Published Jun 11 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jun 11 2009

Coal & minerals depletion

by Staff

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Imported Minerals, Metals Fuel U.S. Shift To Homegrown Power

Katie Howell, Greenwire via New York Times
A U.S. clean-energy boom could force the nation to shed its addiction to foreign oil, only to develop a dependence on imported minerals and metals.

Clean-energy technologies -- solar photovoltaics, geothermal, compact fluorescent and light-emitting diode lighting, and wind turbines -- depend on globally scarce materials, some of which are produced only in unstable nations.

... All clean-energy technologies require strategic metals, Burnell and other experts said.

Take, for instance, solar photovoltaic technology. It needs cadmium, tellurium, indium, gallium, germanium and silicon.

(9 June 2009)

Goodbye Fossil Fuel Dependence, Hello Rare Earth Dependence!

Matthew McDermott, TreeHugger
Fellow TreeHugger John Laumer recently brought to our attention the fact that control of rare earth metals is Achilles heel of the hybrid and electric vehicles, and wind turbines we all are counting on to make the future a decidedly greener place. OnEarth, the magazine of the NRDC, reminds us that what this means is that what we're doing is replacing our dependence on oil suppliers, with dependence on countries supplying these metals—China being right at the fore:
(8 June 2009)

U.S. Foresees a Thinner Cushion of Coal

Rebecca Smith, The Wall Street Journal
...No one says the U.S. is facing a coal shortage. But the emerging ranks of "peak coal" theorists argue that current production levels may be unsustainable and, if anything, create a false sense of security. David Rutledge, an electrical-engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology who has studied global coal production, figures the U.S. has about half as much recoverable reserves as the government says, which would work out to about 120 years' worth.

The Energy Information Administration, part of the Department of Energy, says it is reassessing its coal tally in light of the new Geological Survey data. It intends to create a new coal baseline from which it will begin its annual subtraction "as soon as we can," says William Watson, a member of the energy analysis team at EIA in Washington, D.C.

In the field, challenges are becoming more apparent. Mining companies report they have to dig deeper and move more earth to extract coal from aging mines, driving up costs. Utilities have grown skittish about whether suppliers can ship promised coal on time. American Electric Power Co., the nation's biggest coal buyer, says it has stepped up its due diligence to make sure its suppliers can make deliveries after some firms missed shipments last fall. It even bought a mine to lock down supplies.

"We are very much concerned, and it's getting worse," said Tim Light, senior vice president for AEP.
(8 June 2009)
Suggested by EB contributer westexas, who comments:
This WSJ article discusses David Rutledge's work and talks about "Peak Coal." And of course, I would anticipate that net coal exports, which the EIA calculates in terms of BTU's, will show a long term accelerating decline rate. Here are the combined net coal exports from the US and China versus Australia, from 1998 to 2007 (EIA, quadrillion BTU's):

China & US:
1998: 2.8
2007: 1.1
Down -1.7
1998: 4.3
2007: 6.2
Up: +1.9

In other words, as of 2007 virtually all of the nine year increase in net coal exports from Australia went to offset the decline in net coal exports from China & the US. Although the US showed an uptick in 2007 (to a level well below its 1998 rate), China has probably virtually now ceased being a net coal exporter, on a BTU basis.

Based on one key criterion--net exports relative to a recent peak-- the US is very much the "Saudi Arabia of Coal, in the sense that recent Saudi net oil exports, while showing a year over year increase, are well below its recent net export peak, much like recent US net coal export numbers.

Jeffrey J. Brown.

The question of how much American coal is left in the ground and how easy it will be to get out is only one of the many issues around coal as a replacement energy source that are tackled in Richard Heinberg's new book, Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis" (New Society: June, 2009). KS

Have We Reached Peak Coal?

NRDC Switchboard, The Daily Green
There's plenty of coal -- but getting it out of the ground will no longer be cheap, and it will still come at an enormous cost to the environment.
The coal lobby can't catch a break these days. First utilities reduce coal demand in favor of increasing purchases of cheap natural gas, then the EPA proposes its endangerment finding on carbon dioxide pollution, then mountaintop removal gets called into account again for polluting rivers, and now the government is questioning the industry's right to refer to the US as "the Saudi Arabia of coal."

A recent WSJ article titled "The US Foresees a Thinner Cushion of Coal" asks a pretty straightforward question, is the US really the Saudi Arabia of coal? The answer that they got from the head of the US Geological Survey team responsible for an extensive analysis of Wyoming's Gillette coal field was actually no. That once the costs of extraction are included in the analysis, "we really can't say we're the Saudi Arabia of coal anymore." This statement is not only a wake-up call to industry but also a major blow to coal lobby's claims that coal is America's cheapest, more reliable long-term energy solution.

The fact that the glory days for coal are over is not news to the mining companies who are witnessing coal seams thin over time, nor is it a surprise to utilities that have seen an increase in supply delays due to production problems. However, it is pretty significant for investors in long-lived coal-fired power facilities.

If, in fact, we have reached the point of peak "cheap" coal, where coal ceases to be competitive at higher prices against other fuels and technologies, the investment implications are significant.
(10 June 2009)