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Ten years left to redesign lithium-ion batteries? (nature.com)
390 points by sohkamyung 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 255 comments



Oh god, another Erlich/Simons bet is needed: what's low is the level of rare earth exploration and exploitation not absolute supply. Is there a supply chain problem? Yes. Are we approaching a mad-max hell war for the last vestiges of humanities wonder mineral? Alas.. no.

The ten years meme is based in a false premise. The article even says Australian known sources are only utilised at 14% and yet predicts a long term supply problem without asking what other sources might be discovered.

From the article A lithium-ion car battery with a 100 kg cathode requires 6–12 kg of cobalt and 36–48 kg of nickel so work on 10kg without improvements and same article says at current economic models only 10 exp 8 tonnes economically extractable. So 10 exp 10 batteries. (1000 kg per tonne) 10,000,000,000 batteries. One car for everyone alive... And that's before normal levels of production efficiency, scavenging nice cobalt rich sources like old batteries or even the intent of the article: new sources and new technologies.


Exactly right. But it makes for a catchy title doesn't it? And if you're research lab is working on anodes for batteries you need to pitch urgency to get the big funding, who wants to fund research for problems that are 50 years out?

But cynicism aside, the key to making renewables a practical base load replacement for fossil fueled plants is a solid battery infrastructure. And those batteries aren't 'car batteries' they are 'city batteries'. We really do want to get to the point where energy independence is possible so continuing to improve batteries is a good thing.

It is just hard for some people to prioritize without an imminent threat of disaster.


> But cynicism aside, the key to making renewables a practical base load replacement for fossil fueled plants is a solid battery infrastructure.

No, it's a solid storage infrastructure, of which batteries are only one type.


I agree.

Where weight and size do not matter, more choices for batteries are possible.

E.g. redox flow batteries.

https://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/fuel-cells/its-big-and-...

In the near future, atmospheric CO2 will be recycled to create organic fuel.

http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2017/09/18/solar-fuel-system-recyc...

https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2017/Q2/instantly-r...

Solid state batteries are also interesting. Lithium-ion batteries will be replaced because they can develop dendrites and catch fire.

https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/26/the-solid-state-lithium...

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324734826_Non-Tradi...

https://hardware.slashdot.org/story/17/04/19/016213/the-slas...


“In the near future, atmospheric CO2 will be recycled to create organic fuel”

That’s been around for quite a while already; you’re describing a tree.


yes but... 3D printed by a neural net at Trees.com ON A BLOCKCHAIN and crowdsourced with a Kickstarter from curated ambi-sexual SanFran hipsters, avail in 5 colors for pre-order at a low low annual subscription add-on for Prime members of $79.99


I shouldn't feed the troll. But since you made me chuckle, did you mistake hckrnews for reddit maybe? :P


--- at a rate orders of magnitude faster than trees currently do


Ah, you mean grass?


> In the near future, atmospheric CO2 will be recycled to create organic fuel.

If you have unlimited free energy in this near future, then maybe you can do what yoj say (or maybe electrolysis to produce hydrogen is better/more profitable).

Otherwise no, this won't happen.


IMO liquid or solid fuel at normal pressure and temperature is much cheaper and easier and safer to store than hydrogen.

Besides:

http://carbonengineering.com

http://www.climeworks.com

From https://lustysociety.org/ethics.html#climate:

Annual global fossil fuel subsidies amounting to $5.3 trillion in 2015 (6.5% of global GDP).

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X1...

According to the Global Carbon Atlas: 36 183 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2016.

According to estimates in 2018 by Carbon Engineering and Climeworks: The cost of capturing 1 metric ton CO2 from the air costs $ 600 in 2018 and could fall under $ 100 in 5 - 10 years. A plant could make a liter fuel for a dollar.

At a cost of $ 600 per metric ton of CO2, the capture of the emissions of 2016 (36 183 million metric tons) costs $ 21 710 billion or $ 21.7 trillion.

At a cost of $ 100 per metric ton of CO2, the capture of the emissions of 2016 (36 183 million metric tons) costs $ 3 618 billion or $ 3.6 trillion.

The organic fuel should be used with batteries and fuel cells and not with combustion engines.

In order to decrease the CO2 concentration in the environment, the waste products must be contained and recycled later without release into the atmosphere.


PV is growing at 30-40% per year for many years now. This year’s end-of-year forecast is 0.5 TW, extrapolating that trend gives 11.5-28.3 TW in December 2030.


Hydrogen may be more energetic than a lot of stuff per unit of mass, but we shouldn't forget the tanks we need to carry it around are anything but light.


Australia is not utilising only 14% of their resources, they have only 14% of the known world resources. More than 50% is based on Congo were the work is performed in miserable conditions. We are all happy that we still don’t reach peak oil, but if we don’t change the way we think about progress and economic growth, in a world with finite resources will have severe consequences.


Unlike petroleum, batteries are almost 100% recyclable. Our "peak battery" is bounded at the product of "peak population" and per-capita battery need, both of which are fairly constrained. Not really the right analysis.


The most-recycled material in the US presently is a battery electrolyte: lead.

Reuse rate is only 68%.

That's a 32% reduction in stock per generation.

High rates of recycling are possible in theory, yes, but have not been demonstrated in practice. The loss rate over n generations for a recovery rate r (percent/100) is r^n. At a 90% recovery rate, you've lost 50% of initial stock in 7 generations.

https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/recycle/

https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/recycle/my...


Unrecycled material isn't "lost"[1]. Those batteries are still in landfills and can be recovered at least as easily as ore can be mined. Economics will fix this for us. Increase the price of lead and at some point it becomes worthwhile to scavenge those landfills for old batteries (or to use alternative battery chemistries, etc...).

[1] Though in a handful of cases it gets dispersed in a way that's very difficult to recover. I mentioned phosphorus in another post: P is being unsustainably pulled out of rocks and put into biomass, where it gets flushed into the oceans. Figuring out a way to get it back out is a far bigger mess than mere cobalt recycling is going to be. But even there economics will save us as fertilizer costs make recovery new techniques worthwhile.


> Unlike petroleum, batteries are almost 100% recyclable.

Not using current technology. You can't recycle lithium (for example) using smelting. It's also not very profitable.

It's still very much an unsolved problem.

I would love to be proved wrong!

Edit: I don't know why this is being downvoted. Using current recycling methods, the lithium is not recyclable (the cobalt is). I then asked if I am not correct, to please correct me.

So if not recycled, what's currently happening to lithium batteries in all our electronics and car batteries (etc)? Is it just handled as hazardous waste?


> Not using current technology. You can't recycle lithium (for example) using smelting. It's also not very profitable.

Lithium is not a limiting resource for battery production, it's actually fairly common in the earth's crust. The limit is cobalt[1].

Extracting cobalt from a junked battery is orders of magnitude cheaper than mining and smelting it from the (very diffuse) ores that are available.

[1] Also, per the article, nickel, which surprises me so much that I suspect it's wrong. Per wikipedia nickel reserves are 30x yearly production, and of course new exploration and extraction techniques are always pushing the reserve number up.


Are you suggesting we know how to extract lithium from a random mix of many minerals, but getting it out of the used battery is beyond our capabilities? That’s not very believable.

The real issue is that, just as you hint, it’s actually cheaper to get lithium from mineral rich dirt, than to set up collection, disassembly and recovery operation for existing batteries. We can do it, it’s just not most economically efficient way to get raw lithium. If lithium goes up in price, it might become viable.


> That’s not very believable.

Can you point me to a recycling facility that's doing this?


No, because it's far cheaper to mine it. As mentioned above, you've been fooled by the name of the technology and are looking at the wrong part of the periodic table.


> No, because it's far cheaper to mine it.

OK, question answered.

> As mentioned above, you've been fooled by the name of the technology and are looking at the wrong part of the periodic table.

I asked about lithium recycling. How am I being fooled?


Because who cares about lithium recycling? We don't need recycled lithium to maintain battery production. Realistically it's one of those resources like iron or aluminum or phosphorous which we can't meaningfully "run out of".

(Though I threw that last one in deliberately: we're pulling P out of rocks and throwing it into the biosphere at an unsustainable rate right now, and are going to have to radically adjust the way we do agriculture fertilization in the coming decades. But even then there's going to be plenty of P around, we just have to change the sources we use to extract it.)


Because then this is pretty much a false statement:

> Unlike petroleum, batteries are almost 100% recyclable.

Although they can be, they're not.

That's a big point in electric cars, that I think gets swept under the rug in the green-washing of electric cars: the main widget that makes electric cars electric cars is discarded as hazardous waste.

It's too costly and impractical to recycle them. We essentially want to replace a billion gasoline cars with electric ones, and the tech. to recycle those future billion batteries doesn't really exist.

Just a point I wanted to be cleared up.


the tech. to recycle those future billion batteries doesn't really exist.

You're still missing the whole point, which is why you are being downvoted. The technology to recycle the future billion batteries exists today, and will improve in future. The issue here is that at a current price point it is simply not competitive compared to extracting raw lithium from ground. As the most accessible and profitable fields run out of the material, and as the demand for lithium grows, the price will go up, which might make the battery recycling economically viable.

Compare it to our current wood usage: the wood we use for furniture production is usually recyclable. You could take a wardrobe, disassemble it, and after some recutting and sanding you might use the wood for some other project. However, doing this in the end costs much more than using new materials, because collecting used furniture for recycling purposes, and labor needed to disassemble it and prepare wood for reuse is simply too much for it to be worth it, especially as it cannot be manufactured in a process as automated as making plywood, MDF, 2x4s or hardwood flooring is these days. Same with getting lithium from batteries: we could do it, but you'd have to pay extra for it.


Thanks for the discussion. I assume that those who down vote do not reply.

But I disagree that recycling is a big point regarding solar panels and batteries.

IMO lack of recycling and toxic waste are very lame and ignorant and misleading excuses (by the main stream media) to refuse the solar power industry, the battery industry and the electric car industry.

The threat and harm of climate change is catastrophic and very real and change is very urgent.

The fight against climate change must not be a debate of wrong priorities (waste vs climate change) and short term profitability of companies.

