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Mining Our Way to Net Zero

Dr. Simon Michaux

Monday, December 12, 2022

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to Decouple. Today I'm joined by Simon Michelle. I think it might be Dr. Simon meesho. I know you have a lot of qualification, sir, the bare minimum I have and I figured you're going to flesh this out a little bit is that you are a geo metallurgist, which we're going to learn more about exactly what that is you work for or within the Geologic Survey of Finland. And you have a history in the Australian mining industry. At Decouple we, we prefer that you did the Robert Bryce rounds earlier, I was a bit jealous that you got on the power hungry podcast first. But here you are, you know that we love self introductions. So take it, take a minute or two and tell us a bit about yourself. But not just your qualifications give us something really human to work with here so we can identify with you on that level.


Dr. Simon Michaux  0:47  

So my formal title is Associate Professor, work for the Geological Survey of Finland. My basic qualifications are a degree in physics with a double major in physics and geology. And I did a PhD in mining engineering with explosives. I used to do my own test work, I used to blow things up. I spent 18 years in the Australian mining industry research and development. And then I went to the private sector for a bit of feasibility studies. I went to Europe to learn industrial recycling, when I collecting information at the Australian mining industry was going to be difficult to work with for a while. Get into that if you like and then as leading industrial recycling, and I came across the circular economy for the first time. And I did not fall off my chair laughing but it was close. And then I went to Finland to join the mineral Intelligence Group to look at industrial patterns in the mining industry, everything attached to the mining industry. What are the patterns, and that's led to the work that I'm doing now.


Chris Keefer  1:54  

I love the resume. In large part because Decouple we talk a lot about sort of this metaphor of you know, the young teenager, who's only in an urbanite young teenager who's only ever been to the grocery store has no connection to agriculture, or their food. And they become shocked when they learn about how the sausage was made, and got onto the grocery store shelf. And when I look at a lot of policymakers these days, I mean, it's interesting. I have a friend actually, who's a minister here in Ontario, he's a former radio guy, he's a great communicator, and he's taught himself a lot. He's actually very well informed on his file. But there's a lot of folks in politics that don't have a background like yours and are perhaps wearing certain blinders when it comes to you know, we're going to talk about I think what Nate Hagens a mutual friend of ours calls, you know, energy, blindness, materials blindness. And I think probably this came to me mostly through James Lovelock. But you know, just this idea that, even academically things are so siloed we all have a very imperfect lens through which we see the world that is limited, we have to admit that but I like that what you're bringing today to this conversation, which is going to touch on, you know, I think particularly kind of a mining theme and energy transition and the materials limits to that I'm, I'm super happy to have you on as a guest with with that particular background,


Dr. Simon Michaux  3:14  

it will mean a few things I can add, the mining industry crashed in 2013 2012. And everyone like me, all of a sudden was out of a job. And for a year, I work as a furniture removalist and a laborer on an organic farm. And so I learned how to grow vegetables. And that's where a lot of my understanding of how the natural world the needs of food production came from. And well, it's also relevant because I did a degree in physics and geology in the beginning, but found myself in mineral processing and mining. In the beginning of my career, I was absolutely convinced I was unqualified. Because the people around me had degrees in engineering. And what that meant was I worked much harder to try and keep up with everything. I was convinced I was missing something in the beginning of my career. And but because I was working really sort of hard and everything and I just saw things differently. I rocketed past everyone else. And so I found myself in unconventional territory very early. And I was trying to be self sufficient. And I woke up one day and realized I was so far different, like out of not out of touch or out of sync just just different. I was outside the silos, but I was actually had my fingers in all silos.


Chris Keefer  4:29  

Okay, so two follow up questions. One is pretty informal, the other a bit more serious as a kid, you know, what do you want to be when you grew up and and did was it anything to do with blowing shit up and explosives? Because I mean, that sounds like every young boy is kind of fantasy, whether it's kind of rocketry or


Dr. Simon Michaux  4:46  

so every every boy who watched Indiana Jones wanted to be an archaeologist. Right. So that was one plan. Then I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. That was the Next plant. Yeah. And so there's there's a whole series of plans as a as a boy. None of them works. No, I had no idea I'd wind up in mining engineering at the time, but I was going to dedicate my life to actually learning rock breakage, which is, you know, mining engineering, but also crushing and grinding and all that and flotation and leaching and open pit optimization. That's where I thought I would spend my career like so many people around me, but I find myself in uncharted territories now that that don't really have it.


Chris Keefer  5:35  

Okay, so we're gonna get into a lot more detail. But I just wanted to follow up because you mentioned crushing and grinding, I'd heard a stat. And you know, you hear all kinds of stats about what percentage of global primary energy goes into x y&z process. In medicine, we constantly argue over which organ is more important based upon what blood supply it gets. I think it's a bit analogous. And I'm being a bit facetious, but I've heard figures like 10% of global primary energy goes into mining and crushing rocks and blowing them up. Is that Is that accurate? Or do you have that number at your fingertip?


Dr. Simon Michaux  6:05  

It's it's, my understanding is it was about 7%. But that number is a couple of years old now.


Chris Keefer  6:12  

And following up and following up on us mentioning, you know, the mining kind of crashed in 2013. I'm curious as to why that is. And I have seen in some of the mining trade literature, a ton of excitement about what you're writing about in this report that we are going to need to turn the Earth's crust inside out, in order to produce the kind of minerals we're talking about for the so called energy transition.


Dr. Simon Michaux  6:34  

So I'm actually not entirely aware of what people are doing with his work. I just haven't really sort of I hear snippets, that rocket pass me every now and then. But I my works been using all sorts of strange places that I didn't really sort of, yeah, I can talk to you about how, where the word came from and what it was supposed to do. But it's taken off like a freight train. So


Chris Keefer  6:58  

what why did mining crash in 2013? And how is it doing now? I guess.


