Blue Gold: Critical Water for Critical Energy Materials | JD SupraAs demand increases for low-carbon technologies to power the energy transition...Blue Gold: Critical Water for Critical Energy Materials | JD Supra
As demand increases for low-carbon technologies to power the energy transition, the acquisition of critical materials—so-called given their integral role in the transition of energy activities—is becoming increasingly important. As described in our previous post, such critical materials include rare earth elements (REE), lithium, nickel and platinum group metals. In short, the transition endeavors to reduce use of one non-renewable resource—fossil fuel—by significantly ramping up our use of other non-renewable resources. While critical material discussions have largely centered on the availability and economic extractability of the minerals themselves, Pillsbury is also counseling on the other resources needed to bring the materials to market at the scales required for our decarbonization goals.
Chief among these resources is water. The extraction, processing and manufacture of critical materials into low-carbon technologies all require significant volumes of water. For example, up to 5,000 gallons of water are needed to produce one ton of lithium. Critical materials are often found in arid climates that are already experiencing water stress (such as the “lithium triangle” of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, and copper in Chile), or in areas experiencing conflict and challenges to water development (such as cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In the U.S., development potential resides largely in the water-constrained western and southwestern states, such as Arizona (copper), California (REE), New Mexico (copper, REE), Texas (REE), Utah (magnesium, lithium, platinum, palladium, vanadium, copper), and Wyoming (REE, platinum, titanium, vanadium).
Securing water to perform these processes is a threshold hurdle, and water rights schemes vary across jurisdictions. In the U.S., each state has a separate water right permitting or allocation regime, and inter-basin transfers from water-rich to water-poor areas are not always viable options legally or practically. Interstate compacts are already experiencing conflicts over usage rights and claims among member states. Adding to the complexity is that climate change—the very risk critical materials are being deployed to combat—influences the water cycle and when, where and how much precipitation falls. These challenges increase supply chain vulnerabilities for critical materials.
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