No foolish austerity and no local (and needless) poisoning by solar panels and batteries is worth the harm of climate change.

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2017/0...

https://truthout.org/articles/release-of-arctic-methane-may-...

http://www.climate-change-emergency-medical-response.org/2-d...

http://globalwarming.berrens.nl/globalwarming.htm

For more links:

https://lustysociety.org/ethics.html#climate


OK. The linked article was about resource exhaustion, not "hazardous waste". My "100% recyclable" point was that the limiting resources in battery production can be sustainably sourced from old batteries, not that literally every atom was going into a new batter. I mean, one doesn't complain that the plastic housing or IC controllers aren't recyclable.

FWIW, though: Li isn't particularly hazardous.


http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-lithium-ion...

Not really there yet, but it's ultimately a very solvable problem: the elements are right there and in high concentrations.


There is tons of cobalt in the world (pun intended). In Canada alone there are at least a dozen junior miners with prospects looking for capital (there's even a town called Cobalt in Ontario from a previous mining era). It's just not economic to mine at current prices. This is a non-issue and I'm disappointed Nature published this dumb article.


The question is not how many resources we have, the question is how hard they are to extract. The more resources we extract from earth the more difficult they become to extract, that is, we need to apply more resources/pollution/energy/technology to extract the same ton of cobalt that we used in the past. This turn this problem in an exponential one, I don’t know when we will need to face it but I understand the concern of Nature (pun intended).


Is your comment to say that cobalt should simply be more expensive to compensate for the negative externalities of obtaining it?


I think he's saying that eventually we will run out of economically viable to extract resources and we should start planning for that now. I'm not quite so sure because there are still tons of people living in awful conditions and they need a lot of this resource extraction to raise their standard of living.


People here really misunderstand and misapply the concept of economically viable to extract.

As cheaper sources are exhausted, the more expensive ones become viable. So we won't run out on the projected time horizon.

The main reason why US and Australian rare earth production has gone away is because Chinese sources are so much cheaper (aka no pollution or safety regs). No production, no exploration, and no development of rare earth sources.

As cheap production goes away, people again look for, build, and use other sources.


Many people need this resources, including our children. That’s why we need to slow down our crave for things and enjoy what we have. We don’t need to change cars every 4 year, we don’t need to commute as we do, we don’t need all the clothes, we don’t need to eat meat at every meal. Also we don’t need to work in useless jobs only to have money to buy useless things. We need to reconnect with nature and with each other.


I agree that the consumption isn't sustainable long term. At the same time, consumption of clothes, food, household goods, etc. in rich countries helped China to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by giving them better paying manufacturing jobs.


Lol


Resource extraction under capitalist, fascist or otherwise non socially minded governments has been shown to hinder growth in regions where high amounts of valuable natural resources are available since elites can leverage the low cost of labor to extract said resources.

Planning on a backup plan and providing large numbers of jobs through factories to increase the value of labor in these places is a much better way to increase the standard of living other without installing socialist governments.


It seems like the implication is that poverty in the Congo is the result of cobalt extraction. This is not supported by my understanding of the history. During the Rwandan civil war of the early 90s, Tutsi rebels with Western weapons -- rebelling against a Hutu-led genocide of Tutsis -- followed defeated Hutu factions into the Congo, ostensibly to prevent their resurgence. The resulting cross-border conflict led to the near-collapse of the Congolese government and a prolonged civil war that continues to this day.

Other countries with large resource extraction industries, such as Chile and Norway, have been able to take advantage of the profits to build their economy, thanks to their political stability. The resource curse can clearly be lifted by a suitably durable politics.


> what's low is the level of rare earth exploration and exploitation not absolute supply

This article is about cobalt and nickel, neither of which are rare-earths.


It's also fundamentally wrong in its headline and lede conclusion. And it even admits as much:

> Recycling cannot replenish supplies. Lithium-ion batteries last for 15–20 years, 3 times longer than the 5–7 years for lead-acid batteries. Refiners might exploit poorer quality ores, especially as prices climb. But greater processing costs would push the prices higher.

So... no. We aren't going to run out. We'll see a continuous bend in the demand curve as new production methods come online.

It's exactly the same logic that led to all the fretting about "peak oil" in the 90's and early 00's. No, all that happened (sadly) was that when gas crossed $3/gallon we suddenly invented fracking and prices stabilized.

Batteries will get more expensive. We'll survive.


Batteries might get more expensive, but if that happens then we'll see old batteries having scrap value, just like with aluminum today. People will hold onto their old batteries instead of trashing them or recycling them for free, and will re-sell them to recyclers, and recycling rates will go way up.

Just look at the recycling rates today for car batteries (lead acid): it's nearly at 100%, though of course part of that is because almost no one changes their own battery, and when they do, they do it at AutoZone in the parking lot and leave the old one there. But it's perfectly possible, especially with them retaining value, to have extremely high recycling rates for Li-ion batteries, so that the lithium, cobalt, and nickel inside never goes to waste and is continually recycled.

What we really need is better standardization for batteries for small devices, particularly phones, and elimination of the ability of devices to have non-replaceable batteries. I would actually favor a legislative approach to this: ban the selling of devices with sealed-in batteries altogether in major markets, forcing manufacturers like Apple to come up with standards and making batteries at least somewhat easily removed to facilitate recycling.


> ban the selling of devices with sealed-in batteries altogether in major markets [...] making batteries at least somewhat easily removed to facilitate recycling.

The opposite is true; removable batteries almost entirely end up in landfills.

Putting batteries non-removably inside devices makes them much more likely to be recycled, along with the rest of the recyclable components of the device.


>The opposite is true; removable batteries almost entirely end up in landfills.

Right now, that may be the case, but that's because those batteries generally have zero scrap value, so you're just hoping users will care enough about the environment to not do this, and take them to a proper recycling bin (like at the entrance to Target).

But the parent was predicting that batteries would become significantly more expensive as these materials became more scarce. In that future, a dead phone battery would still have some value, so people would generally want to take them someplace where they can get money back for them.

The other factor is that, in this possible future of expensive batteries, it'd be much more important for them to be standardized and more easily replaced. If your phone costs $500 sans battery, but the battery for it is another $500, you're going to want a standardized design that you can swap between different phones or other devices.


CPUs, cases, screens, memory chips, radios, antennae...none of the other parts of phones are standardized or swappable, and unlike batteries they are already expensive. Why would batteries suddenly behave differently when they become expensive?


None of those things retain much value after years of use: they become obsolete, and they can't be recycled.


> The opposite is true; removable batteries almost entirely end up in landfills.

That's because they have near-zero value, the component elements still being much cheaper to produce from ore than from recycling. That flips around once we start running out of ore.

Basically, economics takes care of this for us. At the end of the day, battery reagents are unconsumed resources, so we'll be fine (at some price equilibrium probably higher than their price today) so long as the number of people and their need for power storage remains bounded.


Lead acid batteries are basically worthless though.

There's a $12 deposit (core charge) you pay if you don't exchange one, which drives recycling, plus stores and landfills tend to accept them for free.


>Car manufacturers and governments project that 10 million to 20 million electric cars will be produced each year by 2025. If each car battery requires 10 kg of cobalt, by 2025, electric vehicles would need 100,000–200,000 tonnes of cobalt per year — most of the world’s current production. Similarly, 400,000–800,000 tonnes of nickel would be required annually, or 20–40% of all the metal used today. More would be needed when trucks, buses, aeroplanes and ships become battery-powered.

By 2050, producing 50 million to 80 million electric vehicles a year would require 500,000–800,000 tonnes of cobalt. Beyond 2030, this would far exceed current mining capacities. Similarly, 2–3 times more nickel would be needed by 2050. Nickel shortages would be evident by the mid-2030s.

Like Oil, there is enough oil on earth should we need to continue to growth not using any renewable energy for the next 100 years or more. The problem is somewhere down the line it may not be $100 per barrel but likely be $200+.

The same is lithium, there are still huge known reserve. But key here is economically variable reserve. The reason Australia aren't doing much of it is because they cant complete with Congo with when the lithium price is $80 without much profit.

Once the price reach high enough, it is for certain someone else will come and do the dirty work. And I expect lots of investment coming from China.


Another point the article missed: although batteries have a lifetime of 15-20 years (which they claim makes recycling infeasible), most people currently replace their cars far more frequently than that. Which means that either the cars will be scrapped and the battery materials recycled (if they really are all that valuable), or the global production of cars per capita will slow as people keep their cars for the lifetime of the batteries.


Most cars today are scraped because the body wears out, not because the engine fails. Of course if you are reading this you probably trade in your car much sooner, and send it on down the line to poorer and poorer people, eventually the car ends up in Mexico/Central America (US/Canada), or Africa (Europe), where they keep it running until it is ~20 years old and the body fails. You probably are more ware of engine failures because you don't have any experience with a car that actually wears out, only cars where there is either premature engine failure, or is in an accident.

The only reason 15 year batteries are not recyclable are it will be 15 years before current cars get old enough to need that infrastructure. There is plenty of money to be made if you want to invest in recycling them, but you need to invest at the right time. You probably should be thinking about recycling in Central America or Africa (consider political issues before investing!), and make sure you don't over invest, lead acid batteries fundamentally need twice as much infrastructure because they are replaced twice as often.


>Of course if you are reading this you probably trade in your car much sooner, and send it on down the line to poorer and poorer people, eventually the car ends up in Mexico/Central America (US/Canada), or Africa (Europe), where they keep it running until it is ~20 years old and the body fails.

Which is why the brands of cars less wealthy people buy are over-represented in the 15-25yo age group on US roads compared to when they were newer. All the stuff rich people buy get traded in, auctioned and (mostly) shipped to Central America. The stuff less well of people buy sticks around because they get private party sold to the next guy and the next guy and the next guy. You'll have an easier time finding early '00 Hyundai parts than early '00 Honda parts.


Is Honda a luxury brand? There are fewer of them sold than Hyundais (I'm not sure that was the case in 2000), but perhaps not because only wealthy people buy them?


