Opinion piece argues that metals mining needs to be prioritised to enable green energy transition
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Combustion Industry News Editor
An opinion piece by John Dizard in the Financial Times has argued that metals mining is an overlooked time-dependent component of the push to decarbonise economies around the world, one that requires immediate attention. Mine productivity for ‘critical metals’ such as copper and nickel has been declining, and although innovation in techniques and equipment has been offsetting the effect of lower ore grades, these innovations have been ‘petering out’. Meanwhile, discoveries of new deposits tend to be in “politically and socially unstable places”, making mining of them riskier. In addition, better environmental awareness makes the pursuit of some deposits unwise (in Mr Dizard’s opinion, the recent cancellation of the Pebble copper mine in Alaska is a good example), tightening future supply further. Given that mines generally take at least seven years to begin production, there is an urgency to setting policies and getting projects under development, so that the metals that the hydrogen economy will need will be available. Mr Dizard outlines why metals production is particularly important for the hydrogen economy – H2 is a “hard-to-handle molecule which is not very forgiving of the weaknesses of our legacy metal infrastructure”; at low pressures, it embrittles metals such as steel “in ways we are still discovering after a century and a half of research”, and at higher temperatures attacks steel, while welds and seals have a harder job of containing the gas. Because of this, we will need to “compress several generations’ worth of additions to our metal infrastructure into a few years”, which once again emphasises the urgency in preparing for this task.