Dr. Simon Michaux  7:02  

So. I was just thinking how to compose it because of the official story. And what I think is happening are two different things. So in 2005, to 2008, the Chinese demand for raw materials went gangbusters. In 2008 onwards, in particular, they wanted as much materials as possible for their own internal projects. They were demanding and consuming vast amounts of materials. And the Australian mining industry, at the biggest boom, it's ever seen. wages increase by this drastic amount. Imagine your wage doubling in the three year period. Right? There was all sorts of strange things happening like like there was a massive skill shortage, where companies will be poaching staff of each other. And, you know, like, there'd be a like a full corporate turnover every 18 months. And so you had this idea of corporate amnesia where a corporation wouldn't understand or remember what it did two years ago, because all the people are gone. So it grew and grew and grew and grew. And then 2012, China, collectively, and they do do things collectively. They just look, we we don't want your raw materials anymore. We're going to stop all these projects, and they turn the tap off. This was specific to Australia then. No, no, it was actually for the entire mining industry around the world. Okay, Australia got hammered. But so but so to South America, and said, It's South Africa, anyone attached to conventional mining and heavy industry, the money was just sucked out of it. And I was attending bankers meetings to learn the capital investment side of mining. And they, there was a bank called Westpac in Australia that they presented a list of projects that they were going to optimize by shutting down in Australia, and they had a list up on the board. And six months before it all happened. I saw it. I actually saw what was going to happen. And I just didn't have the confidence at the time to say anything. But I actually saw the mining crash a couple of months before it actually happened. And it was just the money was just removed, all the oxygen was turned off. And so one nation state, shut it all down. They just stopped. And demand for everything. So the way the corporate mining industry operates. It's when it all right, it's on like gangbusters, and there's not enough people, there's too much work because money is flowing everywhere. But when they turn it off into a bus cycle, all of a sudden, everyone's out of work. And it can happen really quickly. And so lots of people all around at work at the same time. And then normally, it's a boom bust cycle, we call it but in 2012, we had the biggest bust of that event they'd seen in Australia. Certainly the biggest one I've seen in my career after the biggest boom in history, right? So that's the thing when the boom was happening, lots of people around me I suppose I would have been the same that oh, this is just the way things are now 180 grand a year. That's normal. And so I tell you the lesson that matters to go from 180 grand a year in a corporate environment to about 25 grand a year, picking radish in the rain. That's good for you. That's good local lesson two minutes.


Chris Keefer  10:16  

Okay. Well, that's a couple interesting anecdotes there. You know, I know you've been again on the Robert Bryce has power hungry podcast, you've been on Nate Hagens podcast, there's certainly a lot of crossover my listenership with Robert mad respect for his work. And he's, he's been a huge influence on me. So I want to figure out how to kind of touch on your study, which is called the assessment of the extra capacity required of alternative energy electric power systems to completely replace fossil fuels. Now, our filmmaker Jesse Freeston, did a really wonderful seven minute recap of the report, certainly encourage people to go to our YouTube channel at Decouple media and have a look at that, and obviously like and subscribe and hit the ding button or whatever. But it's in terms of the like the knowledge translation of a report like this, I'm gonna get you to summarize it. But there's a lot in there, it's 1000 pages long. And and, you know, most of the world's population, including I would include myself are basically functionally innumerate. And so when communicating these massive numbers, like, you know, we're going to require 26 billion new solar panels, we just glaze over, and the numbers become meaningless. So if you can both sort of summarize the study, and maybe riff a little bit on, you know, as a science communicator, how best to, again, communicate your findings.


Dr. Simon Michaux  11:37  

So perhaps it would tell you how this work came about. And it also that one report is actually part of the plan series of six or seven, and four of them are done and on the ground now. Right. So it's no published in a reverse order. So So, and the 1000 page report started out as a single picture in a PowerPoint presentation. And I tried writing it into a an appendices. And this was, in its original form, if we were to take a cubic mile of oil, which is the equivalent to say that one year's global consumption for oil, and if we were to remove it, and in its place, put the same amount of energy from all the other systems available, like like coal, nuclear, wind, and because oil is such a calorific, dense source of energy, the numbers were scary. You had like no things like several 100, coal fired power stations operating for 50 years to create the same amount of energy. Right? So okay, so back to how this work happened. And this might help the audience understand and to communicate this is how do I communicate this and what was I communicating, and then I was trying to put the hard numbers on the ground, but then take those hard numbers and turn them into some some kind of graph, or graphic. And so people can get their arms around this. So when I left, Australia, in 2015, I was collecting information about the mining industry, that over time there it was grading into a new business model, there were a number of technical problems they were facing, that was getting harder and harder and harder for them to actually produce costs were going up. And they were dealing with things like grade was going down, like how much for every say, ton of rock or how much metal was actually in it. And like, you know, 100 years ago, like you could get the greatest like 10 15% of copper. And now they're talking about point 1%, it's a great has actually gone down, then you got the hardness the rock has gone up because we're going after different mineralogy is now and we have to grind the rock to a fineness scale now because we're going after different moralities. And so we have to an end and the finer you grind at the more energy you consume in a nonlinear kind of way. So anyway, so so they had a whole series of things that were pushing the price up and productivity was going down. And so there was no way too. It was looking like mining was going to struggle to continue to produce at the same rates. And in fact, that's what we're now seeing in the copper industry. And so it's not that we're going to run out of copper, or the whole Andes mountain range as a giant copper deposit, but it's really low grade. But our ability to extract metal, economically invariably is the problem. Since about 2005 I was collecting information to show that the mining industry was struggling to expand the cost of production. We're going up to it a series of technical problems internally. And the mining industry itself didn't seem to understand what was happening or why it the economics the ability to produce metals cheaply and sell them in bulk commodities was becoming more of a more of an issue. So I started to work on those terms. And I came to the conclusion that the mining industry would be difficult to work with of next 20 years because corporate leadership, at the time wasn't really interested in understanding these problems was It was outside their paradigm. It was outside that, because they use a tool called Net Present Value to value their deposits. But that's a calculation for a discounted cash flow, that actually only goes for about eight or nine years, or five to eight years, sorry, into the future. And after anything outside of that, it's not included. But if it takes 20 years to get a deposit going, then you can't really value it with that tool. Anyway, so I decided to leave Australia after the mining crash and join industrial recycling. And when I came to Europe, there were some amazing blind spots. Europe does not do mining. They don't they don't think in those terms. They don't extract raw materials, what they do is they buy finished products off the markets. I call it the China firewall. Because in Australia, we mined and we make concentrate, we sell that concentrate to China, not just China, but mostly China. And then they make metal and then they turn it into manufactured goods. And then they sell it back to us. But in Europe, the goods just arrived on a ship. Thanks. Right, right. And so the people there did not think in terms of extracting raw materials. But they had this thing called the circular economy and the critical Roman minerals list. And they were worried about the raw materials, and metals needed to keep certain European businesses going. At its inception, that list was about the businesses, not the minerals themselves. Right. And so they had a series of blind spots. And they had these, this this this this plan called the circular economy, which was the basic idea that instead of extracting raw materials out of the ground, we would then collect our own waste and recycle it. And that can be the source for our raw materials. thermodynamically that's actually not possible. Right? Because the size of the flows that go around that loop, don't work. And it didn't include things like the energy consumption of every industrial action, all the logistics of actually handing things from one side, one area to another. So it was structurally flawed. So all right, so I'm sitting in the audience. And then I started, I used to sit in these meetings at the European Commission central building in Brussels, these these amazing meetings, and so much money was poured into these things. And they were talking vague platitudes. And they just didn't seem to know talking about the green transition, and how they were going to phase out fossil fuels. And, but they did. All right. Okay, so that doesn't matter. Okay, how. And so the how part that there was no credible feasibility study, there was no plan for industrial reform, they just had vague platitudes, and hopes and prints. And so these guys were actually dictating that these guys gals are dictating industrial policy, which would affect us for the next 40 or 50 years. Right. And I don't want to use the word delusional, but they were delusional is the other one, you know that they just didn't seem to understand the basics of the practicalities of the material flows. Now, there was also a viewpoint that, you know, technology has a lifecycle about two to four years, if someone comes up with a new technology, and then they say, oh, there's a need for it, someone will invent it, and two to four years later, it appears. So if there is a need, someone will come up with something in the free market idea. And then that's the answer. Right? And so they were trying to treat the commodities industry the same way. Where if we want more materials, it's just a simple matter of just putting the price up. And someone will think