The buyer who could afford a 2002 CRV in 2002 is more likely to be the kind of buyer who trades it in in 2008 for the updated body style (and every trade in is an opportunity for the car to be sold overseas).

There's plenty of CRVs and SantaFes on the road but the present market share of the 2002 SantaFe has increased relative to the market share of 2002 CRVs when compared to what the situation was in 2005 or so.

We're obviously talking at a statistical, not individual level here. Of course not only wealthy people buy Hondas, just more wealthy people buy Hondas than Kias and wealthy people are more likely to trade in their old car at a dealer which makes it more likely to wind up overseas (if it's got too many miles to easily resell in the US).


> where they keep it running until it is ~20 years old

I've seen lots of cars in Morocco that were more like ~30... maybe the dry air helps reducing wear, I don't know. My 10-year-old Corsa in England was starting to rust pretty bad, it wouldn't have lasted another decade for sure.


Most people replace their new cars within 10 years, but those cars are sold to second owners rather than being scrapped.


The average age of a car in the US is ~12 years has been on an upward trend for a long time.

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/09/f37/fotw%239...


> The article even says Australian known sources are only utilised at 14%

That is incorrect. The article states that Australia has 14% of the world's cobalt reserves, and does not specify their utilisation.


Humans are inherently irresponsible with their given resources.

I personally find our waste, specifically with batteries, pretty disgusting.

What would be interesting would be for batteries to be treated as a national resource, where you basically check them out and need to return them when they are finished.

I also think it would be interesting to require that certain products, specifically everything related to connecting a device to the power grid, should all be standardized and regulated.

The amount of waste in batteries, power cords, USB cords etc - just seems unsustainable. I am sure most would disagree with me, but I find all this product/design/resource waste to be evidence of lazy and disturbingly poor engineering.

I look at a particular video of Apple's as a true marker of the level of their engineering prowess (lack of):

There is a video showing the ridiculously complex method for battery replacement in the iPhoneX - requiring a many stepped procedure and a battery-tamping-device that was obviously contract manufactured by a small-ish shop for their genius' use.

I just find that with the amount of time, effort and resources put into the design development and production of all apple products (just as a singular example among many many companies) to illustrate their lack of full competence in sustainability in their products. Sure, they may reduce waste in many areas as compared to the old way, or others, but there is still a CRAP ton of waste across the board.

/rant


>A lithium-ion car battery with a 100 kg cathode requires 6–12 kg of cobalt and 36–48 kg of nickel

The wording here is also really awkward, and shows how little the author actually knows about batteries. There is no Li-ion battery in the world with a "100kg cathode". There may be 100kg of cathode material used in within the cells of a battery pack, but to say "100kg cathode" is just flat out wrong and makes me question this entire analysis.


Indeed. It is quite odd (perhaps to the point of being misleading) to use scientific notation ahead of "tonnes of kg", instead of just using scientific notation combined with Kg.

I made this mistake reading the article–I divided 10^7 / 10kg per car --> only enough cobalt for about 10^6 cars (1 000 000) cars.

Instead the calculation is 10^7 tonnes * 10^3 kg/tonne = 10^10 kg / 10kg per car = enough cobalt for 10^9 battery packs = 1 billion cars.

I think we will be ok...


Still, it's a finite resource and we consume it more and more. Obligatory link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=list_other&list=SP6A1FD1...


IMO Thorium reactors are too late. In some decades, there will be enough solar power, wind power and fusion power anyway.

But there is enough Uranium and Thorium for many centuries, even millennia.

The most important problem to solve is climate change; besides aging as the most important reason for misery and death today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6HyNk5Duvk


I think people are underestimating the amount of energy production required for sustainability. We use fossil fuels in many other applications besides turning into combustion fuels and if we want to start scrubbing CO2 so we don't turn into Venus that is even more energy. Take fertilizer production for example, we already know it is an energy intensive proccess, a large portion of global energy supply is used on making fertilizer, but it goes farther than that. The base reagents we turn into solid or liquid synthetic fertilizer is more fossil fuels which doesn't get accounted for as energy production, yet it is containing a ton of energy still. We could draw what we need for the fertilizer from the atmosphere and water, but it will increase our energy expenditures for production an entire order of magnitude higher, if not more. Who is counting the carbon pollution from that fertilizer after it comes out of my ass or rots on the ground? The same goes with other processes and materials. Plastics is a big one, nobody counts the amount of 'energy' stored within plastic as a material, plastic doesn't easily degrade, but it does degrade and release its decomposition products into the earth and atmosphere, and at increasing rates if we take the reports of plastic-consuming bacteria evolving and gaining numbers seriously.


I do not know about the effects of plastic decomposition on the climate.

But the replacement of animal products by vegan food is the only sane choice for medical, ethical, economic and ecological reasons.

http://www.cowspiracy.com/

http://www.whatthehealthfilm.com/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGJq0eQZoFSwgcqgxIE9MHw/vid...

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJRjK20fHylJyf-HiBtqI2w/vid...


This is probably true, but they should still be researched in case they become useful in other settings, e.g. Mars, or even places on Earth with poor renewable energy potential

A big problem with Mars is that getting fuel there is expensive, they sometimes have large dust storms, and their atmosphere is very thin. Solar power would work fine there 90+% of the time, but outside of fission, there doesn't seem to be any good technology for powering a human habitat over long periods. A rich thorium deposit on Mars could go a long way in creating a self-sustainable habitat. Some thorium reactor designs are notable for their high inherent safety, which is probably a big concern for any human habitat on Mars for morale reasons (think about how much a fatal nuclear disaster on a Martian colony would scare people about space exploration)


I agree.

But going to Mars in the next decades is a useless horrific suicide mission that only serves to make a few people famous.

IMO persons will colonize moons, planets and space ships once their biological body is replaced by a machine body. In a biological sense, the human race will die on Earth.


I agree that focusing on Mars soon is useless, but in the near-term Thorium could be useful for non-windy locations near the poles.


The article says that Australia has 14% of global reserves not that they're only mining 14% of what they have. We've also found all the easy stuff already, the cost of exploration will only increase over time since the good stuff will be deeper or in more random places.


Thus begins the "peak s/oil/cobalt" soothsaying for the next 10 decades or so?


That doesn't seem like an alas situation


As one of my favorite comedians once put it: „Analysts are people who tell you what the world will look like in 15 years if nothing changes. Now do you REALLY want to know how long your toenails get if you don‘t cut them?!“

Movement here will come from a number of factors:

- Demand increases, which will: - open up more mines (nicely summarized in the long commentary in this thread) - incentivize better extraction technology

- Supply will decrease, which will make Cobalt more expensive, which in turn leads to: - battery chemistry with way less cobalt needed (already happening) - better recycling - technology accessing hidden reserves (oil shale and tar sands anyone?) - research into complete alternatives like pressured air, hydrogen, redux flow batteries etc.

We‘ll be fine and renewables will win in any case by now.


"Analysts are people who tell you what the world will look like in 15 years if nothing changes."

I noticed at the bottom of the page this disclosure:

"Competing Financial Interests

G.Y. is a co-founder, chief technology officer, a board member and a shareholder of Sila Nanotechnologies, the company commercializing silicon-based anode materials mentioned in this Comment article."

Referring to co-author Gleb Yushin, "a professor of materials science at the School of Materials Science & Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA."

The other three authors are:

Kostiantyn Turcheniuk, "a research scientist at the School of Materials Science & Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA."

Dmitry Bondarev, "an undergraduate student at the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA."

Vinod Singhal, "a professor of business at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA."


Yeah, I'm disappointed that this submarine article has been on HN's front page for this long.


I also feel like articles like this tend to evoke some kind of sharp discontinuity – as if we’ll suddenly run out of nickel, and prices will explode. But the fact that we can predict the problem 10 years out is exactly why that won’t happen. Even if we do hit a hard limit without any natural tapering in supply, the clearer it becomes that we’re approaching a shortage, the more speculators will buy up current supply, smoothing the process out.


One of the first things we learned in civics class when I was all of 11 was that you should be very suspicious any time you see a line extrapolated out into the far future. Things never stay the same, especially rates of change.

Now half the media seems to be in the business of extrapolating lines out and trying to stir enough panic to get that click. Maybe we need more civics classes.


I don't like over confidence in any resource access, that's probably what oil digger thought 100 years ago.


Doesn't this example go against your point? I've been hearing that we were nearing the end of the oil supply since I've been a kid but the date keeps being pushed back. As the demand for oil grows the price goes up and new methods to extract more oil from the ground become profitable. Now current projections seem to target the 2050s at the earliest.


Yeah. I mean if you started digging oil 100 years ago - you would probably be rich enough for another century today. Even if you don’t dig it anymore.


I remember oil exhaustion projected into the 2050 since I was a kid at the early 90's. Every time I ask for a source of those earlier dates, people point either at crazy conspiracy theorists or at projections of peak extraction rate at the early 00's, that seem to be correct¹.

1 - If you exclude oil substitutes that started being counted like oil by then. There have been two peaks at this time, and production is mostly staying steady. There was very little experience with how the after-peak of something with no replacement option would look like, so those projections were indeed very diverse and off-target.


This is also exactly what is holding back synthetic fuels from becoming profitable.

Fossil fuels will eventually lose out over synthetic fuels, but not until prices rise substantially.


How are "synthetic fuels" produced? If it's anything like synthetic lubricants, it's still fossil fuels, just with more energy-intensive processing.


From a theoretical standpoint, virtually any source of carbon could be used, you could even make it out of the carbon already in the atmosphere:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-carbon/scie...


my point is going too deep into one idea because we'll find more of it.

oil is flowing longer than expected .. and that's not something we're enjoying a lot right now


I have seen news archives from the 1880s where they predicted the end of oil in 10 years. A few years ago a town dug up an old time capsule in which they had a new car from the 1950s, they buried it along with 10 gallons of gasoline in case gasoline was obsolete in 2000 (side note, the gas was bad, and the car destroyed by rust). The idea that oil would last forever was never really believed from what I can tell.


> do you REALLY want to know how long your toenails get if you don‘t cut them?!

