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Energy Metals

The Raw Materials That Fuel the Green Revolution

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View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

Records for renewable energy consumption were smashed around the world in 2017.

Looking at national and state grids, progress has been extremely impressive. In Costa Rica, for example, renewable energy supplied five million people with all of their electricity needs for a stretch of 300 consecutive days. Meanwhile, the U.K. broke 13 green energy records in 2017 alone, and California’s largest grid operator announced it got 67.2% of its energy from renewables (excluding hydro) on May 13, 2017.

The corporate front is also looking promising, and Google has led the way by buying 536 MW of wind power to offset 100% of the company’s electricity usage. This makes the tech giant the biggest corporate purchaser of renewable energy on the planet.

But while these examples are plentiful, this progress is only the tip of the iceberg – and green energy still represents a small but rapidly growing segment. For a full green shift to occur, we’ll need to 10x what we’re currently sourcing from renewables.

To do this, we will need to procure massive amounts of natural resources – they just won’t be the fossil fuels that we’re used to.

Green Metals Required

Today’s infographic comes from Cambridge House as a part of the lead-up to their flagship conference, the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference 2018.

A major theme of the conference is sustainable energy – and the math indeed makes it clear that to fully transition to a green economy, we’ll need vast amounts of metals like copper, silicon, aluminum, lithium, cobalt, rare earths, and silver.

These metals and minerals are needed to generate, store, and distribute green energy. Without them, the reality is that technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries, nuclear reactors, and electric vehicles are simply not possible.

First Principles

How do you get a Tesla to drive over 300 miles (480 km) on just one charge?

Here’s what you need: a lightweight body, a powerful electric motor, a cutting-edge battery that can store energy efficiently, and a lot of engineering prowess.

Putting the engineering aside, all of these things need special metals to work. For the lightweight body, aluminum is being substituted in for steel. For the electric motor, Tesla is using AC induction motors (Model S and X) that require large amounts of copper and aluminum. Meanwhile, Chevy Bolts and soon Tesla will use permanent magnet motors (in the Model 3) that use rare earths like neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium.

The batteries, as we’ve shown in our five-part Battery Series, are a whole other supply chain challenge. The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs need lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and many other metals or minerals to function. Each Tesla battery, by the way, weighs about 1,200 lbs (540 kg) and makes up 25% the total mass of the car.

While EVs are a topic we’ve studied in depth, the same principles apply for solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, grid-scale energy storage solutions, or anything else we need to secure a sustainable future. Solar panels need silicon and silver, while wind turbines need rare earths, steel, and aluminum.

Even nuclear, which is the safest energy type by deaths per TWh and generates barely any emissions, needs uranium in order to generate power.

The Pace of Progress

The green revolution is happening at a breakneck speed – and new records will continue to be set each year.

Over $200 billion was invested into renewables in 2016, and more net renewable capacity was added than coal and gas put together. However, to fully work our way off of fossil fuels, we will need to procure large amounts of the metals that make sustainable energy possible.

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Energy Metals

The World’s Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

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When it comes to conversations on energy, it’s hard to leave your feelings at the door.

It’s arguable that energy is the single most important driver of human progress – it’s a multi-trillion dollar industry that powers our daily lives, technological advancements, and even the economic development of entire countries. At the same time, our choices around energy can have significant consequences. How we decide to generate energy can decimate the environment, fuel political conflicts, and even cause human deaths as unwelcome side effects.

The outcomes from our choices around energy are so vivid, that we’ve developed strong and polarized associations with the subject at hand.

The Empirical Perspective

Today’s visualization on the safest sources of energy comes to us from Cambridge House, the company hosting the International Mining Investment Conference 2018 on May 15-16 in Vancouver, BC, and it uses an empirical approach to compare different energy sources with one another.

Based on the data, this comparison provides a perspective that will be surprising to many viewers. Despite its perceived dangers, nuclear is actually the safest type of energy.

Energy SourceDeaths per 1,000 TWh% of Global Primary Energy Supply (2015)
Coal100,00028.1%
Oil36,00031.7%
Natural Gas4,00021.6%
Hydro1,4002.5%
Rooftop Solar440<1%
Wind150<1%
Nuclear904.9%

That’s right – even when including seemingly catastrophic incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima in the calculations, the math says that the amount of energy generated by nuclear is so vast that it more than outweighs these incidents over the long-term.

The reality is that nuclear energy is much more comparable to renewables like solar or wind, in terms of safety. More importantly, it’s on the polar opposite of the spectrum from coal, which manages to kill 4,400 people daily in China alone.

The Nuclear Option

Interestingly, multiple studies have come to this exact same conclusion, including the ones used in an analysis by economist Max Roser’s project called Our World in Data.