Chris Keefer  18:59  

that this is this kind of, I guess, in terms of cognitive biases, this availability bias, where I think most of us now spend God my screen times up to five hours a day on this goddamn device. And the world has become a world of bits rather than molecules and atoms. And, you know, yes, the iPhone is changing, you know, I don't know if there's the 13th and the 14th. And that's just in a year and a half or something. And this affects how we think about, you know, and make category airs about things like like mining is kind of what I'm hearing you saying, and that's, is that kind of what's driving this this delusional belief?


Dr. Simon Michaux  19:33  

Yeah. So are they don't this, this series of them, you know, energy, for example, is so cheap and abundant. It's just seen as a cost in the background. It's like buying a coffee. Right? It's seen as a cost of doing business and it's a relatively small one, because it's an energy was seen as such an abundant thing that it it just is like the oxygen we breathe in the air. They don't actually see Have you see it or feel it anymore. And it just happened in the background and they thought all energy was the same. You know, the energy that we got from oil, gas and coal and uranium for that matter was the same. And when they transferred to other energy systems, they will just be magically better. Now, for example, if we go to renewable stuff like wind and solar energy would all of a sudden become cheap.


Chris Keefer  20:25  

So I was topic of on this topic of like energy fungibility, you know, I've had John Constable on and he's he's a kind of forget his background, I think he's an he's got a background and like ancient English literature, semiotics or something, but he's become a total energy guy. And, you know, hats off to him. I think he's, I think he's pretty brilliant. But, you know, he talked a lot about, you know, describing energy in terms of entropy, which I'm not again, I'm not a thermodynamics physics trained guy. But, you know, he was talking about essentially, we're taking these, let's just say high quality fuels or low entropy fuels, like coal, like gas like diesel, and we're transforming them into very low quality sources of energy or high entropy forms of energy, like intermittent electricity from from wind and solar. And I think that's what you're talking about here. This this is air of fungibility, which which these policymakers are committing is that, does that sum it up or


Dr. Simon Michaux  21:19  

so? Sort of? So they didn't understand that not all energy systems are the same? Right? And oil was a calorific Lee dense source of energy, the world does have seen an oil for example, that it's a call it colloquially right, but oil is a steak wrapped in bacon, and all the renewables. Let us Okay, right. The calories involved with just different and so so they just didn't seem to understand the scale of the problem. It was likely they didn't understand the, the scale of the problem, or what they would get if they started deploying their problem, because there's still to this day, lots of gaps in the engineering. And one of them, for example, is if we take fossil fuels offline, it's like it's like a hidden subsidy. And that hidden subsidy will become a penalty, or energy blind, but also materials blind. And so so there was a distinct lack of an understanding of what fossil fuels did for us. And oil in particular. And mining was seen as a dirty thing in Europe, when we're not to mining is not economically, it's not ethical. It's not moral to mind sets, but they'll happily buy products off the market, mind in China, where a lot of stuff that happens that we would call illegal, and unethical, right, but that's okay. And you often sort of see that now. And everyone's in tribes that don't talk to each other, when one of the things that will have to happen in the future is, if the environmental movement does not join hands with the mining industry, then their green transition will not happen.


Chris Keefer  23:05  

It's almost like you have these like, you know, cursed demon minerals that have been pulled out of the ground like Mordor. But then they've kind of gone to Purgatory and China and been absolved of their sins and now are kind of virtuous and clean and can be used in Europe to build high speed rail or whatever else it is, right. It's


Dr. Simon Michaux  23:23  

so so we've become a society where we're decoupled from our we're isolated in terms of the consequences of our actions. We've got no idea where things come from, we we've wave a bit of plastic called a credit card, we get some numbers off it, and we're given a physical good, which we then don't really understand, then we throw it away. And we've got no idea what happens where it goes. And so it's it's an I call it, I said, we're an isolation based paradigm. So yeah, anyway, so there was just no hard numbers on the ground for anything. There was no plan. There was no boundary conditions. For example, one of the things that I'm getting a bit of pushback on Twitter at the moment, is the size of the buffer required for the intermediate power for wind and solar. Right. And so I'm using four weeks for wind and solar only and my calculations are people to ask too long to way too big, actually, it's way too small.


Chris Keefer  24:24  

We're sort of we're talking about like dunkel flour today like the winter doldrums and bridging that gap and wind and solar production.