Obvious reply: not cutting your toenails would be a change from usual


The Broken Hill Proprietary Company, BHP, comes from Broken Hill, Australia. It is one of the largest mining companies in the world.

Now what is interesting about Broken Hill is I have it on reasonable authority that the area as a whole has had "20 years of remaining reserves" for the last 60 years, because the explorers only bother to go out and 'discover' new parts of the deposit when they get below 15-20 years of reserves.

This is an interesting anecdote to my main point - the cobalt price seems to have jumped like a salmon about 12 months ago, but bringing a new mine online can take about 5 years. Even assuming we don't make this 10 year time frame, who really knows what deposits might have become profitable to mine with even a doubling of the price.

High prices isn't a signal that we have run out, it is a signal that more mines are needed. It is likely the market will heed the signal.


This happens in pretty much every mining and extraction industry. Oil reserves have been enough for about 50 years for the last 50 years iirc. There's no point in trying to find all the reserves ahead of time since your technology will change and things that were previously unviable become viable.


> High prices isn't a signal that we have run out, it is a signal that more mines are needed. It is likely the market will heed the signal.

It is a signal that there is a high demand, and not enough supply (whether naturally or artificially -- e.g. diamonds) to meet that demand. That's it.

Building more mines can only happen if the resources exist to mine. This idea that "the market" is a magic wand to wave at problems really needs to stop. As far as "the market" is concerned, the electric car industry could collapse because it failed to innovate past resource shortages.


>> Building more mines can only happen if the resources exist to mine.

The resources do exist to mine. Only a tiny fraction of rare earth minerals are actually being mined, because it's not economical in most places.


The article is not about rare earth metals.


It's worth recalling the distinction between "reserves" and "resources": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_resource_classificatio...

In a very real sense, we don't know how many undiscovered resources are out there, we can only estimate them. And the estimates move over time with technological improvement.


The headline is made to sound like: "Oh no, we are running out of cobalt!"

Yeah, not really. Just like with "oil reserves", there's a common misconception that we'll "run out" when they are depleted. However, "reserves" are just those resources that can be extracted economically at today's prices. When demand increases, prices rise and reserves "magically" increase.

That's exactly what will happen here. "Rare-earth materials" aren't actually rare in the sense that precious metals are rare. They're just uncommon compared to other minerals. If prices rise, eventually China will decide to increase exports and other countries that aren't literally warzones (like the DRC) will chime in.

So, we have ten years until those batteries will become somewhat more expensive, making research into alternatives more promising. There is no urgency here.

Then of course there's the questionable idea that electric motors will replace combustion engines because we're "running out of oil", which is why we supposedly need all these batteries in the first place. My bet is that synthetic fuels will become profitable far earlier.


> "there's the questionable idea that electric motors will replace combustion engines because we're "running out of oil""

Right. Electric motors will replace combustion engines because they're cheaper to operate, offer better performance, require less maintenance, don't emit toxic pollutants, contribute less CO2 emissions, they're much quieter, and they offer a better driving experience.

Sooner or later they'll be cheaper to manufacture, too, due to reduced labour required, component commonality, fewer moving parts, etc.


Some questionable assumptions there:

- cheaper to operate

An enormous amount of electricity would be required to actually replace all combustion engines in just regular cars, plus a lot of investment into infrastructure to charge all these cars. Higher demand, higher prices.

- offer better performance

Are the best-selling cars today those with the best performance? No, they're the ones offering acceptable performance at the best price.

- require less maintenance

That's assuming that maintenance cost is a big deciding factor in a car. Cars are assumed to be depreciating assets, when maintenance becomes too expensive they are replaced. There's some argument to be made here for certain vehicles like Taxis with a lot of usage, but the general consumer will not highly value or even accurately estimate maintenance.

- don't emit toxic pollutants

Most consumers don't put a premium on this. Modern combustion engines don't emit a lot of pollutants anymore, but even then it would take government intervention to force people away from them.

- contribute less CO2 emissions

Again, most consumers don't put a premium on this, but government intervention could change that. Synthetic fuels of the future may well be carbon neutral though.

- they offer a better driving experience

...assuming you're not running out of battery.


> "An enormous amount of electricity would be required to actually replace all combustion engines in just regular cars"

Not as much as you might think. In the UK, for example, electrifying all ground transport would add only on the order of 25-30% to current grid demand. That's similar to the amount that grid demand has declined in the past decade due to energy efficiency, despite population growth.

Ofgem, the UK's energy market regulator, recently confirmed that there is enough grid capacity available for widespread adoption of electric vehicles, provided a significant portion of charging happens at off-peak times.

> "plus a lot of investment into infrastructure to charge all these cars."

Yes, but this is actually pretty cheap compared to the massive infrastructure requirement for H2 or synthetic fuels. With electricity, the production and distribution infrastructure already exists.


The NCM cells most commonly used in electric vehicles have already significantly reduced their cobalt content in recent years. Moving from NCM 333 (33% cobalt cathode), to 622 (20%), to 811 (10%).

Tesla claims to use even less cobalt in their 2170 NCA cells than the best NCM811 chemistry.

As for nickel, a billion tonnes of known commercially-viable reserves ought to be enough for all the world’s vehicles to be electrified several times over. And all these minerals can be recovered and reused from recycled batteries.


My first encounter with a "just 10 more years" projection was while writing a paper on zinc in middle school. My reference book about mining and metallurgy discussed declining reserves and that the world would be entirely out of zinc by 1985 without careful conservation. Except I was reading the book in 1995, and it was published in 1975. It became an interesting point in my paper.

If this writer didn't work for a company that will make money off his ridiculous assertions, I would be baffled how an educated adult could write such an article.


> If this writer didn't work for a company that will make money off his ridiculous assertions

You mean the authors of the Nature article? Only their affiliation to Georgia Tech is listed. Or the author of that book on zinc?

Ooooh at the very bottom:

> Competing Financial Interests

> G.Y. is a co-founder, chief technology officer, a board member and a shareholder of Sila Nanotechnologies, the company commercializing silicon-based anode materials mentioned in this Comment article.


The problem with Rare Earth is that the West collectively acts like 3 year old who are to dumb to solve incredibly simple problems.

Rare earth contained lots of Thorium and that has to be handled as nuclear waste and that means you have 1000s of tons of nuclear waste on your hands. This is of course completely idiotic because Thorium not really a big problem as it is not radioactive.

The few Rare Earth mines that do exist only extract the lower group so you can avoid the Thorium.

Because the US drives policy for the whole West, there is basically no Rare Earth mining in the West.

China on the other hand understands that the more expensive rare earths are outside of China the more likely people will manufacture in China.

While I am 100% with Simons (one of the best economists ever) the unlimited stupidly of government is stopping a real market solution.

There was quite a bit of effort to change this and it got traction in congress because many people are really concerned that all US military equipment depends on rare earths from China.

See:

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7QNZ56j-HM

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxwF93wnRQo


As someone currently dealing the consequences of being far too cavalier with long term environmental pollutants like PCBs and lead, I would argue that behavior you're describing as being that of a "3 year old" is actually a good example of government sanity, not stupidity. It's reasonable long term caution to avoid creating a bigger problem in the future.

The true 3 year old behavior on display here is the market behavior you're advocating: ignoring a potential long term problem in favor of a short term gain.

Environmental toxins are not something to be cavalier about. Once soil gets contaminated, it's damned hard and expensive to clean up. Land is one of the single most limited resources we have. We can ultimately live with out lithium ion batteries. We can change our behavior, use other electrical sources, or as the article argues for, find other sources of electrode material.

We cannot live with out clean soil in which to grow healthy food. Or on which to live.


>Land is one of the single most limited resources we have.

It sounds romantic but is it really ? Even agricultural land is relatively cheap and there are more scarce resources that are needed for development.


Cheapness isn’t a measure of importance though. Air is cheap. Water is cheap. That doesn’t mean it’s ok to squander and pollute cheap but essential and very expensive to renew resources until they are not cheap anymore.

Water and soil in particular are very important resources to protect, far beyond their price in economic terms. They are vital strategic assets because so much of our economy and ecology depend on them.


Thank you so much for saying what needs to be said! People read too many economists. "Money is the only measure of value and I didn't pay my own mother, so motherhood must be worthless!"


In this case it's a good estimate of scarcity, unlike air, land is property


Not necessarily. If there is 110% as much food as people need food can be cheap, the surplus has little to no value. The price is making not determined by infrastructural constraints and personal preferences. But if there is 1% less food than people need the price will suddenly go through the roof.

We see this with oil prices. The price across the demand/supply balance point is nothing like linear.


>But if there is 1% less food than people need the price will suddenly go through the roof.

There are plenty of mechanism to stabilize the price, plenty of alternative ways to produce food as price increases just like with Oil


What does soil have to do with this? You think they’re just going to put the thorium in fertilizer or drop it all over the country from the air?

Lithium ion batteries are incredibly important if we want to make a fast transition to green energy. The environmental calculus is 100% in favor of finding a thorium disposal site and making rare earths / lithium cheaper now, rather than being picky about where minerals are mined and pumping way more CO2 into the air due to the delay

Localized thorium pollution is something that we can manage and deal with. Global warming, especially if it reaches a runaway tipping point, could displace a billion people, cause massive famines, and destroy tens of trillions of dollars of infrastructure and assets. Also consider that localized thorium pollution would probably be on-par with the pollution from washing coal, which is what would be replaced


>Global warming, especially if it reaches a runaway tipping point

Thought we reached that a long time ago, and yet things haven't really changed.


we have somewhat, in that a significant amount is going to happen even if we switch to 100% carbon neutral energy tomorrow. I’m thinking more about a Clathrate Gun kind of event

Also things have changed. Something like 10 of the hottest years on record have been within the last 15 years. Global warming is not simply a modeled prediction, it is very much measurable and ongoing


>Something like 10 of the hottest years on record have been within the last 15 years.

Is that based on straight up measurements, or based on measurements that were adjusted based on a realization that the measuring method was flawed to begin with? Aren't the adjustments based on a best guess by people that may have a bias?


