Materiom is a non-profit working at the intersection of design, digital fabrication, ecology, and material science.
2018-10-01: Governments from California to China and South Korea -- even Donald Trump's Washington -- have taken steps that will make battery power more ubiquitous. There's just one hitch to this battery boom: The world isn't making nearly enough. All of the new demand from North America, Europe and Asia is constrained at the moment by a market that remains heavily dependent on a few producers. Data on the global supply of batteries is hard to come by, but close observers of the industry have noticed evidence of the shortfall. "We've never seen such demand," said Yayoi Sekine, a New York-based analyst at Bloomberg NEF. "But the supply is struggling to keep up."
Oddly, however, lithium-ion battery-rack prices have continued their annual decline, even in the face of constrained supply and expectations of ever-growing demand. To get a clear sense of the near future, consider battery-powered cars: Today, there are more than 3 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide; by 2025, Volkswagen AG alone plans to build as many as 3 million electric vehicles per year. Those vehicle batteries -- in addition to storage batteries for homes, businesses and utilities -- will have to come from somewhere.
2014/11/14: As the world seeks cleaner power, solar energy capacity has increased sixfold in the past five years. Yet manufacturing all those solar panels, a Tuesday report shows, can have environmental downsides.
Ben Santarris, strategic affairs director for SolarWorld, said his company has made efforts to recycle panels, but the volume isn't there yet. "We have product that's still performing to standard from 1978, so we don't have a big stream," he said. "It is a problem, because on one hand there is an interest in getting ahead of a swelling stream of returning panels. On the other hand, there's not a big market for it right now."
Recycling is particularly important because of the materials used to make panels, said Dustin Mulvaney, an assistant professor of environmental studies at San José State University who serves as a scientific adviser to SVTC. "It would be difficult to find a PV module that does not use at least one rare or precious metal," he said, "because they all have at least silver, tellurium, or indium."
Because recycling is limited, Mulvaney said, those recoverable metals could go to waste: "Companies that are reporting on a quarterly basis, surviving on razor-thin margins—they're not thinking 20, 30 years down the road, where the scarcity issue might actually enter the conversation."
2018/09/21: it is impossible to achieve absolute decoupling of resource use from GDP on a global scale, even with rapid efficiency gains and aggressive taxes on resource extraction. This is the conclusion reached by literally every existing study that has been conducted on the matter (you can follow links to the original research here). The reason is simple: the rate of decoupling is outstripped by the normal rate of GDP growth, even in high-efficiency scenarios. To make matters worse, there are physical limits to resource efficiency, and as we approach them the rate of improvement slows down, giving yet more force to the scale effect of GDP growth.
Unlike resource use, GDP can (thankfully) be dramatically decoupled from carbon emissions. But this solves only one dimension of our ecological poly-crisis. Even if we magically switched to a completely clean and renewable energy system tomorrow, we would be no closer to reversing our overshoot of all the other critical planetary boundaries: biodiversity collapse, chemical loading, deforestation, etc.
What are we going to do with all that clean energy? The same things we’re doing with fossil fuels: raze forests, intensify agricultural extraction, produce mountains of stuff, send waste to landfill – and do all of this at an ever-increasing rate, because our economic system is programmed to require endless expansion.
I have never said that poor countries shouldn’t grow – nor has anyone in this field of study (which Noah would know had he read any of the relevant literature). I have simply said that we can’t continue with aggregate global growth. What we need, then, is a fairer distribution of global income, with much more of it going to poor countries (and poor people within rich countries).
Is it politically impossible? Well, it would certainly require a struggle. But it’s far less impossible than Noah’s preferred alternative, namely, to transcend the laws of physics.
the real cause of lower fertility isn’t higher GDP but rather better girls’ education. GDP is a confounding factor.
While poor countries may need some GDP growth, that should never – for any nation, rich or poor – be the objective as such. The objective should be to improve human well-being: better health, better education, better housing, happiness, etc.
there is no evidence that relying on a switch to services, in and of itself, reduces the material throughput of the global economy.
2018-09-19: In the study, much of the assumed transformation is achieved by near-universal digitalization. The authors focus on end-use energy services, suggesting that most of these could be delivered far more efficiently using microelectronics. Household and commercial electricity use could be slashed as multiple pieces of equipment are foregone for a smart phone—whose 5 Watt power consumption would substitute for 450 Watts of consumption from cameras, calculators, TVs, game consoles, DVRs, radios, scanners, tablets, stereos, alarm clocks, GPS, weather stations, video cameras, etc. Some of these uses have already been taken over by smart phones. Moreover, the authors assume that household appliances will all be connected to the Internet of Things, to allow for their optimal operation and seamless availability for demand response.
