Capstone Projects

Death and Demand: Precious Metals Mining in a Carbon-Free Future

Program: Sustainable Management Bachelor's
Location: Not Specified (remote)
Student: Luke Erickson

Each year, the world collectively green lights the construction of numerous renewable technology construction projects, such as wind and solar. And each year, these projects aim to supplant the established energy infrastructure put in place when carbon-based energy was the only energy available.  This replacement strategy has become necessary as burning carbon-based fuel sources has led to impacts upon the planet that only a few predicted, and many more ignored as the benefits seemed worth it. An increase in temperatures and pollution due to the emissions of these carbon-based processes has led to a global need to replace these systems or face a permanently altered planet and climate. This need for renewable energy may be true when it comes to the energy produced once these systems are built and installed, but often overlooked are the materials and industrial requirements that are needed to get these sustainable technology systems into place. One of the important, but often overlooked, aspects of renewable energy technology is the fact that it is material intensive, where large amounts of precious metals are needed to be obtained, processed, and constructed into the relevant components. These processes are not dissimilar to the processes that also marked the beginning of extracting carbon-based energy, mainly coal, which requires extensive mining. This case study aimed to examine the mining costs of the global transition to carbon-free energy as it pertains to people, profit and planet.