But the trees man... My god, think of the trees


The way I understand your parent poster, is not, that he says don't care about environment, but don't classify Thorium the same as enriched Uranium ...


Thorium is radioactive, just not very much. It's toxic in the way a lot of heavy metals are. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp147.pdf


Yeah is radioactive but you can build a bed out of it and sleep on it so its not radioactive in any practical sense.

And of course Toxic is not a problem because most of the metals a rare earth mine would deal with would be toxic.

You can actually find heavily concentrated earth in the US that would basically count as nuclear waste because nuclear policy is so insane.


> Yeah is radioactive but you can build a bed out of it and sleep on it so its not radioactive in any practical sense.

Eh, you're technically correct in the sense that you can also make a bed out of asbestos and sleep on it and be fine, as long as it doesn't become airborne. Sure, you won't get thorium in your system as quickly but it's still a material that you probably don't want in your household or in the environment in general if you don't need it.

I do agree that in the general sense fears of radioactivity are exaggerated, and even then only selectively: those scanners we installed at all airports in the last decade will also cause more incidences of cancer, but you hardly ever hear anyone about that.

What should be feared more is the mining industry not giving a shit about human health, the environment or, for the lack of a better term, "the commons".

If the waste of the mining industry ends up in the groundwater we do have a big problem. And in practice this is not an "if", it's a "when", or even "how long will it take before they are found out this time and still get away with it".


> those scanners we installed at all airports in the last decade will also cause more incidences of cancer, but you hardly ever hear anyone about that.

Right; because compared to the radiation dose you get during the flight itself, it's nothing.


That is a different form of radiation


There are tons of thing in that are unhealthy if the become airbourn. It is like many other forms of rare earth mining.

So not having a domestic rare earth industry because of thorium regulation is totally insane.


The problem is that the output of mining isn't a big, hard Thorium bed. It's going to be a big mountain of loose ore contaminating the water table.

It's like lead in car batteries. Lead is incredibly toxic, but is mostly safe in that application, as there is a very tight chain of custody for batteries and good recycling programs.


To Woah:

You might look here [0]. A great quote about the radiation levels: "Searching for uranium is in some ways easier than for other mineral resources because the radiation signature of uranium's decay products allows deposits to be identified and mapped from the air."

Key phrase:

  mapped from the air
That's a pretty high level.

[0] http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fue...


My family does airborne mineral exploration, and it's the same for thorium (we look for three types of radiation to determine whether a certain spot is likely to be uranium: uranium, potassium, and thorium)

the benefit is that you can directly tell that it's uranium due to it giving off specific wavelengths, vs with diamonds, you need significant interpretation of the data to look for not-diamonds and hope that there are diamonds there too


It's not so much that it's highly radioactive as it is that radiation detectors are really sensitive. It's not inert, but its specific activity is pretty low. The types of radiation it emits do mean it is significantly more dangerous if you breathe it (say as dust) or otherwise absorb it into your body.


Where is this earth located?


Quite a few places (around 13), albeit most are abandoned or inactive sites. You can locate most of these by spotting a tailings dam of some kind on Google Maps. There are three active mines, in California and Nevada owned by Molycorp Minerals, Rye Creek LLC, and Columbus SM LLC:

CA: San Bernardino, Shasta, Rancho Cucamonga and Near Primm (35.478098,-115.532034)

MT: Place called Rye Near Ravalli. Could not locate it manually, and the coordinates were listed incorrectly as 46.015278,-114.171389. Directions: "Turn east off of Highway 93 onto Tanner Ave. Follow it until it dead ends and turn right onto dirt road and follow it for approx 1/4 mile into mine site."

NV: Esmeralda, Churchill, Pershing (38.119167,-117.993611)

OR: Coos

UT: Salt Lake (itself?)

WA: Stevens, Grant


It looks like it's 10,000 times more radioactive than a natural mix of potassium isotopes so worrying on the "radon concentration in your basement" level not "radioactive waste" level.


can't we use thorium to make thorium reactors to charge or shiny new electric cars?


Of all the resources needed for such a reactor, thorium is probably the smallest percentage. Copper, iron, lots of nickle, vanadium in the various alloys, aluminium everywhere, and a tiny blob of thorium in the middle.


Yes. But the amoumt of thorium falling out of rare earth mines is many times larger then humans could consume with reactors.


Thorium is not much radioactive indeed, but radon it emits is. That's why f.ex. building houses on a granit (that is generally thorium rich) without proper ventilation underneath can result in serious health issues.


There's loads of cities built on and with granite, and long before any awareness of Radon came about, without undue health effects. Scotland particularly - Aberdeen is even nicknamed the Granite City. Modern levels of draught exclusion can make for a little more of a problem of course.


You can map a specific radon level to probability of getting lung cancer. At high levels, it's equivalent to smoking cigarettes, and for smokers, it increases your cancer risk 7-8x.

At the levels where it is recommended that you remediate your home, your likelihood of dying from lung cancer is equivalent to dying in a car accident. That's potentially 50 people a year when you look at a population of 200,000 people.


The article is about the availability of cobalt and nickel, which are not rare earth metals.


Same exact thing applies to many of these metals and worrying about cobalt and nickel is really not close to as important as rare earth mines.

You need rare earth for batteries as well, also for many other things in the new electric transport infrastructure.


> You need rare earth for batteries as well

This is a pervasive and utterly false idea. There are no rare earth elements in li-ion batteries and never have been. It's a weird kind of free-association that people think so.

Also, nickel and cobalt mining are completely different from rare earth mining. The only rare earth element used in EVs in any significant amount is neodymium, about 1.6 kg in 200-300 horsepower PM motors. Induction motors, like those in the Model S and X, use none at all. Neodymium is entirely replaceable for EVs and has perhaps a 1% impact on range. If it becomes expensive it won't be used.

According to the USGS the US has enough mapped, recoverable neodymium for 1 billion EVs[1]. Australia already produces enough for over 10 million cars per year.

[1]: https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/rare_earth...


Seems possible to me the US may want to deplete others’ mines while saving their mines to become the last ones remaining.


That would require a level of long term policy and conspiracy that I think the US government incapable of. More likely to be arguably poor policy with unplanned for market consequences.


Yeah that is impossible, rare earths are all over the place if you are willing to go to slightly less optimal places you can never run out.

That would be like saying in 1800 that Britain will not use domestic coal because they want to save it.


There are roughly 85,000 mines in the U.S. Of those, 62,000 are outright abandoned. Rest are either nonproducing, temporarily idled, sealed, or intermittently active. Only about 6,300 are currently active.

It's not a limited resource problem but a profitability problem. Think the main article's point is that you probably want to research diversifying now before a resource squeeze forces you to catch-up.


There was a specific policy of discouraging mining in the U.S. sometime mid-century or earlier.

The history of mining in the West can be pieced together from hundreds of different online sources. The BLM spins the story that all the old mines have all been worked out and that is why they were abandoned, which is believable, but certainly not the case, although some mines have been worked out.

http://www.miningartifacts.org/Mining-Photo-Index.html has a brief history of mining by state.

Executive Order 6102 made it illegal for a U.S. Citizens to hold or own more than $100 in gold; coins, bullion or otherwise. It allowed the Federal government to seize gold and required citizens to turn in all of their gold, at the face value of $20.67 per ounce, or face up to 10 years in Prison and or a $10,000 fine.

Later Executive order L-208 essentially banned all non-essential mining operations. Gold and Silver mines being paramount on that list. Later expensive bonds were required before a new mine could be cut, which limited new mining to well funded mining companies. All of these contributed to the end of most small scale mining.

Source: https://plus.google.com/+NationalbureauofminesOrg1/posts/fDh...


Hmm, maybe I didn't observe that effect. First order went into effect in 1933, and second in 1942. The mine closures seem to be pretty well distributed since then, implying a healthy amount of openings and closures yearly, totaling a summed inventory of 80k mines in the states. Anyhow, ignoring mines prior to 1970, this is the pattern of distribution of mine closures:

  1971   475 closures
  1972   725    "
  1973   692    "
  1974   455    "
  1975   711    "
  1976 1,406    "
  1977 1,248    "
  1978 2,750    "
  1979 5,378    "
  1980 4,232    "
  1981 2,901    "
  1982 3,681    "
  1983 2,598    "
  1984 2,990    "
  1985 4,401    "
  1986 2,539    "
  1987 1,944    "
  1988 2,007    "
  1989 1,855    "
  1990 1,805    "
  1991 1,879    "
  1992 1,705    "
  1993 1,425    "
  1994 1,329    "
  1995 1,212    "
  1996 1,116    "
  1997 1,013    "
  1998   994    "
  1999 1,151    "
  2000 1,041    "
  2001 1,368    "
  2002 1,521    "
  2003 1,450    "
  2004 1,266    "
  2005 1,298    "
  2006 1,431    "
  2007 1,465    "
  2008 1,564    "
  2009 1,664    "
  2010 1,669    "
  2011 1,894    "
  2012 2,371    "
  2013 2,752    "
  2014 3,636    "
  2015 2,622    "
So overall, a fairly steady figure. I imagine they'd go at it until a mine was played out, at least in the economic/profitability sense.


Thorium is the unleaded gas to Uranium (if it was leaded gas) for nuclear reactors. Maybe there's some opportunity there :)


> We use less than 3% cobalt in our batteries & will use none in next gen - Elon Musk

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1006968985760366592


Don't put your money on that.


The current 3% battery cobalt level already confirmed by 3rd party tear down analysis. "Next gen" could be years away, sure. But there are PLENTY of existing lithium battery chemistries which use no cobalt whatsoever.


There's a big difference between 3% cobalt and no cobalt. Cobalt is important for safety, skimping on it to save some money is a big risk.

I'm not saying it won't happen, just that I wouldn't put money on it.


LiFEPo batteries, which are notable for their safety, use zero cobalt. There are other ways to accomplish these goals.


> Recycling cannot replenish supplies. Lithium-ion batteries last for 15–20 years, 3 times longer than the 5–7 years for lead-acid batteries

Over 90% of car batteries are already recycled. Assuming this stays constant when batteries get bigger(why wouldn't it), we'll hit steady-state on materials about a decade after electric cars become dominant.

