The New Energy Era: The Impact of Critical Minerals on National Security
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The New Energy Era: The Impact of Critical Minerals on National Security

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In 1954, the United States was only fully reliant on foreign sources for eight mineral commodities.

Fast forward 60+ years, and the country now depends on foreign sources for 20 such materials, including ones essential for military and battery technologies.

This puts the U.S. in a precarious position, depending largely on China and other foreign nations for the crucial materials such as lithium, cobalt, and rare earth metals that can help build and secure a more sustainable future.

America’s Energy Dependence

Today’s visualization comes from Standard Lithium, and it outlines China’s dominance of the critical minerals needed for the new energy era.

Which imported minerals create the most risk for U.S. supply chains and national security?

Supply Chains and National Security

Natural Resources and Development

Gaining access to natural resources can influence a nation’s ability to grow and defend itself. China’s growth strategy took this into account, and the country sourced massive amounts of raw materials to position the country as the number one producer and consumer of commodities.

By the end of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, China’s mining industry was largely in ruins. After the war, vast amounts of raw materials were required to rebuild the country.

In the late 1970s, the industry was boosted by China’s “reform and opening” policies, and since then, China’s mining outputs have increased enormously. China’s mining and material industries fueled the rapid growth of China from the 1980s onwards.

Supply Chain Dominance

A large number of Chinese mining companies also invest in overseas mining projects. China’s “going out” strategy encourages companies to move into overseas markets.

They have several reasons to mine beyond its shores: to secure mineral resources that are scarce in China, to gain access to global markets and mineral supply chains, and to minimize domestic overproduction of some mineral commodities.

This has led to China to become the leading producer of many of the world’s most important metals while also securing a commanding position in key supply chains.

As an example of this, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of rare earth materials. The country produces approximately 94% of the rare earth oxides and around 100% of the rare earth metals consumed globally, with 50% going to domestic consumption.

U.S.-China Trade Tensions

The U.S. drafted a list of 35 critical minerals in 2018 that are vital to national security, and according to the USGS, the country sources at least 31 of the materials chiefly through imports.

China is the third largest supplier of natural resources to the U.S. behind Canada and Mexico.

RankCountryU.S. Minerals Imports By Country ($US, 2018)
#1Canada$1,814,404,440
#2Mexico$724,542,960
#3China$678,217,450
#4Brazil$619,890,570
#5South Africa$568,183,800

This dependence on China poses a risk. In 2010, a territorial dispute between China and Japan threatened to disrupt the supply of the rare earth elements. Today, a similar threat still looms over trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

China’s scale of influence over critical minerals means that it could artificially limit supply and move prices in the global clean energy trade, in the same way that OPEC does with oil. This would leave nations that import their mineral needs in an expensive and potentially limiting spot.

Moon Shot: Building Domestic Supply and Production

Every supply chain starts with raw materials. The U.S. had the world’s largest lithium industry until the 1990s—but this is no longer the case, even though the resources are still there.

The U.S. holds 12% of the world’s identified lithium resources, but only produces 2% of global production from a single mine in Nevada.

There are a handful of companies looking to develop the U.S. lithium reserves, but there is potential for so much more. Less than 18% of the U.S. land mass is geologically mapped at a scale suited to identifying new mineral deposits.

The United States has the resources, it is just a question of motivation. Developing domestic resources can reduce its foreign dependence, and enable it to secure the new energy era.

In the clean energy economy of the future, critical minerals will be just as essential—and geopolitical—as oil is today.

—Scientific American

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Energy

Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

Hydroelectric dams generate 40% of the world’s renewable energy, the largest of any type. View this infographic to learn more.

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Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Did you know that hydroelectricity is the world’s biggest source of renewable energy? According to recent figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it represents 40% of total capacity, ahead of solar (28%) and wind (27%).

This type of energy is generated by hydroelectric power stations, which are essentially large dams that use the water flow to spin a turbine. They can also serve secondary functions such as flow monitoring and flood control.

To help you learn more about hydropower, we’ve visualized the five largest hydroelectric dams in the world, ranked by their maximum output.

Overview of the Data

The following table lists key information about the five dams shown in this graphic, as of 2021. Installed capacity is the maximum amount of power that a plant can generate under full load.

CountryDamRiverInstalled Capacity
(gigawatts)
Dimensions
(meters)
🇨🇳 ChinaThree Gorges DamYangtze River22.5181 x 2,335
🇧🇷 Brazil / 🇵🇾 ParaguayItaipu DamParana River14.0196 x 7,919
🇨🇳 ChinaXiluodu DamJinsha River13.9286 x 700
🇧🇷 BrazilBelo Monte DamXingu River11.290 X 3,545
🇻🇪 VenezuelaGuri DamCaroni River10.2162 x 7,426

At the top of the list is China’s Three Gorges Dam, which opened in 2003. It has an installed capacity of 22.5 gigawatts (GW), which is close to double the second-place Itaipu Dam.

