Elon Musk On 100% Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Potential, Li-ion Battery …

March 31, 2014 by  
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Elon Musk On 100% Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Potential, Li-ion Battery Components…

Published on March 30th, 2014
by Dr. Karl-Friedrich Lenz

16

Originally published on Lenz Blog.

It is of course correct that eventually all energy will be renewable, and the only question is how fast that happens. Fossil fuel will run out eventually.

It is also correct (in my opinion) that we should rather not gamble with the amount of CO2 that can be safely released.

The way to speed that transition up is to make fossil fuels more expensive. The way to make that happen is to mine it at a slower pace, and to keep larger reserves. As it happens, such a course of action would be highly profitable for everyone who owns fossil fuel reserves.

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About the Author

is a professor of German and European Law at
Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, blogging since 2003 at Lenz Blog. A free PDF file of his global
warming science fiction novel “Great News” is available here.


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  • “The way to speed that transition up is to make fossil fuels more expensive. The way to make that happen is to mine it at a slower pace, and to keep larger reserves. As it happens, such a course of action would be highly profitable for everyone who owns fossil fuel reserves.”

    I’m not sure how to understand this, but that doesn’t seem logical to me.

    Expensive fossil fuels means the transition to non-fossil energy will be quicker and fossil fuels will become obsolete earlier and more of those reserves become a stranded asset, causing incalculable loss to everyone who owns fossil fuel reserves.

  • Last I looked there’s enough world lithium reserves for about 1B EVs with current tech. That’s should be enough to keep everyone busy for a while. After that new deposits, zinc-air, hydrogen, technology X. We should be good.

    Remaining fossil fuels stay in the ground until we really need them in about 60,000 years from now when orbital variables align for another ice age.

    • Don’t look at reserves. Look at occurrence. Let me repost something from a while back…

      The 100 mile Nissan Leaf uses 4kg of lithium in its batteries. Let’s say magic happens and between 2015 and 2035 we put 1.2 billion 200 mile range EVs on the world’s roads, each using 8kg of lithium in their batteries. (And that’s if range increase comes only from more batteries rather than the more likely improved anodes and cathodes.)

      That would mean that in that 20 year period we would need to produce 480,000 metric tons of lithium per year.

      And after that we could just recycle what we’ve already extracted.

      At 20 mg lithium per kg of Earth’s crust, lithium is the 25th most abundant element. Nickel and lead have about the same abundance. There are approximately 39 million tonnes of accessible lithium in the Earth’s crust. An 81 year supply.

      Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Portugal and Zimbabwe have roughly 13,000,000 metric tons of lithium that can be extracted. That’s a 27 year supply.

      Bolivia has 5.4 million of the 13 million tons. Over 11 years.

      There are approximately 230,000,000,000 tons of lithium in seawater. A 479,167 year supply.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium#Terrestrial

      • Okay, so lots and lots of lithium. Here’s how the 1B number got lodged in my brain:

        http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/06/albertus-20110617.html

        but you suggest even that is conservative. I brought the point up because I’ve actually run into the odd Luddite who thinks we’re going to run out of lithium.

        • There were a lot of people who were worried about lithium supplies very early. That was because they didn’t grasp the difference between production, reserve and occurrence. Reserve numbers can be low simply because there is not enough reason to go looking for more.

          Now that lithium is looking like it will be more useful we’re starting to find more. A big find was recently announced in Wyoming. The find could contain as much as 118 million tons of lithium. That would be enough for about 27 billion Nissan Leafs. (If I didn’t experience a math failure.) http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/lithium-discovery-could-be-new-industry-for-wyoming/article_46d9c438-add8-11e2-be38-0019bb2963f4.html
          Lots of people were worried about cost as well because they were looking at small quantity prices and not bulk prices. Bulk lithium is trading between $6k and $7k per metric tonnes. A tonne would be enough for 250 Leafs, so $24 to $28 worth of lithium in a Leaf battery pack.

          Extracting lithium from seawater would make it 3x to 5x more expensive. Could raise the Leaf battery lithium price from $28 to $140.

          • Looks like at least 80 or 100 years off but by the time you’d actually need to go after seawater lithium who knows where the tech will be. By then zinc-air, hydrogen or something else could be highly developed and more practical.

            Just as long as we de-ICE the roads ASAP.

          • 118 million tons from one deposit.

