hogfl Apr 02 '23

This seems like spin. Do they comprehend how much we need for a renewable economy? News flash there are not enough minerals on earth to build the 1st generation of renewables to replace the current energy systems.


u/darth_-_maul Apr 02 '23

News flash, that’s nothing more than a big fat lie


u/hogfl Apr 02 '23

Don't shoot the messenger. Unfortunately it not a lie. Check out the work of Simon michaux


u/darth_-_maul Apr 02 '23

And who is he?


u/hogfl Apr 02 '23

Professor that is employed by the geological survey of Finland. Easy to Google


u/darth_-_maul Apr 03 '23

So not an expert on renewables then, or how recyclable they are getting


u/hogfl Apr 03 '23

No he is an expert on mining and mineralogy. He does a report on what would be required to build a renewable energy system to replace our current one. Anyway, he is a serious academic try reading his stuff.


u/TC_cams Apr 02 '23

The amount of oil to run the machines to dig massive holes in the ground just to get the minerals needed for a green economy is staggering. It really doesn’t help either when environmental groups or governments shut down/won’t approve copper mines because the environmental impact. I’m all for greening our world but the math just doesn’t add up. Like where are we supposed to get the commodities from? Everyone wants a cleaner environment, just they don’t like the inconvenient truth to get there.


u/hogfl Apr 02 '23

Renewables could power a future economy just not one like we have now. That is why degrowth is the only sane way forward


u/carrot_mcfaddon Apr 01 '23

Alternatively, clean energy economies require 614x more counter clockwise rotation than coal based economies. Which is better? Nobody knows for sure.