Dr. Simon Michaux  24:31  

So yes, yes. So there's a project called Net Zero America for example, right that that has a buffer to balance the day to day supply and demand between generation and in demand. And they reckon they only need about five to seven hours. Right? For for buffer with a use like a couple of other technologies to balance everything out. And so but that does not account for in any way, shape or form. For example, until the massive difference between winter and summer for solar radiates, there's no, because power has to be balanced, it has to be stable all the way through all these massive peaks for wind, we have like a really, really big peak, and then you'll have a drop, and it will, it will drop for, you know, five or six days. And so the peak size is so large that you need a relatively large power back to cater for that. Anyway. So that just hasn't been done very well. And a few reports have since come out that actually look at this, and they've come to the conclusion, we don't have the technology to store power for something like four to six months. And we need to know I said four weeks, but it might actually be three or four months in and when you issues we've looked at the graph and the balance that up. So the answer is we can't do it. And if we can't do it, the wind and solar are not viable as in the way they are now. Now there are engineering things we can do. For example, if you engineer electrical engineering that can cope with variable power supply, and grids that can shut down and start up again without being damaged. If we did that, we wouldn't need the buffer. So there are solutions here. But we are so fixated on the the it must be this way. It always has been


Chris Keefer  26:22  

I'm very sensitive to these ideas of demand response. And you know, the extremes of that. Or maybe we have, you know, there's some renewable zealots that have said, well, you know, renewables impose limits on us that are maybe good and will help us, you know, align with natural cycles. And so we you know, if there's intermittency so be it, and we'll have to have some blackouts every once in a while, and maybe we'll get off our computers and TVs and spend some quality time together. But of course, I'm coming at this from the perspective of the health professional, you know, with a baby who was on an incubator for five weeks, and this is catastrophic. And I mean, this is this is energy blindness, and just taking for granted, as you were saying the vital role of energy and sustaining this incredibly complex beast that we have, you know, where so many lives depend on reliable power. It's frustrating,


Dr. Simon Michaux  27:06  

so, but we've got to actually do the work to reengineer everything to allow it to happen, right. And if we start having a few of these power blackouts, and then computers crash, you know, they get cooked, so we have no computers, and then we don't have the ability to make new ones. If we keep going the way we are you, if we take coal out, for example, we lose most of manufacturing capability in China, and metals. So to make a solar panel, a silicon wafer, you've got to heat that way for up to 2200 degrees Celsius, use coking coal to do that. Take away coking coal, you do things you can do things like oh, it could be hydrogen, or it could be biofuels, or an electric arc furnace. Biofuels, we can't actually take enough biomass out of the environment, we just can't, it's just not sustainable hydrogen, you can do that. But the amount of hydrogen needed is is so large, it's impractical. And then if you go electric arc furnace, yes, you can do it, but in only scaling it up to replace how much coal we are using to do this. That this the this is not an engineering limitation, it's a logistical limitation and make it available for everyone else in its current form. And so that's that's the problem. It's, so when people come up with new technology solutions, they might work just great on a small scale, is when you try and scale them up for 8 billion people that things get interesting.


Chris Keefer  28:35  

And so listen, I I think your report really puts the nail in the coffin of you know, certainly a 100% renewable strategy, but probably even a renewables dominant strategy. There's an enormous hesitation on behalf of, you know, academics, and particularly scientists to make any kind of decisive statement. And I do like that humility, you know, this idea that well, fuck anything is possible, perhaps some, you know, physics defying technology could come along. But at the same time that you know, and you saw this with think with, with the climate debate in the early 2000s, where a lot of climate scientists are saying, Listen, no, you can't be 100% Sure, we're 99.9% Sure. But that has a real impact on the media, on public perception and on policy when folks can't be, you know, pretty decisive in what they're saying, or at least provide a probability and say, I mean, so I wonder I guess with your research, do you feel comfortable like what what degree of a statement you feel comfortable making around the feasibility, certainly, of energy planning, as it stated, whether that's 100% renewables or even, you know, a high percentage renewables where do you find yourself in as as a commenter on this? Or do you prefer that people just draw their conclusions from the work that you're putting out?


Dr. Simon Michaux  29:49  

Well, what I just like to say is it won't go as planned. Okay. The sad reality is we don't have enough minerals in the ground. We don't have enough money and we don't have of time, right? So what you end up with a situation if we if we force the issue to go that way, we'll end up creating it for a small part of humanity, while everyone else is still waiting, right? And then to get the basics like, you know, the basic needs for society, everything, we will be forced into innovate in multiple directions that are considered unacceptable at the moment.


Chris Keefer  30:22  

What are those innovations that are unacceptable at the moment? Well,


Dr. Simon Michaux  30:25  

so if we have the just in time supply grid that spread across six continents, right, all that stuff comes from China. And if they start having energy problems, then the manufacturer components will start to be disrupted. For example, you can't buy a car in the United States at the moment, because you can't get semiconductor chips to put in those cars. So the components in those manufacturing systems will become disrupted. So then the availability of finished goods becomes disrupted. You know, they'll, they'll come a point, for example, will be difficult to get your computer repaired, or even buy a new computer. And they'll still be around, they'll just be less common. Right? And so, okay, so instead of actually snapping your fingers, and just just waving your credit card or something and be given a computer, you might have to get by without Blum. Right. And at the moment, that's considered unacceptable. Okay. So take that philosophy and extended across all sectors, including food.


Chris Keefer  31:20  

So before we get into those kinds of implications, I just want to kind of finish summarizing your findings, because you've given us the rationale for doing it, the motivation, and what we're getting, without getting too crazy, spit out some numbers at us that help illustrate again, the infeasibility, particularly on the mining, of like availability of minerals, essentially.


Dr. Simon Michaux  31:39  

So the way this was supposed to go, was to put some numbers on the ground in a way that our policymakers could understand, that they couldn't refute, because everything I'd done beforehand, was an abstract version that Greg was decreasing. So who cares? You know, the price just goes up, then not a problem. So I wanted to get to the point where how many vehicles do we need to build? How many solar panels do we need to build? How many wind turbines do we need to build replace the existing system as it is now? Right, at what point do we replace the existing system that we now take for granted now? And I use the year 2018? And so how many cars, trucks, planes, trains, and all that? And what do they do for the calendar year of 2018, in terms of physical tasks, done by kilometers traveled? So if we were to rip out fossil fuels, and we were put in non fossil fuel systems, like the what we have at the moment, what are the options? And there were six scenarios, each one representing a policy, what would that be? And you end up with a hybrid solution at the end, which is the conclusion of the report. Now, in 2018, we generated 26,614 terawatt hours of electricity across the whole global grid. That doesn't include the coal or gas consumed by industry for heat manufacture. Like they they burn energy. So that's not in that, but we need an extra on top of what we have now in non fossil fuel systems, 36,000 terawatt hours of energy. So we need to bring in an energy system larger than the one we have now. Just two choices are more than twice as large. It's a little bit more, it's a little bit less than twice, sorry. But to do that, the existing fleet of power plants is about 46,000. coal, gas, nuclear, what have you here solar wind what we have now. But because the energy return on energy investment ratio for wind and renewables is so much lower than fossil fuels, we need more systems to replace a given power coal fired, like fossil fuel systems. So we have to take take down some of those 46,000 power stations. And we have to build 586,000 new power stations that are non fossil fuel. We're most of them, most of those are wind and solar, are 70% of the mix, according to an energy split put out by the IEA. Okay, gotcha. Right. So now, that gives us we've got an estimate, for example of the metal content per unit, and the market share for the different battery chemistries, and the different types of wind turbines and the different types of solar panels. Right. And so you have the needed number of power split up according to the market share projected in 19 2050 and the metal content of each one. So you can then start estimating the volumes of metals needed to produce the first generation of non fossil fuels. Remembering they all were out there 20 years later, we do it all again,


Chris Keefer  34:51  

the reports prove that a Reebok Rebuildables Not renewables that harvesters that's actually a good term and very end that the recycling of these renewables Rebuildables is not perfect in terms of a circular economy like like, just just from my understanding like steel is very recyclable because you're not diluting, like you know you're taking, you're going out in the world you're finding or you're refining it, you're concentrating it, you make steel, you have a steel tower for a windmill, I mean, it takes a lot of energy to melt it down and do something else with it. But at least that components pretty recyclable. But something like a solar panels, almost nanotechnology, 10% of the world's silver goes into making them and it's not, you can't extract it back out of a solar panel. And my guess is that solar panels are a lot less recyclable than parts of wind turbines. But it's, you know, magically, the European Union has said solar panels will be there's a mandate to recycle them, they will get recycled,


Dr. Simon Michaux  35:41  

like so your iPhone 14, has no recycling solution for it. Even the battery in the screen is so integrated and micronized that they just got to put the whole thing into the furnace and kiss all those metals goodbye. So we are good at recycling copper and aluminium and steel, right? The bait the base metals, we are not very good at recycling what I call technology metals. The gallium, the indium, the lithium, so we're trying to get our arms around, say cobalt recycling and lithium recycling. Generally, what happens is, we'll set up a plan to recycle one element or maybe two elements. But for the circular economy to work, let's say you get your phone, every single element in that phone has to be separated and recycled back to pure materials and then fed back into manufacture to make a new phone, not thermodynamically possible. And we will recycle, we tend to only go after one or two elements that are economic, and then we throw the rest away. And


Chris Keefer  36:41  

this is just for Dummies like myself who don't have a physics degree when you say not thermodynamically possible, you mean it would require so much energy to reverse that entropic flow so much energy to really concentrate something that's dilute that it's not economically feasible, it's not physically feasible, just just jot down an EMIC, in that in that statement,


Dr. Simon Michaux  37:00  

let's let's, let's say you got a cup of coffee, and you got your put your water in and you've got a spoon of coffee, a spoon of sugar and some milk. You mix it up. So you look at this thing that says, How do I recycle this. So I get my spoon of coffee back my spoon of sugar back and my little portion of milk back so I can put it in another cup of coffee, right? So it doesn't work. The way we would like to hope with it just doesn't work. The way we think like that. As long as you're thermodynamic with everything has an energy context, how much energy we're putting something into something, how much effort do we put into something compared to what do we get back? How much effort do we have to do to actually get those metals back? And is it just simply more worthwhile to just, I don't know, modern out of the ground, which is what we think at the moment. And so if we were to recycle, you can do some things like cars, for example, you can recycle and valorize like 95% of the mess. But things like electronics, we do wind turbines,


Chris Keefer  37:57  

right and are solar panels electronics, would you put them in that category? Okay, Just to clarify. Okay, cool.


Dr. Simon Michaux  38:03  

But there are a sub class within that electronics. So we're only starting to recycle large volumes of solar panels now because they last about 20 years. And most of them are only 1015 years old.


Chris Keefer  38:13  

And when you say recycle them. Sorry, when you say recycled ones after you met I know when you say recycling, what do you like? How? To what extent what are you pulling out of them? Are you pulling enough out to make a brand new solar panel or not?


Dr. Simon Michaux  38:25  

No, because when you recycle, you're only ever going to recover 6070 Sometimes 80% of a target metal and you go for one metal and the second metal you go for you have less efficiency again.


Chris Keefer  38:38  

So what the metal are they going out of the load? Now what metal


Dr. Simon Michaux  38:42  

to go for? Well, they tend to go for precious metals first like gold, silver and platinum. Right? And they might for example they won't go after the metallurgical silicone because that's considered cheap. Gotcha. Right, I would say they would go for the silver and maybe things like the gallium or the terbium or, or any of the rare earths, but they only go after one or two of them at the time.


Chris Keefer  39:07  

I'm gonna make I don't know how many grams of silver go into solar panel. But let's say 40 grams go into a solar panel, how many grams would you get back with a targeted recycling process that's just going after silver.


Dr. Simon Michaux  39:17  

So So you generally have like a big pile of broken solar panels. Right. And so what they've got is a paste at solar silver is made into a piece that sits on the back of the panels that's acts like an electric circuit. And that's how they use it like a layer. So if they go for say, yeah, yeah, okay. And so they might, and so you've got like a couple of grams per megawatt. And so I forget the exact number off the off the top of my head. But so you then put it into a recycling process. And you might get say, I don't know 6070, maybe 80% And I'd use like a hydrometallurgy leaching process to do it. Right. And then they might, for example, have a second process So just to go after one of the other elements, you know, there's this things like the railroads or you know, tungsten, tantalum, or tungsten, or tantalum or germanium, or any of those, it depends on the economics of the system. Each recycling system will be economically geared to whatever you're feeding into it, versus what are the steps you've got to do to get it up? Remember, each metal is generally an alloy alloy with something else? How do you actually chemically separate this stuff out? And how do you do it fast enough? And how do you keep your costs down to make it economically viable? So let's take a wind turbine. For example, you know, the big blades, at the moment, at the moment, they don't have a recycling way to recycle those blades, when they were out at the moment, so they're transported to Africa and landfills. So you just imagine 30 million a year, wind turbines coming offline, sort of throwing out 30 million. So if we hit 30,000, sorry, 30,000, wind turbine, let's say the whole system was built out and we made so like, I think it's 1.4 billion.