            8.8 pounds in a Nissan Leaf battery.

            2,000 / 8.8 = 227 Leaf batteries per ton.

            227 * 118,000,000 = 26,786,000,000 Leaf battery packs.

            We’re currently producing about 60,000,000 cars annually in the world. That would be 446 years at today’s manufacturing rate. From one site.

            (Please check my math.)

          • Actually, maybe your math IS off. Surely we need to account for the high likelihood that in the years ahead carbon fiber or other types of superlight nanotech materials will come to the fore thereby increasing the de facto capacity of a given car battery. Perhaps we need to add a couple of centuries to your calculation.

          • Yeah, I have no ability to imagine much past the next 20 years. There are all sorts of potential battery technologies that are being played with, very hard to tell what might work.

            My view is that we need to take what we have right now and start running hard with it. We need to get ourselves off fossil fuels in less than 35 years. Better we get off of them in less that 25. Get the CO2 problem under control and then we can start worrying about what to use later on.
            If lithium is the only working solution then it looks to me that between recycling and ocean water we could go centuries. If we leave those who follow us a livable planet and a future battery problem I don’t think they’ll be too pissed at us.

          • Lithium is it right now. I hope its enough. Potential for future innovation is amazing but best pursued in the context of stable societies, not ones crumbling all around from the pressures and upheavals of climate change.

            Sunnier note: Interesting to see a bunch of Southern States competing for the new Tesla mega factory. Suddenly everybody’s cool with EVs now that $5B is on the line. I’m rooting for Texas. I’d love to hear Rick Perry’s dedication speech.

          • Too bad Detroit isn’t being considered.

            Stick it right in the Big Three’s face.

          • If one has deep pockets full of gold, I say it’s ok, I agree all out on lithium battery. The battery difficult to manage as the supplied controller over charge when one cell give up, then, destroy entire good set of pack cells, left out of pocket replace the whole set, then one face reality when cost to replace them with the right manufactures controllers with new lithium battery.

  • The planet’s carbon budget to limit the amount of Global Warming means we’ll never run out of it. We’ll just leave it where it is, already naturally sequestered.

  • What I miss in the discussion is that Solar makes money, it is your goldmine upon you.
    I make money with Solar, every day.
    and you can and everybody can. Buy Solar and make money, everywhere.
    endless supply, easy.
    I have to retire to spend my Solar dollars. I go to Spain for three months and my Solar system produces Solar dollars, seven days a week at home.
    where ever I go.. once installed free dollars .
    you want more dollars install more Solar.
    Every community should install Solar to make clean money for the schools, hospitals and the people.

  • “The way to make that happen is to mine it at a slower
    pace, and to keep larger reserves. As it happens, such a course of
    action would be highly profitable for everyone who owns fossil fuel
    reserves.”

    I don’t think it’s that simple. Eventually renewables will replace so much fossil energy that the small remaining demand for fertilisers and the like can be easily met. At that point the oil or gas price drops to cost parity with 2c per kwh solar and the assets aren’t worth much. Another scenario is that fossll fuels lose their social license and are virtually banned. A €100 per ton carbon tax, within the range of scientifically reasoned green proposals, would be a death sentence. Oil and gas producers can look forward to a decade of rising prices, perhaps two, but beyond that their future is very cloudy. Coal is doomed already.

    An early phaseout of oil and gas does of course require progress that goes well beyond the 100% renewable electricity generation we can already see on the horizon. It will need mass electrification of land transport, ultra-low-carbon buildings, biofuelled aviation, and Solution X for shipping, cement and steel. This is not certain (especially the last); but it’s likely enough to give nightmares to the Kochs, which is why they are fighting against the Change on a broad front.

    • Agree, but the far larger subsidies and tax breaks given to fossil fuel companies should be terminated now. It makes no sense to continue to invest our tax dollars in buggy whips and horse carriages. Maybe some of the money saved could go to incentives research on solar, wind, storage, and EVs/EREVs. The later are going to be the more profitable industries for most of the rest of this century, not fossil fuel based technologies. It would benefit the US to be leading in those new technologies.
      Musk does have a point. You only have to look at the increase and transition in production to military vehicles, ships, and planes during WW2 to understand the level of change we could accomplish in a few short years …if we could just convince the pee-brained flat-earth society members in our population and government.

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