Even though the conclusion on nuclear is pretty cut and dry, it’s still hard to absorb. After all, the relative safety of nuclear ends up being extremely counter-intuitive to our human brains, which are seemingly wired to put more weight on big, memorable events (i.e. Chernobyl) rather than slow, consistent deaths that occur over time with other energy sources.

Today, nuclear provides about 11% of the world’s electricity from about 450 power reactors, generating about 2,500 TWh of electricity each year.

And while there are still questions that remain – specifically revolving around how to store certain types of nuclear waste – the above data explains why the majority of scientists classify nuclear as a sustainable and safe energy source, along with other renewables.

What is VC Metals? You may have noticed that this site is different from our main one. That’s because this is the “soft launch” of a new channel within Visual Capitalist that focuses on investing in commodities, metals, and energy. Expect more soon!

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Energy Metals

Vanadium: The Energy Storage Metal

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The world is moving to a renewable energy economy.

Solar use is growing at exponential rates, and countries like the U.K., France, and India are planning to ban gas-powered vehicles in the coming years. Even the world’s largest auto market in China is under duress from mounting pollution, and the country has ambitious plans to build up world-class renewable capacity while ditching gas-powered vehicles.

The Energy Storage Question

As the world shifts to renewables, one question remains up in the air: how will we store all this energy?

Today’s infographic comes to us from VanadiumCorp and it highlights vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFBs) – which are a breakthrough that some experts say may be the future of grid-scale energy storage.

Vanadium: The Energy Storage Metal

Vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFBs) are fairly unique in the battery world.

They work by taking advantage of the natural properties of vanadium, a metal with four different oxidation states. But rather than using the metal in a solid state, vanadium electrolyte (a liquid solution) is used for both half-cells and the configuration is divided by a proton exchange membrane. Typically, massive tanks filled with vanadium electrolyte are connected, pumping the solution through at high volumes to charge or discharge.

The Benefits of VRFBs

This unique setup gives VRFBs a few interesting advantages for something like grid-scale energy storage:

  • Extremely scalable
  • Can rapidly release large amounts of energy
  • Vanadium electrolyte is reusable, recyclable, and has a battery lifespan of 25+ years
  • No cross-contamination of metals, since only one metal (vanadium) is used
  • Cycle life is theoretically unlimited
  • Can maintain ready state for long periods of time
  • Can be charged and discharged at same time
  • Non-flammable

As a result, VRFBs can be used in a variety of energy storage applications such as peak-shaving, load leveling, microgrids, wind and solar, off-grid power supplies, and uninterruptible power supplies.

Vanadium Outlook

VRFBs are getting more attention from utilities companies, and large battery projects have already been announced.

The most notable vanadium-flow battery is probably a 200 MW system being built on the Dalian peninsula in China, which will serve 7 million residents. Costing $500 million, it’ll be used to peak-shave approximately 8% of Dalian’s expected load by 2020. This battery system will be the world’s largest, and it will single-handedly triple China’s grid-connected battery storage capacity.

According to Chinese firm Azure International, the market projection for VRFB demand (by MW) in the top 10 countries is growing at an 80% CAGR from 2013 to 2020, ultimately culminating in more than 7,000 MW of vanadium-flow capacity needed in 2020.

This demand could be even more substantial than that if the price of vanadium electrolyte could be reduced – it makes up about 30-50% of the cost of each battery alone.

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Energy Metals

A Timeline of Elon Musk’s Long List of Failures

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At first glance, it’s easy to be blown away by Elon Musk’s impressive resume.

He’s shooting for the stars with SpaceX, changing the future of transportation with Tesla, Hyperloop, and The Boring Company, and he’s already had a profound impact on the e-commerce and payments sectors through Paypal. It’s no coincidence that most of these are $1 billion+ companies.

But, focusing only on his successes provides a superficial view of the man. To get the full perspective on his career, it is much more interesting to look at the failures and lows he has experienced. These are the moments when most people would have likely given up.

Failing Often

As every entrepreneur knows, any business venture can be upended by failures at any moment – and it is how one bounces back from those failures that counts.

Today’s infographic from Kickresume shows Musk’s struggles and failures throughout his career, and how he persevered to become a modern business icon.

A Timeline of Elon Musk's Long List of Failures

As the ever-quotable Winston Churchill once said:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

– Winston Churchill

After being ousted out of his own company, having many rockets go bust, and fighting to keep Tesla and SpaceX from going bankrupt, Musk kept pushing forward with courage.

What We Can Learn

Entrepreneurs hold people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson in high reverence. Sometimes, we even put them on a pedestal, thinking we could only dream of making such a profound impact on the world.

However, this is obviously a one dimensional view. These figures are not superhuman, and the reality is that they’ve all experienced tragic failures throughout the course of their careers. They’ve been disheartened, but they bounced back.

We have to recognize that success in business isn’t what it appears to be on magazine covers and headlines. Failure is an everyday part of doing business, and it plagues almost every entrepreneur in some shape or form. The difference is in how you react to it.

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