In terms of annual output, the Itaipu Dam actually produces about the same amount of electricity. This is because the Parana River has a low seasonal variance, meaning the flow rate changes very little throughout the year. On the other hand, the Yangtze River has a significant drop in flow for several months of the year.

For a point of comparison, here is the installed capacity of the world’s three largest solar power plants, also as of 2021:

  • Bhadla Solar Park, India: 2.2 GW
  • Hainan Solar Park, China: 2.2 GW
  • Pavagada Solar Park, India: 2.1 GW

Compared to our largest dams, solar plants have a much lower installed capacity. However, in terms of cost (cents per kilowatt-hour), the two are actually quite even.

Closer Look: Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam is an engineering marvel, costing over $32 billion to construct. To wrap your head around its massive scale, consider the following facts:

  • The Three Gorges Reservoir (which feeds the dam) contains 39 trillion kg of water (42 billion tons)
  • In terms of area, the reservoir spans 400 square miles (1,045 square km)
  • The mass of this reservoir is large enough to slow the Earth’s rotation by 0.06 microseconds

Of course, any man-made structure this large is bound to have a profound impact on the environment. In a 2010 study, it was found that the dam has triggered over 3,000 earthquakes and landslides since 2003.

The Consequences of Hydroelectric Dams

While hydropower can be cost-effective, there are some legitimate concerns about its long-term sustainability.

For starters, hydroelectric dams require large upstream reservoirs to ensure a consistent supply of water. Flooding new areas of land can disrupt wildlife, degrade water quality, and even cause natural disasters like earthquakes.

Dams can also disrupt the natural flow of rivers. Other studies have found that millions of people living downstream from large dams suffer from food insecurity and flooding.

Whereas the benefits have generally been delivered to urban centers or industrial-scale agricultural developments, river-dependent populations located downstream of dams have experienced a difficult upheaval of their livelihoods.
– Richter, B.D. et al. (2010)

Perhaps the greatest risk to hydropower is climate change itself. For example, due to the rising frequency of droughts, hydroelectric dams in places like California are becoming significantly less economical.

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Energy

What are the Benefits of Fusion Energy?

One of the most promising technologies, fusion, has attracted the attention of governments and private companies.

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General-Fusion_Benefits-of-Fusion
The following content is sponsored by General Fusion

What are The Benefits of Fusion Energy?

As the world moves towards net-zero emissions, sustainable and affordable power sources are urgently needed by humanity.

One of the most promising technologies, fusion, has attracted the attention of governments and private companies like Chevron and Google. In fact, Bloomberg Intelligence has estimated that the fusion market may eventually be valued at $40 trillion.

In this infographic sponsored by General Fusion, we discuss the benefits of fusion as a clean energy source.

The Ultimate Source of Energy 

Fusion powers the sun and the stars, where the immense force of gravity compresses and heats hydrogen plasma, fusing it into helium and releasing enormous amounts of energy. Here on Earth, scientists use isotopes of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium—to power fusion plants.

Fusion energy offers a wide range of benefits, such as:

1. Ample resources:

Both atoms necessary for nuclear fusion are abundant on Earth: deuterium is found in seawater, while tritium can be produced from lithium.

2. Sustainable

Energy-dense generation like fusion minimizes land use needs and can replace aging infrastructure like old power plants. 

3. Clean

There are no CO₂ or other harmful atmospheric emissions from the fusion process.

4. Scalable

With limited expected regulatory burden or export controls, fusion scales effectively with a small land footprint that can be located close to cities.

5. Safety advantage

Unlike atomic fission, fusion does not create any long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. Its radiation profile is similar to widely used medical and industrial applications like cyclotrons for cancer treatment.

6. Reliable

Fusion energy is on-demand and independent from the weather, making it an excellent option in a dependable portfolio for power generation.

Commercializing Fusion Energy

More than 130 countries have now set or are considering a target of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050. Meanwhile, global energy demand is expected to increase by 47% in the next 30 years.

While renewables like wind and solar are intermittent and need a baseload source of clean energy to supplement them, fusion, when commercially implemented, could deliver clean, abundant, reliable, and cost-competitive energy. 

General Fusion seeks to transform the world’s energy supply with the most practical path to commercial fusion energy. Click here to learn more.

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