Due to recycling, this whole article is baseless. Eventually we'll only need to mine enough to make up for a the few percent of batteries that aren't recycled. Car batteries are already recycled at extremely high rates, and there's no reason to believe this will change.


I haven't studied this problem, but I suspect reserves of metals (and anything else that gets mined) is technically defined the same way oil reserves are defined, which renders this kind of headline nonsense.

Even in the pessimistic case, we run out of money before we run out of reserves. In other words, price elasticity always brings more reserves online. Reserves are defined as what can be provably economically extracted given proven technology and current economics. And the proven technology is only what has been proven in a particular field (or mine, or battery recycling facility), not proven anywhere in the world.


This is supposing that we want big cars with big batteries, In the cities the mobility is moving toward small personal vehicles, and if you have bigger commuter needs, I hope that in the future the highways can be electrified and the cars would only need the battery to get from the highway to your home.

There are not enough minerals to make batteries to replace all the current cars with their current autonomy, but a change of transport paradigm could be feasible.


> I hope that in the future the highways can be electrified

Obligatory remark: Let's also put the cars on metal rails instead of on asphalt to reduce rolling friction. And maybe instead of small cars, we could use large wagons or chains of those that could transport a lot of people at the same time.


No, those are called trains, and while they're great for shuttling a large number of people between two distant points, or along a line of points, they really suck for moving a large number of people between countless arbitrary points that are arranged in 2-dimensional space like a grid (or a metro area that's spread out in all directions).

What you really want, to replace private cars, is SkyTran: tiny cars for 1-2 people, suspended from metal rails (which have a maglev effect to eliminate friction altogether), that are completely autonomous and take riders directly to their destination within a metro area. Each one operates independently, so you don't have to worry about what other users are doing or waste time going to stations that aren't your destination.

IMO, it's shameful that we haven't done more to explore PRT (personal rapid transit). It could really revolutionize city and suburban life and eliminate the need for so many people to own cars, while also saving people so much time with commuting (since such a system, fully built-out, would have far higher capacity than our current road system).


Yeah... but that's kinda missing something. Can't we put it into a vacuum tube instead, preferably underground?


”There are not enough minerals to make batteries to replace all the current cars”

More than enough reserves exist, in the ground. Particularly as new cell chemistries are using much less cobalt. It’s just there may not be enough production at current rates.


If we could replace gas station infrastructure with EV battery swap out stations, and redesign EVs for easy/fast battery changes, there would be no need for an electrified highway

I’ve been floating this idea around for a bit in my head and I haven’t really thought about any serious problems with it. Main issue would be if people tried to pass in low-value batteries to the network but that could be fixed with a good serial numbering system



3-4 new polymetalic mines can easily double the global cobalt supply.

The story with cobalt is the same as with REEs and Lithium - they are everywhere, but few big companies dare to mine them expecting the business to go bust the moment China or Congo resort to further dumping

For Nickel, global supply is being dominated by a price cartel, doing the same thing.


Ironically, in Nickel, the only company that somehow manages to lives outside the cartel scheme is Chinese.


It's peak cobalt! Just like peak oil.


I remember trying to explain basic Econ 101 to a classmate while in third year engineering. Peak Oil was a religion back then.

The same isn't true for the environment. Unlike Peak Oil where economic incentives simultaneously would encourage smaller cars with more efficient engines while also directing research into more advanced oil retrieval (or at the very worst biofuels) the environment is not something the market will automatically solve. Quite the opposite. It will push up against it until there is sufficient political resistance to overcome market resources attempting to maintain the status quo. We have a real problem, but it isn't oil or cobalt.


Polluting the environment is damaging someone's property (private or state), for which they will eventually demand restitution. It's part of market forces.

Conversely, a certain amount of pollution/environmental destruction is a price people are willing to pay.


That is all nice and true in theory. But property rights don't exist from nowhere, they need to be created by private actors or governments.

Global property rights issue will not be solved by simply law-suit the way you might fix a noise problem. Governments are not only not establishing property rights they would actively prevent anybody that did.

If your read the literature on the economics of property rights and Ronald Coase own writings you will see that he did not believe simplified version of the 'Coase theorem' that was formalized by Stigler.


The point is not that "the market fixes everything", the point is these are still market forces.

Even in a completely free market, you can get screwed over.


In the real world the cost of figuring out who is polluting your property when it comes to acid rain, engine particulates, etc dwarf the cost imposed by this pollution. I'm all for trying to minimize pollution in an economically efficient way but thinking you can do this by suing each of the 10,000 car owners who drove past your house for $.15 each is ridiculous - we really do need government regulation here.


What market forces allow them to convert their demands into action?


Aren't all market forces in the end the result of private property and contract law? Without those, people would quickly stop being able to trust any deals they made, and would have to resort to cash, and even then only in cases where they have a high level of social trust in the person they're trading with.


I’m not sure how that connects with what I’m asking. The other comments said that market forces would result in people demanding reparations for the damage done by pollution. But in the absence of a legal framework giving them some rights regarding pollution, those demands won’t go anywhere.


lol if you think the government is going to be able to sue for the profits paid from then-bankrupt gas companies at any point in the future

and how would displaced Bangladeshi people even be able to sue Exxon Mobil for the environmental damages they are currently suffering from? This is a really dumb libertarian fantasy


> the environment is not something the market will automatically solve

Not quite true. The market can easily solve for it. You just have to internalize the external costs. Usually done through taxes (ie carbon tax).


I want you to realize that you just said "the market can easily solve for it" followed by "done through taxes".

Either the market (which has no tax-levying power) can solve it on its own, or it can't. What you're describing is legislators fixing the market because it's stuck in a vicious circle — not the market fixing itself, let alone easily.


A market doesn't exist in a vacuum, there is always a framework of rules or fees in place. A carbon tax is simply a convenient way to recoup the true costs of market activity.


That's the political employing the market to solve the actual. The market is the policy maker's tool. Take carbon taxes, if implemented incorrectly they may change incentives so harshly on CO2 that industries start creating more methane (a much worse GHG). This isn't "the market solving it" it's policy makers solving it because the tax base is used to fund the studies used to create the regulations necessary to harness the market intelligently. I'm not arguing against the market, far from it, but I do not think it solves things like the environment easily.


By that definition the market can never solve anything because there is some overlying system of property rights, government or not.

But any economist worth their salt would never discussed these issues in the simple market<->government paradigm because it simply breaks down.

There is lots of research on property rights and institutions, whole sub-fields of economics are devoted to it you are vastly oversimplifying and projecting a idealistic view of government and their intensives.


I was responding to a simplification. It is of course more complex that I'd expressed, but I tailored my criticism in the least convoluted way I could to make the point. If you want to talk about political economy, international IP law, and Hobbesian traps we can, but it's fruitless when someone is saying that the market can "easily" solve environmental concerns.


The problem basically being what happens when you marry the logic of commodification (money, oil, grain, etc equally interchangeable) with the growth requirements of a debt-interest based economy. Either we have to make off-world into the new growth industry or financial capitalism will be the end of us.


This has nothing to do with capitalism. Any economic system would face the exact same problem. Growth is not inherently capitalistic, its just the system that can sustain growth while others can't so its running into these problems while others collapsed before getting there.

Its a simply property rights (or externalizes problem) that is universal and incredibly difficult to solve.


If you are interested in this sort of thing, and have already read Debt, the First 5000 Years, learning about gift economies is worth it.

And Graeber's Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value The False Coin of Our Own Dreams is worth reading for a mechanical account of how gift economies function, and the status of heirlooms and other valuable objects.

Charles Eisenstein can read as cloyingly new-age but if you get past that the message is legit: http://sacred-economics.com/sacred-economics-chapter-18-rele...


Why is biofuels the very worst? Are you an oil shrill? (I'll admit to having an interest in biofules)


Pretty sure he meant worst case in terms of reducing oil reliance, i.e. if use and demand can't be reduced to maintain existing supply then biofuels have to make up the difference.


Some biofuels, particularly corn ethanol, are bad for the environment. Given the low return on energy invested for corn ethanol, it's functionally a way to launder fossil fuels (e.g. diesel for tractors, natural gas for fertilizer production, coal or gas for distillation) into "green" fuel. With a nice side effect of further degrading valuable farmland.


Fud from the oil industry. The energy return on investment it actually pretty good and getting better.

Modern farming is actually building soil. You probably aren't aware of how farming has changed since the 1930s - that is the last your history books covered anything...


With respect to electric cars the actual energy density is only half the story.

Efficiency can be gained with pack efficiency, aerodynamics, weight reduction of the vehicle, including smaller low occupancy vehicles enabled by the Mobility-As-A-Service model, and removing material with the help of better computer simulation and modeling, more efficient energy recapture systems, energy efficient accel/decel algorithms, denser destination charging network, skate systems like Boring Loop, all of which can decrease battery size which itself increases efficiency even further.

Similar to density in chip design, as density hits fundamental limits, other axes of power can help keep improvement at least linear.


We need to work on super-springs, so you can wind up your car... LOL Right now there is a lot of lithium in the earth, much is not economic, but as lithium prices rise, more mines will become economic. Cobalt, as well as lithium will become far more highly recycled. Battery innards will be improved to reduce Cobalt use. Lithium use can not be reduced very much per KW hour, as the chemical changes oxidation state in a charge/discharge cycle. Lithium is both light in weight and has nearly the highest possible voltage swing of ~~3.7 volts (versus 2 volts for lead and 1.2 volts for Nicads and NiMh which are many time heavier per KWHr in addition))


>Lithium is both light in weight and has nearly the highest possible voltage swing of ~~3.7 volts (versus 2 volts for lead and 1.2 volts for Nicads and NiMh which are many time heavier per KWHr in addition)

IANAchemist, but this makes me wonder if there's some other chemistry out there, either undiscovered or deemed uneconomic, that offers even better performance than lithium.