Chris Keefer  41:14  

So the numbers, the numbers I have that I pulled out of your report with 2.1 million new wind turbines, 26 billion new solar panels, and we need to mine the one we need to bought mine six times more copper than has ever been mined in world history, which would be five times more than all proven reserves. Those were I thought those were like four really compelling statistics,


Dr. Simon Michaux  41:33  

that's the punch in the brain numbers. But if if we had like a full system replacement, we were successful in doing that, which at the moment, we don't have the mineral Top list. So we were a certain number of them would come offline each year. Because you know, they were out. So after 2530 years. So let's say we had 30,000 wind turbines a year, coming offline, and we had to recycle them. And we had to valorize the waste, the way they built at the moment, we can't do anything with the blades. And you take the neodymium magnets out and you'd put them into a hydrogen process and you'd extract some of the neodymium but not all of it out. Again, you recoveries of at, say 85%. But then you got to the the energy you put in to do that was a lot of these things are not designed to be recycled. They're designed for performance, and then to be thrown away. And


Chris Keefer  42:25  

what happens to your energy returned on energy invested when you factor recycling and like that this this is, you know, this may be slightly tangential. But you know, I don't think of wind and solar as being cheap when you because we're not fact we're just on LCD basis. Sure. But when you're factoring in the backup, they're not cheap anymore. I don't think of them as being like deep decarbonize errs, they can spare some fossil fuels, shallow decarbonize, but they're not deep. Because again, we have to factor in the backup system. So when it comes to, you know, energy returns, you know, when does a wind turbine pay off its carbon debt? How does you know factoring and recycling of these products? How does that impact both energy returns and so called carbon debts?


Dr. Simon Michaux  43:08  

So the energy return on energy invested ratio was a very nice tool to start with. But it's very quickly shown to be too crude to blunt. Right? How do you compare a coal fired power system against a solar panel system? Where you compare apples with apples? And it's it get yourself into a lot of trouble? At what point? Do you include the grid, for example, the power grid that goes between them, you know, are you including the mining agent, including the equipment that did the mining, you know, where you draw the line in the sand, it gets increasingly complex, what's on my list of things to do is to reinvent a lot that tool into something else. Right, and I'm don't know what it would look like. But the sorts of things I want to do is do what's called use a term called XOR G, which is the amount of energy in a system in reference to its local environment. This is part of the idea of say, industrial thermal entropy, which these terms are counterintuitive to a physicist as a what. But they're Industrial Ecology terms. How I want to develop a series of terms that is actually able to compare these things in a way that sensible you are actually comparing apples with apples, because you can't get any agreement in the literature at the moment of what actually should go into an energy return on energy invested calculation.


Chris Keefer  44:38  

How does it compare to like lifecycle emissions analyses, and are those trustworthy? Because you know, those are supposed to take into account No, they're not the minute they use?


Dr. Simon Michaux  44:46  

No, but they also go down to price. But if but, if market price is involved, hang on. We've now got inflationary signatures on the ground. So anything like market prices are gonna get blown out of the Water,


Chris Keefer  45:00  

but do they? I didn't think they wanted to praise because what you get cooked up with is you know, you know candy reactors have four grams of co2 per kilowatt hour you know, you know German, lignite as a as a kilogram, how does that take price into effect and so screw up analysis


Dr. Simon Michaux  45:15  

that's a t i analysis you technology written readiness. It's the next step after LCA. But when you're actually looking at the things in terms of carbon, carbon emission,


Chris Keefer  45:26  

and IPCC lifecycle co2 analysis is does it do enough to take into account all the variables? To give you a good analogy?


Dr. Simon Michaux  45:32  

So no, okay, what's happening is we're trying to do too much in one step, I would rather see the physical flows and the physical footprints done first, and you get to a solid conclusion. And then you have a second calculation that picks up the conclusions of the first calculation, and then takes it I don't think that tool is sophisticated enough to do the proper job yet. So, so work needs to be done to develop the tools for comparison that we can actually agree on and have them simple enough so people can use them, right. But that's not really severe at the moment. Suffice


Chris Keefer  46:07  

it to say that, you know, if we include recycling costs, within wind and solar, the you know, as imperfect as it is, the energy return is going to be lower. It will be like what otherwise Oregon, okay? But we don't know what you're saying is we can't we don't have precise enough numbers, because we haven't developed the analytic tools yet.


Dr. Simon Michaux  46:24  

Yet, the analytic tools to compare, you know, then you have the different kinds of solar, like, what happens if you use different metals, and then you have different performance, and it lasts longer. So all of a sudden, that piece of string gets longer.


Chris Keefer  46:39  

I guess what I, what I struggle with here is obviously this is so multifactorial, and it's really hard for a human brain, particularly a dumber one like my own to keep all of these variables. President in my mind, I have a gestalt sense, and I think my listenership knows this well, that I think there are a very narrow range of applications for wind and solar in places that are incapable of other energy systems or that are off grid. But I personally think and I think, you know, pretty strongly, I won't say with all my heart and soul, that we are being incredibly misguided by pursuing, you know, grid scale, decarbonisation strategies with any significant amount of wind and solar on them because of what you're laying out on your study here in terms of material requirements because of how they just not, they don't function well. And don't play nice on a grid like, and I could list off a gazillion variables. But I find because the societal Gestalt is so pro renewable, because listen, if you're anti renewables, you're a climate change denier, that's the assumption. Yeah, I have this nice little nuclear trump card, I can say, you know, well, no, I'm actually, you know, working hard to replace fossil fuels where possible with nuclear, and we're going to talk a bit about nuclear later. But, you know, where do you find yourself? Because I imagine you have friendships and professional relationships and media relationships that you need not to alienate, but how, where do you sit in terms of having an opinion on this and just saying, Listen, I you know, without having the absolute, you know, precision tools to say X, Y and Zed, the Gestalt, the global sense of understanding all of these variables, the energy literacy you have and the material literacy you have, are you able to make a statement? And I'm not trying to force you to, but that says, like, how strongly would you word it in terms of saying that this is not a viable energy transition strategy?


Dr. Simon Michaux  48:29  

So all energy systems have their place? We need them all. But there's no way of saying no, we need to just discount one over another. All energy systems looked at, though, have their bottlenecks and scaling up to be available for 8 billion people, right. So while everything has its place, none of them are actually good enough, in their current form, to replace fossil fuels, the way we have. Now, the smart money of where how this will go, is not that we make a gazillion wind turbines, nuclear power plants, but society itself will evolve to a new social contract to a new relationship with energy and materials. And we will scale back our expectations and what we end up actually doing, we will shrink our footprint.


