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  • White House solar panel installation fraught with irony

    White House Solar Panels

    With August generally being the slower part of the news cycle, one of the bigger stories last week was that the installation of solar panels on the roof of the White House had begun. Administration officials say in retrofitting the White House building to make it more energy efficient, the President is delivering on a promise he made in October 2010.

    At the time when President Obama made said pledge, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu said:

    “This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home. Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

    While following through on a promise is generally a good thing, one cannot help but notice a slight irony here, as the very renewable energy projects the Administration seeks to promote relies heavily on critical minerals, some of which find themselves in the crosshairs of Administration policy – in spite of the White House’s own Materials Genome Initiative which indicated that securing America’s access to critical minerals was going to be a priority.

    Take copper, for example. An average industrial wind turbine contains more than three tons of it. And while details on the supplier or make of the White House solar panels were not released, there’s a good chance they chose the record-setting CIGS solar panels, which are said to have an energy conversion rate higher than 20 percent. It’s no secret what the letters in the acronym stand for: the “C” stands for Copper, the “I” stands for Indium, the “G” represents Germanium and the “S” stands for selenium, 95 percent of which is derived as a copper byproduct.

    Meanwhile, one of the most promising and possibly biggest copper exploration projects in U.S. history is currently facing unprecedented and – as representatives from both sides of the political spectrum have concluded – inappropriate treatment by the EPA which appears willing to bend to environmentalists’ pressures calling for a pre-emptive veto of the project even before any permit applications have been filed.

    If the Administration is serious about its commitment to a renewable energy future, it should, at a minimum, grant the courtesy of a full and orderly review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – which, in the Administration’s own words represents “the cornerstone of our Nation’s modern environmental protections” – to a project which has the potential to help build this future.

  • Environmentalists push energy efficiency but block development of mineral resources required for clean energy transition


    The issue of the White House blocking several Department of Energy regulations was raised at a recent Congressional hearing, the New York Times reports. The rules in question would require greater energy efficiency for appliances, as well as building and lighting.

    Critics argue that in spite of a 1993 executive order requiring the White House to act on proposed regulations within 90 days, the Administration has been dragging its feet on this issue for two years. During the hearing, the President’s nominee to lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs vowed to speed up the agency’s review process times if confirmed.

    Yet even as environmentalists call on the Administration to move forward with these energy efficiency regulations, they also work to block mineral resource development projects that would allow U.S. manufacturers to implement these policies.

    Herein lies an often-overlooked irony; the renewable energy sources environmentalists prefer rely heavily on critical minerals, the domestic development of which they oppose.

    An excerpt from the Department of Energy’s website providing information on the recently created Critical Materials Hub underscores the importance of critical minerals for so-called “clean energy” projects:

    “Critical materials, including some rare earth elements that possess unique magnetic, catalytic, and luminescent properties, are key resources needed to manufacture products for the clean energy economy. These materials are so critical to the technologies that enable wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting that The Department’s 2010 and 2011 Critical Materials Strategy reported that supply challenges for five rare earth metals—dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium, and yttrium—could affect clean energy technology deployment in the coming years.”

    Copper – currently in the crosshairs of environmentalists in Alaska, is a case in point. Consider that Copper content of a single wind turbine ranges anywhere between three and four and a half tons. As we have outlined in our report entitled “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology,” Copper is also the source for Selenium, which, along with Gallium and Indium (also derivatives of what we have termed “Gateway Metals”) is a key component for the manufacture of next-gen CIGS solar panels.

    The fact of the matter is that we can’t have our cake, and eat it, too. If we want to make the transition to a green-tech and clean energy future, we will continue to rely on critical minerals, and we would be well advised to explore and develop the resources we’re blessed to have beneath our own soil.

    The “not in my backyard” crowd may be quick to point to potential environmental damage associated with domestic mining, but they fail to acknowledge that in order to meet domestic manufacturing needs, we otherwise have to rely on foreign imports with all strings attached – and, as we have pointed out, that all too often means less stringent environmental standards or human rights abuses in supplier nations.

  • DoE social media event elaborates on agency’s new critical minerals research hub

    Earlier this week, the Department of Energy hosted a social media web event, or “Hangout,” to provide further details on its latest research effort to “address supply disruptions for rare earths and other critical materials” at Ames Laboratory. During the event, David Sandalow, DoE’s Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, and Alex King, the [...]
  • DoE awards funding for new Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at Ames Laboratory

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is stepping up its research efforts in the field of critical and strategic materials. As announced on January 9, the Department is funding the establishment of an “Energy Innovation Hub” through Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Named the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), the new research center will “bring together [...]
  • Department of Energy to Step Up Critical Minerals Research

    The U.S. Department of Energy has announced stepped-up research efforts into critical metals and minerals. Planning to spend up to $120 million, the department aims to create an “Energy Innovation Hub” with the goal to advance green energy technologies relying on critical mineral resources including (but not limited to) rare earths. Says Secretary of Energy [...]
  • Our dangerous metals deficiency: DOE releases its new critical minerals strategy

    The Department of Energy officially released its 2011 Critical Materials Strategy, an update of last December’s inaugural report on metals essential to green-tech applications ranging from wind and solar power to EV batteries and CFL lighting.  Five metals made the critical risk quadrant for both the short-term (today to 2015) and medium-term (2015 to 2025); [...]
  • U.S. DoE’s Sandalow links technology, green energy to resource development

    A high-ranking U.S. Department of Energy official is making the link between American technological progress and green energy to resource development. Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs David Sandalow told a U.S. Senate subcommittee last week that the U.S. must find ways to mitigate supply risk associated foreign dependence on rare earths [...]
  • Day 1: Metals for Energy & Environment Conference

    Our expert, Dan McGroarty is on-hand at the Metals for Energy and Environment conference in Las Vegas. While there, he’s been live-tweeting some of the action. Check out those updates here. And below, he provides a thorough re-cap of “Day 1″ on the front lines: Day one included a full slate of informative presentations, but [...]