BCGS Technical Talk – October 2021
Speaker: Alan G. Jones, PhD.
Title: Mining for Net Zero : The impossible task
Date: Thursday, October 14, 2021
Time: 1:00pm – 2:00pm PDT
Location: Webinar video via Zoom.
Alan G. Jones, a Manchester lad (Mancunian) and a Manchester United supporter for life, took Physics as his first degree at the University of Nottingham from 1969-1972. At the end of those 3 years, not finding jobs in physics very attractive (which perhaps he should of thought of before), Jones decided to go into geophysics and did the 1 year MSc in Applied Geophysics (1972-73) at the University of Birmingham run by the inspiring Don Griffiths and Roy King. His MSc thesis project was a DC resistivity survey, and to model the data he developed a Monte-Carlos inversion code for DC resistivity, which he called CRASH as it kept doing so. Still not enthralled by the idea of work, he then undertook a four year PhD in Geophysics at the University of Edinburgh (1973-77) in magnetotellurics under the pioneering and visionary Rosemary Hutton. One aspect of his PhD work was in developing a Monte-Carlos inversion code for MT data – he did get that one working.
Subsequently lured by German beer, Jones went to Muenster University in NW Germany for almost four years (1977-1981) where he studied induction in Scandinavia and led Muenster’s International Magnetospheric Study (IMS) geomagnetic array study. A short stint at the Geological Survey of Sweden rounded out 1981, after which he moved to the University of Toronto for two years (1982-83) where multiple lunches with luminaries Nigel Edwards, Dick Bailey, Chris Chapman, Gordon West and George Garland broadened his perspectives tremendously.
An unexpected job offer from the-then Earth Physics Branch (EPB) of Natural Resources Canada took him to Ottawa in 1984, and he subsequently experienced the subduction (aka “amalgamation”) of the EPB into the Geological Survey of Canada in 1986. The leadership and mentorship of Alan Green during the 1980s at EPB/GSC was a tough trial-by-fire education into the necessity of explaining and justifying electrical conductivity studies, and he learned a lot under Alan Green’s mentorship.
Becoming Section Head of the group in 1987 was Jones’s first taste of management, and a stint as Acting Director in 1989 of the Continental Geoscience Division of the GSC cured him for life of any managerial aspirations in government.
Jones was very fortunate to be in Canada during the tremendous heydays of the Lithoprobe programme, and he led the EM aspects on most of the transects and had a stint as Chair of the Scientific Committee. Lithoprobe was outstanding not only in the science undertaken but in bringing together Earth scientists of all disciplines at transect workshops.
In a post-Lithoprobe world, Jones found the GSC to be too limiting in its vision and outlook (an attempt to convince a manager to allow Jones to be involved in the INDEPTH project in Tibet elicited the response “which province of Canada is Tibet in?”) and he eventually managed to escape in 2004 to Ireland, where he became a Senior Professor (appointed by then Irish President Bertie Ahern no less) and Head of Geophysics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), a research institute modelled on Einstein’s Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. Jones stayed 11 years at DIAS undertaking studies on three continents including the largest academic MT study to date, which was in southern Africa (SAMTEX), before the call of Canada brought him home in February 2015. He built up the Geophysics Section from 7 to over 35 during his tenure, and oversaw the initiation of the Irish National Seismic Network (INSN) and the initiation of the Seismology in Schools programme. He also formed and was Director of the Irish Geoscience Graduate Programme (IGGP), which brought broad teaching to geoscience graduate students across the whole of the island of Ireland. And the MT work he pioneered in Tibet led to fundamentally new understanding of the processes of continental convergence, and in Southern Africa to a better understanding of lithospheric-scale structures.
Jones took early retirement in January 2015 to return to Canada.
He is currently Senior Professor Emeritus at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, a Specially-Appointed Professor at the China University of Geosciences Beijing, and Adjunct Professor at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) and at the University of Western Australia (Perth, Australia). In addition, upon his early retirement he formed an MT consulting company – Complete MT Solutions Inc. – with former students and a colleague in 2016. CMTS provides high-level MT contracting services to industry clients.
Jones was awarded the Tuzo Wilson medal of the Canadian Geophysical Union in 2006, was Appointed an International Member of the Geo-Electromagnetism Committee, Chinese Geophysical Society in 2009, was elected to Academia Europaea also in 2009 and was made a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2010. He was a Blaustein Visiting Professor at Stanford University for the Winter Term of 2016, and was appointed a Life Affiliate Member of the Geological Society of South Africa in 2016. In 2019 he was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.
Jones is the most published (>200 papers) and most cited (>15,500 citations) scientist in his chosen field of magnetotellurics. Together with Alan Chave, he published the most authoritative textbook to date on MT – The Magnetotelluric Method: Theory and Practice (Cambridge University Press).
He is a qualified Professional Geoscientist accredited by the Professional Geoscientists Ontario (PGO).
Mining for Net Zero: The impossible task
Net Zero by 2050
The world aspires, as it must, to move away from fossil fuels to renewables for energy production and transportation as soon as possible. This notion is encapsulated in the United Nation’s mission of Carbon Neutrality by 2050. The roadmap for this is laid out in the recent Flagship report “A Roadmap for the Energy Sector” by the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2021).
This aspirational goal of Net Zero by 2050 has been signed up to by 137 countries, and in fact some countries have accelerated the timeline. Uruguay plans to achieve Net Zero by 2030, Finland by 2035, Austria and Iceland by 2040, and Germany and Sweden by 2045. The goal for vehicles is that 60% of them would be EVs by 2030. On August 5th, 2021 US President Biden set the target that 50% of the vehicles sold in the US will be emissions-free – not quite 60% but close.
These goals have been set by politicians based on policy advice, but are they achievable?
I would like to lay out just why they are certainly NOT achievable, and that most likely geoscience advice was not sought in setting these goals.
Perhaps politicians and policy advisors think that the minerals and metals needed to achieve Net Zero are lying around waiting to be extracted, but:
- many of our resources are being depleted,
- we are not discovering new major ones and bringing them to market quickly enough, and
- training of skilled geoscientists, particularly geophysicists, to find new resources in the 2030s and 2040s is in serious jeopardy.
Focusing on one metal that is essential for achieving Net Zero, copper (Cu), what are the needs and do we have the supply? Perhaps not well appreciated is the copper needs of electric vehicles (EVs). A standard internal combustion engine (ICE) automobile requires of order 9 kg of Cu. A hybrid EV requires 40 kg, over four times as much. A battery EV requires 83 kg, NINE TIMES the amount required by an ICE.
The world produces of order 100 million new vehicles each year, including busses and trucks (approx. 30%) with far greater Cu needs, so we need approx. 15 Bkg (=15 Mt) for these vehicles. Current recycling rate for Cu from vehicles is 55%, and is not likely to become much higher. So we need 7 Mt of NEW Cu each and every year by 2050 just for EVs alone, and to meet the 2030 goal of 60% of EVs then we need 4 Mt of new Cu by 2030.
For renewable energy sources, solar, onshore and offshore wind, similar calculations lead to a need of 1 Mt of NEW Cu each year by 2030, and double that by 2050. So we need 5 Mt of new Cu by 2030, and 9 Mt by 2050.
Right now we are producing 16 Mt of Cu globally per year, so we need to grow Cu extraction, processing and transportation by 25% by 2030, and by 50% by 2050. (And all of those steps should be done using renewable energies!)
BUT, the projections for global Cu production are decreasing, not increasing. Over 200 major Copper mines currently in operation will reach the end of their productive life before 2035. A Supply Gap of order 14 Mt of Cu is projected by 2035.
These same bleak projections exist also for other essential metals and minerals for achieving Net Zero, in particular lithium and cobalt.
Also, many of the minerals we need for Net Zero, especially critical minerals, are associated with supply predominantly from single sources and/or from areas with questionable human rights records. Countries and producers are adopting Supply Chain Diligence.
Finding more ethical metals and minerals
“Just find more! And from ethical supply.”
OK, but the discovery rate of all metals and minerals is rapidly decreasing, the discovery space is getting deeper, and deposits are getting much harder to find and are smaller.
Also, time from economic discovery to mine has increased significantly. In the 1950s 50% of deposits became mines within 15 years, in the 2000s less than 10% became mines within 15 years.
So we need to find far, far more economic deposits in more and more inaccessible places (logistically and/or deeper) at an ever increasing rate over the next 30+ years. To achieve this we need to change our paradigm, and appropriately train young, enthusiastic minds in the broad, holistic skills required.
The paradigm shift required has already occurred in Australia, who has led the world in developing the Mineral System concept. We need to stop looking for deposits, but first take a regional view and search for physical/chemical anomalies in the mantle and deep crust that are the sources of the mineralized fluids that found pathways to the surface where they exsolved to form mineral deposits.
The training of future generations of holistic geoscientists, especially geophysicists, is absolutely critical if we are to achieve Net Zero. We must pivot today from training geoscientists in O&G, which is a sunsetting industry, but train in broad-based mining geophysics. Federal and Provincial programmes need to be initiated with such training in mind. We don’t need thousands of geoscientists, but we do need far more than are being trained right now.
Finally, Canada has to start national programmes for acquiring non-competitive data across the whole of our landmass that are equivalent to those in Australia, USA and China.
I would like to acknowledge Prof. Simon Jowitt of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Simon kindly shared some of his material with me that I use in my own presentation.
IEA (2021), Net Zero by 2050, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050.
A recording of this webinar is available on our YouTube channel.