Chris Keefer  49:19  

So if I can pause it something here, I agree with you. I think it will be forced rather than voluntary, just as a result of you know, the carbon pulse starting to diminish, you know, peak oil being achieved, you know, quality energy becoming more scarce. And, like, you know, I'm very, very, what's the word bearish on renewables, as as my listenership knows as you can sense, I I'm very pro nuclear, but I'm not delusional in any sense. You know, I don't think that nuclear can replace a huge number of fossil fuel services. It's just not transportable, the way that oil is. It produces, you know, nonstop baseload, it's not great at peaking there is some load you know, following that can be done when Need to replace far more than electricity, which is kind of, you know, 15 20% of human needs, while the other 80% is a lot of heat applications which nuclear can help with. But, you know, what I see as the barriers to nuclear scaling up quickly, I fully acknowledge that they're massive, and I'm not a believer that we're going to hit net zero at all. And that even if we could it, for me, it's a centuries process. It's not anything that's going to happen on decades. And, you know, nuclear scaling issues are for me more sort of human factors based than than otherwise. But definitely, like fossil fuels are just pretty goddamn perfect. At, you know, providing everything we have with civilization, they come with these unfortunate side effects, but they're, they're just not that replaceable with anything. I think renewables much less so than nuclear. But anyway, my diatribe.


Dr. Simon Michaux  50:43  

Yeah, no, I agree. I agree with pretty much pretty much that like, the the problem is our ability to supply enough metals. But then when even if we had those metals, our ability to put them through our existing industrial systems don't make that many units, and then apply them and then we don't have the space. By how much actual space? Do we need to put up? So many wind turbines? Do we have that? No, we don't. So


Chris Keefer  51:05  

let's let's shift gears, just a tiny bit to nuclear here, because the N word came up. One of the reasons that, you know, I've got many reasons for being pronuclear. And, you know, they call me the nuclear Mormon when I go, you know, doing advocacy or lobbying and our political capital Ottawa, because I walk around with a backpack, and I'm a bit evangelical about nuclear. But one of the reasons that I like nuclear that drew me to it is that it has a lower, you know, because of its energy density, that determines the material intensity, there's, there's less mining required, and particularly, you know, there's certainly some, you know, zirconium, some maybe more exotic metals that are required, but we don't need to build the so called, you know, super grid or a brand new grid, or have huge amounts of copper requirements for this, that on the other hand, we don't need a lot of the rare earth inputs that are required for renewable. So from a materials and mining perspective, is nuclear much more attractive, leading questions than our alternatives to fossil fuels to,


Dr. Simon Michaux  51:58  

to make all that work, we've got to become smarter about what we use nuclear for, we've got to become fundamentally smarter in how we use everything, how we see everything, all problems have been put on the table. At the same time, all solutions are on the table and all stakeholders around the table to have an adult conversation. You know, let's cut the crap kind of way. Right. And so, so fossil fuels are going out, renewables aren't going to do the job. Nuclear certainly is a vital part of the future, it could be the only way we can keep heavy industry going, especially in some parts of the world that that geographic locations where no other power system is able to deliver concentrated bits of power like that. And it could be the only way we could actually keep a grid going with things like new frequency, and harmonics. And, and what have you, I think that nuclear research and development is one of the vectors to get out of this. Bind the Porin. But it's not going to happen fast enough to actually save the existing system in its current form. Right, that we're at a time, if it's taking like 25 years to build a nuclear reactor, you can do it in five, but we take 25. Right, and so but if we if it takes us time to do


Chris Keefer  53:18  

it, those are human constraints rather than material constraints like that requires massive policy change, but not not a material reality change. And maybe that's harder, changing human behavior may be harder. But yes,


Dr. Simon Michaux  53:29  

so I actually did a simulation in the work, where he looked at expanding the nuclear power plant fleet. And the simulation was disposed to ask the question, if we all got behind the nuclear industry, and so all the human bottlenecks that we've got at the moment, if we put this aside, and we all got together, can nuclear actually be useful for what we need? Right? So let's say it takes five years to build a power station. And let's say every year from 2025 onwards, we are going to add 25. net new nuclear reactors of average size, but every year after that, the fleet will now expand, can nuclear expand fast enough to deliver enough power to replace fossil fuels? And the answer is It took about 70 years or so 75 years to get 60% of the way there. And then our existing reserves run out, yes, we can go and get more. But if it's taking so long to expand, and obviously that's not the answer in its own right, it's not the silver bullet, the magic bullet, the salt, everything,


Chris Keefer  54:31  

does anything scale fast enough. Like for me, I'm like, that sounds great to me. 60% Because again, I don't think I'm under any delusions that we're hitting net zero, as my government says by 2050 Like and those netzero calculations I see in the IPCC modeling, you know, emissions are scaling up, up up and then oh, shit, okay, bioenergy and carbon capture and storage. We're going to do that at an absolutely massive scale to kind of balance everything out and hit netzero like it's just not believable to me. And these these, these imposed timelines are crazy and then it And in terms of saying 68%, I'm saying, Well, that's pretty good because I honestly don't think, you know, particularly at scale that we can replace a bunch of fossil fuel services such as synthetic fertilizers, you know, applications and steel, plastics, you know, vocs labs, Mills, four pillars of, you know, materials civilization, but but sort of Carry on, carry on. So I


Dr. Simon Michaux  55:20  

like, I love the idea of thorium, and the idea of a small thorium reactor, but your thorium in its value chain in the nucleus of a complex value chain that requires a lot of work and, and the policymakers and our politicians, since the beginning of the nuclear industry, have made a lot of promises, and they haven't they have kept very few of them. There's a lot of nevernever, she'll be right, we'll do it later. And we haven't, we've got to make more storage facilities. So we can handle this the spent nuclear fuel cycle better. We can split it up in Finland are in the process of finishing a deep geological repository. But we're the only ones in the world that have done it. It's not rocket science, we're digging deep holes, gold mines in the ground all the time, right. You know, we could choose to do things, but we haven't. So that's the problem.


Chris Keefer  56:10  

I mean, what's one of the problems where Yeah, so I want to push back on two things. One is yes, it's easy to dig a Gundam hole in the ground. The reason that it's taking so long to do on kalo is because we are over engineering these facilities so that in a million years in the worst case scenario, no human will get a dose larger than half a banana in 365 days. I mean, this is the I've studied carefully are Canadian plans and talk to their their modelers. And these are the sort of worst case the disaster scenario. So I think that's part of it. But one thing that you said on Robert Bryce, his podcast, and maybe with Nate Hagens as well that I wanted to challenge you on, or maybe I'll learn from you difference here, but you talk a lot about the numerous amounts of nuclear waste that will be generated. Obviously, it's quite small because of energy density compared to other waste streams. But all that aside, you said, it's going to require a lot of energy to manage that fuel. And I'm assuming you're saying to sort of cool it, but having visited, you know, a lot of spent fuel locations, I mean, yeah, you need to be in a pool for five to 10 years, you got to keep the water level up. That's not a huge amount of energy, and then bringing it in, in a dry cast storage. I mean, there's no ongoing energy need there. So have I Have I convinced you differently? Or do you still think that there's a large energy requirement to manage the waste or how big a problem is the waste?


