Workshop discussion: Can we find critical elements for our energy supply?

Energy generation and supply is center stage in development discussions around the world. Energy availability is crucial for development. At the same time, energy generation has significant implications for sustainable development. The sustainable development impacts of the current mix of energy can be improved significantly by the addition of renewable energy technologies, if well managed. Being a mining professional, I am particularly interested in the supply chains (mining, beneficiation and onwards) for the new set of materials needed for the new mix of energy. These energy critical materials, in most cases, have not been demanded in the large quantities needed for large-scale adoption of renewable energy technologies. See here, for instance, for the American Physical Society’s (APS’s) report on how to secure these energy critical materials.

The setup at the Sustainability Institute was very unique. They live what they teach in a lot of ways.

Recently, a group of researchers gathered at the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch, South Africa to discuss the sustainable supply of energy critical materials, in the South African context. The workshop speakers were Prof. Alan Brent (University of Stellenbosch), Prof. Leslie Petrik (University of Western Cape – UWC) and I. There were about 15 researchers in attendance from Stellenbosch, UWC, and Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Prof. Brent introduced the renewable energy policy and directions for South Africa and discussed research at the Center for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch. Prof. Petrik discussed her work on characterizing fly ash contaminants in South Africa and the extraction of rare earth and other energy critical elements from fly ash dumps. I presented the American perspective, largely based on the APS study,  of energy critical elements and my research on comprehensive sustainability assessment of these supply chains. You can see my presentation on energy critical elements below.

The discussions were very meaningful and we identified several areas of joint interest that we may be able to collaborate on. Hopefully, the collaboration will be mutually beneficial to all sides and the broader society.