>IANAchemist, but this makes me wonder if there's some other chemistry out there, either undiscovered or deemed uneconomic, that offers even better performance than lithium.

There are, but of course there's tradeoffs. Lithium is the best all around cathode choice for economical reasons, but Sodium and Potassium are being explored as well. The real gains can be found in new electrolyte chemistries, though. My money is that we will be using lithium for the foreseeable future, and that advances in electrolyte chemistry will get us to the $100/kWh point.


I wonder what the problems with sodium and potassium are. Sodium, for one, is an extremely common element on Earth's surface, which I can't say for Lithium. Potassium is also very common. You can get all the sodium you could possibly want just by drying out seawater. By contrast, lithium supply seems to be limited to a few places such as Bolivia.



As I heard an economist say once:

"The best cure for high prices is high prices."


As a Houston resident who hears a lot of news about oil prices and demand for goods from the extraction support industries, there's evidence of this every day.

Not everyone grasps self-limiting cycles and feedback signals at first. I like to point them to this old proverb about the Mullah Nasrudin.

http://voetica.com/voetica.php?collection=4&poet=706&poem=34...


An assistant professor at UCSD just announced a new method for recycling cobalt in lithium-ion batteries.

http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-lithium-ion...


I know that the popsci media can overblow this, but wasn't there some optimistic results for super-capacitors that wouldn't rely on any of these rare-earth metals? I'm seriously asking, since looking this up tends to bring up links to crap-sites like IFLS and whatnot, so I don't know if the hype is warranted.


Glad someone asked.

Supercapacitors are the thing that halves the requirement for these lithium iron batteries that we are supposed to be running out of. The good news is that fantastic work is being done in this area, making those Tesla things rather quaint old technology.

It is all going on in Estonia and you are well advised to watch this recent episode of Fully Charged to see what a wonderful place Estonia is and why it should be where you next go on holiday:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ2Eo6wl5r0

So, 'spoiler alert', a supercapacitor in a vehicle compliments the battery and stores the energy from re-gen and gets you away from the lights at super fast speed without having to have some huge Tesla-esque American sized battery providing the oomph. It is win win as the vehicle is lighter.

The other benefit of supercapacitors is that they can also be used to provide smoothing of electricity supply, e.g. when the cup final is on and everyone goes to turn their kettle on at half time.

As mentioned, watch the Fully Charged episode about Estonia and what lovely people there are there, including a few doing great things with supercapacitors.


> Supercapacitors are the thing that halves the requirement for these lithium iron batteries that we are supposed to be running out of.

That's patently false, though. Skeleton claims they have legitimately impressive power/weight ratios, but that's totally irrelevant to vehicles. The current batteries can push short bursts of well over 2 kW/kg. Even the smallest cars (the Smart FourTwo has a 50-100 kW engine) can be powered by tiny batteries (10-15 kWh). Cruising range is the deciding factor in battery size, and capacitors are totally irrelevant to that. The electric FourTwo could be fitted with a 10 kWh battery, but nobody really wants <35 miles of range. At that point it makes far more sense to have an electric bicycle.

To really drive the point home, there are readily available batteries that have 5x the specific power of the batteries used in EVs, and only ~20% less capacity. They aren't used, because the extra power is not required.

[1]: https://www.skeletontech.com/skeleton-blog/ultracapacitors-o...


There are also optimistic results for batteries, because li-ion batteries do not and never have used rare earth elements. Cobalt and nickel are not rare earth elements and as other people have pointed out the global resources of both are far higher than the article suggests.

You probably have difficulty looking up alternatives to batteries with rare earth elements because the only sites that say they have rare earth elements have negative knowledge about the subject.


I was specifically interested in the super capacitor part of my question, I apologize for some potentially ambiguous semantics.


TL;DR: Battery demand grows. Best current tech uses nickel and cobalt. Their prices grow and at the current growth trends demand outstrips supply within 20 years. We should fund research (in the author's area) to find better alternatives (e.g., using iron and silicon). This is valid but not surprising and hardly catastrophic. This is not "10 years left to find an alternative".

But what turned me off is scaremongering and naive justifications. For example, "In Africa, some mine owners exploit child workers and skimp on protective equipment" (this is true, is a problem, but has no relation to the article; they do not even claim that children mine Ni or Co), etc.

My 2c -- the title is clickbait-y and the content is lacking for nature-caliber writeup (I only read it because it referenced nature.com).


To the point, the prices are so damn low that only by the worst production methods is extraction even economically feasible. Higher prices will lead to production in less reckless environments, which is a good thing.


I thought nickel-colbalt has a significantly lower specific energy / energy density than other lithium-polymer batteries. They might be cheaper to make (or maybe not so much anymore), but they have a large space form factor.

I don't know of any laptop today that's using a nickel cobalt battery. Those ones usually allowed you to remove the battery pack from the laptop. Now there all based on lithium-polymer now. Same with smartphones.

I did some research in lithium polymer batteries a few years back. I distinctly remember there being almost 10 or so variations of lithium polymer mixes being used in battery production.


No, LiPo (which really means li-ion with gel or polymer electrolyte) has a lower specific energy (kWh/kg) but higher specific power (kW/kg).

> I don't know of any laptop today that's using a nickel cobalt battery. Those ones usually allowed you to remove the battery pack from the laptop. Now there all based on lithium-polymer now. Same with smartphones.

They all use NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) cathodes. LiPo batteries have the exact same cathodes and anodes as normal li-ion, just a different electrolyte.

> I did some research in lithium polymer batteries a few years back. I distinctly remember there being almost 10 or so variations of lithium polymer mixes being used in battery production.

There are ~10 main chemistry families, but hundreds of mixes.


thanks for the clarification


The inclusion of the metal price graph[1] is very strange. What are they trying to tell with that? To me it demonstrates that nickel and cobalt prices are currently right where they should be in the market (considering the concentration), compared to the other metals. So if cobalt prices quadrupled from 22$ to 81$ recently, doesn't it mean that cobalt was highly undervalued before and is now correctly priced?

[1] https://media.nature.com/w800/magazine-assets/d41586-018-057...


I believe the graph was to support their argument that it's better to [fund their research in electrodes that] use Cu and Fe rather than Ni and Co, since their abundance will always make those materials cheaper.


To lessen global co2 emissions we should think about which wehicles gets batteries first. Is it a car commuting for example an hour a day or commercial wehicles which are out in the road constantly?

Think of 100kw if battery power in a personal Wehicle versus commercial delivery trucks.

Secondly you do not need to pack 100kw of batteries in a car who rarely commutes long distance. If the batteries are shared between cars then you swap in a 100kw pack for the long term commute but have a 10kw pack for every day use. That way batteries will last a lot longer.


We should invest in space mining as well, there's no practical limit to the natural resources of the solar system at humanity's current scale.


There is over a cubic km of earths crust that can be mined per person on the planet using current technology. There is zero need for space mining as actually rare materials we care about like Oil don't exist in space.


The problem with the Earth's crust is all the stuff on top of it. We can't extract 100% of the earth's crust's value, or anywhere near it, without disrupting huge swaths of wild and human habitats. We're already causing a mass extinction at our current rate of consumption, do you really want to increase that?

We need to move away from oil so that we don't kill ourselves with climate change regardless.


That's just cost / benefit.

We can keep the top ~5 meters of earth and extract what's beneath it without disrupting ecosystems. However, the current approach of massive mines is cheaper and frankly we have such a vast abundance of resources that's working fine it's not like every person on the planet has any need for 20+ lb of gold. Further, we can always just mine old garbage dumps as elements are not destroyed just shifting chemical bonds.


But this very article is talking about the possibility of running out. Do you disagree with the premise of the article? Nature is a respected publication, if you think they're wrong you should work on a properly sourced and peer reviewed rebuttal.


If you read the article they are not saying that's how much of this element is in the crust. They are making an economic argument which is a secondary issue. Note: People are not making economic arguments in support of space mining just an abundance argument.

In terms of abundance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth...

Deepest mines https://www.mining-technology.com/features/feature-top-ten-d... Though we have boor holes down to 12,262 meters which means we can extract material to that depth.

Feel free to consider multiplication as original research.


An economic argument for space works too. The profits of space mining outweigh the costs by several orders of magnitude and the abundance of resources far outstrips what's economically accessible on Earth, and as a bonus doesn't ruin the only place in the universe we know can support life.

Also, having a bore hole at a certain depth doesn't mean we can extract material from that depth in useful quantities.


I think your vastly overestimating the costs of mining stuff on earth and underestimating the costs of mining stuff in space.

On top of that if you bring back say a cubic mile of gold then gold is not going to be worth nearly as much. Which prevents scaling up space mining as we simply don't need that many raw materials to pay for multi trillion dollar space mining enterprises to bring costs down.


The solution is investment in public transportation and a reduction in consumption.

There's absolutely no reason for most people in industrialized countries to own a car, other than the fact that the public transportation infrastructure sucks. With the shift of gas to electrically powered vehicles, there's even less of a reason for people to own an electric vehicle with a massive battery. We need higher density public transportation. Where the kwh of transporting a person goes down on average, thus reducing the need for more batteries.

As residential density increases, and road infrastructure can't keep up, we'll see a lot more bike paths, light and heavy rail, close proximity grocery stores, etc...

Look at Atlanta right now. Traffic is a clusterfuck, suburbs are also expanding, prompting more people to own a vehicle so they can get to downtown where the jobs are. You sit on the highway, and every single person is in a 5 person vehicle, only for 1 seat to be occupied. What a colossal waste from a utilization perspective.

Atlanta has decided to repurpose an old rail loop around the city and make a paved path around the entire city, which connects to other public infrastructure via auxiliary paths and existing trails. It is called The Beltline. It will take maybe another 10 years to complete the entire loop, but the city will be ready to handle the problems that will ensue decades from now.


And then you have the mayors of North Fulton (for example Mayor Mike Bodker of Johns Creek) that are fundamentally opposed to expanding various forms of rapid transit into their supposedly low density housing suburban communities:

https://www.johnscreekga.gov/NewsAndEvents/News-Archive/2018...

Having moved to Johns Creek from Boston last year, I think the Red Line should go all the way up 400 to Cumming and they should add more express lanes along 400.

But there are two messages I hear consistently around town when I ask various people about this issue:

1. People like their low density housing, and you are never going to be able to put in enough rail access (like Boston's T or NYC's Subway) close enough to where people live or where they need to be on the other end to eliminate cars off the road through most of the area.

2. They don't want particular groups from other parts of Atlanta having easy access to where they live...essentially to keep possible criminal elements away.

Point 1 is a legitimate concern, but commuter rail systems do exist in other areas of the country, and parking garages can be placed next to rail stations. Would definitely ease the nightmare that is rush hour on 400.

Point 2 is just a terrible legacy of racism that still exists in the South (and I'm a Southern boy born and raised until living in Boston for 10 years). There is a terrible acronym for MARTA that I have heard multiple times since moving here that just needs to disappear.


People want a consistent, reasonable commute time.

Los Angeles's utilization rates for public transportation could probably be improved a great deal by giving buses priority over individual car traffic so that bus commute times were relatively short and predictably so.

But what a huge political battle would have to be won to change street and freeway use regulations...


In ten years, I predict we'll have started transitioning to aluminum-ion batteries.

Lithium has one valence electron. Aluminum has three.

Aluminum-ion cells are not new, and they do have issues, but the same can be said of Lithium-ion 20 years ago.

Energy densities are remarkably different, with aluminum the clear winner.

Ironically, nickel and probably cobalt will be needed for mass-produced aluminum-ion batteries too.


Al-ion may be superior in energy density, but I doubt we'll be seeing it in EVs any time soon. The recharging issues may be able to be solved, but the vast majority of all funding for R&D and production is being focused on lithium right now. Lithium is "good enough" to hit the $100/kWh target which will make EVs affordable to the mass market.


> Ironically,

i see what u did there....


Required reading for all you neo-Malthusian types:

https://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/Jevons/jvnCQ.html


Asteroid mining is just a space program away, and might be strategically valuable to the west if China does try to corner the supply market as it historically does.


When things get more scarce, they become more valuable.

When things get more valuable, they become more expensive.

When things get more expensive, people find new ways to sell them.

FUD over supply and demand is so boring!


I would argue for a more holistic approach.

Sure, optimize current resource consumption and even bring technically inferior but more practical batteries to market, but also do not assume the electric vehicle end-state = swap electric for internal combustion.

For instance, would we have a possible resource crunch if US car ownership went from >1 car / person to 0.1 car / person or lower? That could happen in a few years now, with Uber / Lyft running on fossil fuels.

What if self-driving, electric vehicles come to market not as personal transport, but instead as transportation-as-a-service?


Despite the sentiment to this article here, has anyone invested in cobalt/copper/nickel futures or mining companies?


When I was in school - 15 years ago - I remember reading that we will run of oil in 2030. Seems like a similar wrong estimate.


The fact that we haven't run out of oil yet doesn't really change anything about the fact that oil-based industry is not sustainable. I don't see why this isn't a similar situation.


This is what people don't get. It's simply not sustainable and of course we need to invest in battery research. And the sooner the better.


Is anything truly sustainable when we live on a planet of finite resources?


The sun is our best bet. We will have it for another 5 billion years give or take.


Yeh so not sustainable.. it will run out..

and...

it will run out even if we don't use it!


In the long run, nothing is sustainable.


Ok you guys, we've put a question mark above as a nod to the skepticism in this thread.


The thing that I always thing about is that there are other uses for rare-earths. Vanadium, for example is used in structural steel as a alloying element that make steel MUCH stronger. Neodymium is used in magnets and lasers. Thorium is used in TIG welding.

We can't just siphon off all the Rare Earths for batteries without impacting other industries.


Good news! None of those are used in batteries. In fact, there are no rare earth elements in batteries. Also, the article does not mention rare earths a single time.

Even better: neodymium is unlike the other rare earths in that it is commonly found on its own. All the other rare earths almost always only occur together. Neodymium is quite easy to find an extract, and has always been of least/little concern.

Back when fears about rare earth shortages were a thing, the element of concern was tellurium, as it was assumed that thin film cadmium-telluride solar panels were the next big thing. They are now virtually obsolete.


Good thing in 10 years solid state batteries should just about enter the mainstream.


What about graphene-based batteries?


Exactly, in ten years graphene batteries wil have obliterated current technologies.


Let's just use D batteries. Good enough for a flashlight, good enough for a Macbook.


I know you're joking, but many D batteries (and effectively all the rechargeable ones) also contain nickel.


I don't think batteries are a long term solution without a materials science breakthrough. The charging rate and the charge density needs to be increased exponentially.

I think we have a much better shot with hydrogen fuel cells, or other phase change system that can be refueled rapidly.


One of the more interesting aspects of modern global warfare is the fact that, should the world decide to stage another world war, pretty much everyone is going to run out of a lot of these strategic resources within a few months to years. This, plus the fact that nuclear warfare is going to be extremely limited due to lack of available weapons, and the virtual impossibility of invading a country you don't share a land border with, puts a very hard limit on the amount of aggression any one nation can muster up. Even the mighty US military is a paper tiger after a few steady months of all-out combat.


> nuclear warfare is going to be extremely limited due to lack of available weapons

There's 15,000, which is easily enough to destroy a lot of cities and kill maybe half the world's population?

https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohasw...

I'll admit that we don't know what total warfare looks like in the 21st century when jets take a decade to build. I suspect it would look a lot more like Syria.


Nuclear weapons won't target cities, there simply aren't enough weapons to hit all of the military targets, so none would be left over for counter value. It makes little sense to target civilians, who can't directly inflict damage on your nation's military or citizens, when you have available military targets that will further the accomplishment of objectives.

So all nuclear warfare in total war is counter force.


It's near impossible to hit many military bases without drastically impacting local civilian population with fallout.


Nuclear weaponry is both far far less powerful than it was during WW2 and the Cold War, and the buildings are also much much stronger. It's estimated that you'd need some 40+ of today's warheads to completely destroy NYC. You have to expect some to get shot down, so it's not one-to-one targeting.


>So all nuclear warfare in total war is counter force.

And yet the only real example of nuclear warfare targeted civilians...


Japanese society of the time integrated their wartime weapons manufacturing inside cities, a fact that isn't true today. So both Nagasaki and Hiroshima were legitimate targets. The other issue is that towards the end of the war, there wasn't much left to bomb. If we had had nuclear weapons at the beginning of the war, we'd have likely targeted naval installations.


Why is it impossible to invade a country without a land bridge when the US have regularly done it in the last few decades? Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq.

I bet China could, quite easily, invade Japan, The Phillipines or Taiwan if it wanted to. I bet Australia probably could too.

Here's Australia practising amphibious assaults:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3AEd5BmQgU


> Why is it impossible to invade a country without a land bridge when the US have regularly done it in the last few decades? Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq.

The United States invaded Iraq from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan from Pakistan, Afghanistan (note that Afghanistan was more or less in a frozen civil war), and Uzbekistan.

Amphibious assaults are the most complex and riskiest kinds of military attack. It requires expert command of logistics to keep the landing ships providing supplies and men to the beach, even when the environment may be working against you (such as the tide), and where there is far too much to be crammed into too little space. It requires control of the sea and the skies, because you have masses of ships with masses of people just waiting to be bombed out of existence. Even if you do make it to land, you now have to supply your entire front-lines. If you don't capture a port, or if the port you captured was sabotaged by the defending army, you have to supply your entire assault from a beach that's not really capable of providing the deepwater capabilities to handle cargo ships of serious capacity.

In the event of a war, the South Chinese Sea would likely be a contested zone, where neither China nor the US has sufficient control of the area to effect an amphibious assault. It is far from "quite easily."


Fighting a limited war action is very different from the total war scenario I detailed.

China would have a really tough time invading Japan. The country is extremely mountainous, limiting ship landings to a few easily-defensible locations, and air transport is going to be limited by anti air weaponry that can be hidden pretty much anywhere. I'm not saying it can't be done and I'm by no means an expert, but even if that was all China had to do, meaning they could pour the entire resources of the country into it, they'd find it really hard.

If they had to fend off Russia at the same time? Forget it. Japan is basically Switzerland and the UK rolled into one. China found it easier to expand a thousand miles to the west than to conquer an island 3 hundred miles to the east. China couldn't even conquer Korea, much less Japan. I'd have to ask Rotty to be sure, but I'm fairly sure that 90% of the war plans end with negotiated settlements rather than complete surrender.


In reality nuclear warfare is always extremely limited and that is a good thing. Either they can dictate terms or they have a cold war. Look at India and Pakistan- they have long hated and fought with each other but are relatively cordial for two nations with borders disputes because they are both nuclear powers. Even sociopaths and meglomaniacs know nuclear warfare is like having a polonium tipped knife fight in untreated sewage- even if you win you lose.

The lack of supplies is also a good thing to irrelevant - most wars are too quick to involve significant production during combat and the superior equipment takes a lot of to build but are often one vehicle armies compared to the old fast to produce ones given the lopsided casualty ratios. And even if things somehow lasted that long without peace breaking out and it was worth doing resources are still subsitutable even if they are strictly worse otherwise. We can run cars on coal but don't for many reasons. That applies to many of the best options that so overshadow alternatives that almost nobody does it.


The USA has plenty of rare elements to mind as long as the military doesn’t mind paying more. The USA is already a resource powerhouse, but China has undercut it severely in refining because they hadn’t been caring much about their environment.

The USA military also really really excels at strategic logistics, I’m pretty sure they have more than just a few months stockpiled.


The military has to compete for these resources with the private sector, you might be surprised at just how much the current logistics toolchain simply buys from private companies off the shelf.


The government can, and will in any WWII-level war, choose to ration industrial metals that are in short supply. The US government in WWII effectively allocated who was allowed steel, copper, tin, cobalt, etc. to ensure that sufficient material was diverted to military needs.


Assuming a world war scenario, there likely is no competition with the private sector, which will have a choice between producing what the government wants it to produce or being put under government control and then producing what the government wants.


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