What’s not mentioned in the Grubler scenario is that universal digitalization would require a robust, dependable electricity supply and electronic communications network. This would entail substantial new infrastructure and electricity demand to accommodate data transmission, storage, and processing for nearly every piece of equipment on Earth. It would also require a great deal of copper. And it would all have to work together seamlessly 24/7.
but... industrial uses of energy (especially for high-temperature process like cement making) will be difficult to de-carbonize, and such processes figure into nearly all supply chains. The Grubler scenario excludes aviation and shipping from consideration.
2018/06/01: Data on the global use of energy and raw materials indicate that absolute efficiency has never occurred: both global energy use and global material use have increased threefold since the 1970s.
Therefore, efficiency is better understood as a rearranging of resources expenditures, such that efficiency improvements in one end of the world economy increase resource expenditures in the other end.
Many people believe that issues of scarcity can be solved by using more efficient production methods., but this is nothing but The Jevons Paradox.
2014/12/08: The implications of such a paradigm shift in manufacturing for environmental sustainability are enormous. ‘Because they only use the exact material required, 3D printers could eliminate waste from traditional manufacturing – in which up to 90% of raw material is discarded’ In addition to realising economies in the use of raw materials, the type of distributed manufacturing undergirded by RepRap-like 3D printing implies a massive reduction in global transportation costs attendant upon the localisation of production (Rifkin 2011). Clearly, large-scale industrial infrastructures and the mass production model itself are no longer needed if people are able to micro-manufacture whatever they need in the comfort of their homes. And that is good for the environment
2016-02-19: Rising raw-materials prices are typically bad news for most stocks. Not any more.
Rifkin is persuaded that this paradigm is the key to greening and decarbonating our societies: "The IoT infrastructure offers a realistic hope of quickly replacing fossil fuel energies with renewable energies and slowing climate change."rnThe dead-end of consumerismrnrnWhile Rifkin's predictions seem to follow the course of history, Pitron soberly and methodically tempers them: "Digital technology requires considerable amounts of metals: every year, the electronics industry consumes 320 tonnes of gold and 7,500 tonnes of silver; it accounts for 22% of the world's consumption of mercury (some 514 tonnes) and up to 2.5% of lead. The manufacture of computers and mobile phones alone gobbles up 19% of global output of rare metals like palladium and 23% of cobalt production". Yet, "at current rates of production, the recoverable reserves of 15 or so base and rare metals will run out in less than 50 years; for five other metals (including iron, which is abundant), this will occur before the end of the century."rnrnPitron points out that "the manufacture of a two-gram chip creates two kilograms of waste material, in other words a 1 to 1000 ratio of material produced to waste generated."rnrnLike Rifkin, those who see the digital revolution as the key to ecological transition are victims of a collective blindness that is leading humanity into a dead end: "They don't want to know because a connected world is preferable to a clean planet." Indeed, the book pours scorn on an energy transition that does not call into question our energy needs. "The manufacture of a single solar panel, due in large part to its silicon content, generates more than 70 kilograms of CO2. With PV [photovoltaic] capacity estimated to increase by 23% annually in the coming years, solar power will produce an additional 10 gigawatts of electricity a year. This means 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions of 600,000 cars." The examples keep coming. Overall, "sustaining the change in our energy model will require a doubling in rare-metal production roughly every 15 years, and extracting more minerals in the next 30 years than humanity has extracted in the preceding 70 000 years."rnrn legislation will have to change, as will individual and collective behaviour to conserve and recycle the resources currently on our continent.rnrnPitron does not hesitate to raise the question of inequality when it comes to ecological transition. Although the fight against climate change is frequently the subject of public debate, out of ignorance, its potentially redistributive aspects are never discussed. Yet "the energy and digital transition is a transition for the well-off: it cleans up well-to-do city centres to make up for its very real impacts in areas that are poorest and furthest from view." Globally, "hiding away the dubious origin of metals in China has enabled green and digital technologies to enjoy a good reputation. It's undoubtedly the most incredible greenwashing operation in history."rnrnIn short, and this is pretty discouraging, Pitron's work corroborates the results of models created almost 50 years ago. But these were widely ignored when new models were devised which are still used today by economists and governments to justify the productivist and consumerist policies on which our development model is based.
Late in 2014, we saw iron ore and coal prices fall. Now we are seeing oil prices tumble, dipping to less than US$50 a barrel, half the price of a year ago. In all cases, these price collapses reflect the
Indonesia's move to cut fuel subsidies, raising the prices of petrol and diesel by more than 30%, could be a game-changer for Indonesia's economy. The subsidies, which have kept fuel prices in Indonesia
African nations have lost as much as $1.4 trillion by underselling rights to their natural resources. Could the Billion Dollar Map stop the outflow?
Phil Lane Jr., January 23rd, 2013: