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Like renewable energy? Then you’d better like mining

Brief by Allen Best

Mining – December 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

Do you support renewable energy? Energy independence? If so, then you’d better support domestic miners, says Jim Burnell, of the Colorado Geological Survey.

Burnell recently spoke in Ouray, a one-time mining town on the edge of the rich mining districts of the San Juan Mountains. His speech was reported by the Ouray Watch.

Solar panels, batteries, and hybrid cars all contain the kinds of minerals that were historically mined in Colorado.

“Cadmium-tellurium photovoltaics — these would take over the world if one of these minerals weren’t so rare,” he said. The most important element, tellurium, is the namesake for Telluride.

Concentrated solar power, which many energy experts say is the most crucial technology necessary to reduce greenhouse gases, uses aluminum or silver. And the tubes used to transport the energy contain molybdenum, said Burnell. Colorado has one active molybdenum mine, located just north of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Colorado also has zinc, which is necessary for certain types of fuel cells.

Of the minerals and metals needed for production of alternative energy, only a few — selenium, vanadium, bromine, and copper — come primarily from domestic U.S. sources. Most of the rest are imported, primarily from China. Perhaps not coincidentally, nearly all batteries and photovoltaic panels are also imported.

That means that renewable energy may be possible, but given current policies, not energy independence.

“Achieving energy independence by means of alternative energy technology can’t be done without domestic mining,” Burnell said. “Moving to renewable energy technologies is inconsistent with anti-mining advocacy.”

While there is no such thing as no-impact mining, the impacts to environmental and human health are much more minimal than in the past, he said.