Dr. Simon Michaux  57:24  

So at the end of the nuclear cycle, as we keep expand, let's say we did things correctly, we took all existing nuclear waste out of storage, and we put it in proper containment facilities, and they're all built the new reactors making new stuff bringing online in the simulation, the SNF, stockpile increases. Now, you've got to keep it in power, cold storage for a period of time couple of years. In water, heating and water, it is everything. enqueue in cold water, yes. And so and so that in itself, according to modern energy consumptions is not a lot. But when we get to the end of the nuclear cycle, which is, let's say, we just for argument's sake, the existing reserves of uranium are IR, IR, Sr, all of them all the way up to unconventional, right. So let's say we're just going to look at that pot first. Yes, we can go and get some more, we're not running out. But at the end of that cycle, we've got a big stockpile of stuff, you put it in full storage for a period of time, and after a period of time it comes out and you put it in storage, when we get to the end, because we're constantly expanding the nuclear power plant fleet, we've got a really, really big pile of spent nuclear fuel that's got to be in power cooled storage for a couple of years. And you got to keep it there for a couple of years. So for that last 10 years, society has to put a lot of energy into cooling those facilities. And we're now talking about the reactor fleet, which is about 440. Now, by the time we get there, it's about two and a half 1000 towards the three and a half hours, it's five or six times the size of the existing fleet. Right. And so all of those spent snf. That is you sort of coming off line, all of that. Society for a couple of years has to put power into cooling those rods down when they're not getting any power back. There. By the time we get there, cold gone, gas has gone oils gone. At the moment, we're back on wind and solar, which as we've just agreed to is not enough. So society has to now put enormous amount of energy into something it doesn't really get much back for. Okay, is that at the tail end of it? That's the problem. I see for nuclear in its current form. The key there is in its current form.


Chris Keefer  59:46  

And you know, this this this is I kind of wanted to make a joke with you here because when you were talking and this I mean this in the most light hearted way and I took zero offense at it, but you were talking about chatting with someone maybe in Brussels and they were saying And, you know, for now anyway, we should focus on deploying stuff we know how to do well, we should build a whole bunch of gen two plants. And I want to confess I, you know, I am an ass clown. I think that's the term used to describe that guy. For me, I think it makes sense to redevelop our expertise to do what we know how to do for not, not forever, but you know, to reboot the nuclear industry, that tends to be my bias, but I just want to stress that I'm a bit of an ask. Because an Ozzy and maybe


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:00:30  

the Muppets, you sock puppet. So these are, these are politicians who don't understand the nuclear fuel cycle at all. And they think it's technology like anything else. And the comment was, and this did actually sort of put my nose out of joint in the audience there. And I'm there to learn. I didn't say anything at the time. And to protect the guilty I forgotten the name of the individual and but just like this last class, in particular, had the ability to influence policy any any was doing so. So that all nuclear reactors should be generation two, because we know how to build them.


Chris Keefer  1:01:07  

This isn't all forever or all for now. All forever. Okay, well, I think at this


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:01:12  

port on from this point on, we will make jet because we know what to do. And as this is where we will have the safety problems or shutdown problems in the gen two series. There's there's a reason we like generation three plus. And there's a reason we want generation four. And so when I was actually talking to this guy over coffee, it was clear to me that he really had no idea what the nuclear fuel cycle was, or what was required to do it properly. It because I asked him things well, how about like some some storage facilities are in and I will do it later, we'll just keep the fuel rods in the reactor. So we get around to actually paying for the


Chris Keefer  1:01:56  

jumping back on mining. You know, we had a really fun episode with a gentleman named BF Randall. He's a lawyer who's worked for a long time in the mining and energy sectors and just an incredibly curious mind. And one of his critiques of, of this energy transition is that it's going to require we were talking before that maybe 7% of global primary energy goes into mining and crushing rocks if we pursue the wind and solar route, because the material needs are so high, a lot more mining a lot more diesel fuel, in particular, be required. And of course, when we take crude oil, and we fractionate it, we produce a whole bunch of gasoline, maybe 40% of the crude depending on it sources gasoline, which will then become this waste byproduct, we're trying to put all these EVs on the road, but we're going to be creating tons of gasoline in order to get that diesel to be able to mine to run the big mining trucks, etc. So the specifics of that I was looking, we had a listener who was inspired by that episode and did a deeper dive of diesel. And I just want to quote to you one of the things he said because there's talk now you know, and I think ESG hungry companies are building, you know, battery electric. Well, you know, haulers. So just this quick quote, a big mining truck like a Komatsu. 980 II can haul 350 tons of ore is diesel generator provides 200, whatever, lots of kilowatts of power. But Rio Tinto executive recently described the problem of using batteries. When we're dealing with a 350 ton haul truck, you've got a problem, the battery weighs 19 tons. And critically, it will last for about 90 to 115 minutes. And you know, the thing about the diesel engine that seems to be so hard to replace is that these are the vehicles that run 1216 hours a day, the reality of the diesel engine is it's able to handle that or gas guzzling cars, you know, do a couple hours of commuting everyday maybe. And so you know, it's a great article, I encourage people, we'll put it in the show notes, Josh Russell is the author there. But in terms of this idea of, you know, a solar panel and a wind turbine cannot run the industrial processes to make another solar panel and a wind turbine, can we get into like the open pit mine here and just talk a little bit about, you know, how the sausage gets made, what that looks like, and why we will not be able to, or maybe we will and if I'm wrong, we will, you know, challenge my hypothesis here if it's wrong, but why we will not be able to decarbonize mining.


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:04:18  

So the when you build when you design a mine is designed around the equipment, as you first you've delineated the deposit in the ground and fix it and then you going to design the bench height, which is based on the excavators ability to reach up and pull rock down and that's the height. Right and the slope of the pit is designed by the strength of the rock, the geo mechanical strength of the rock, the stronger it is, the steeper it can be, and the weaker it is. So these are the limitations we need to work with. So as we've mined out all the high grade stuff, we've now got the low grade stuff. And to do that, you've now got to shift a lot of or, and a lot of overdone waste, they caught over. So you're talking about, say like a 250 ton truck, I think the cap there carries a substantial amount of rock. And to do that, you've got, you know, load cycles every couple of minutes. So you got this string of that there was the truck and shovel fleet. The shovel is actually run by a great big electrical cable that's plugged into the back of it that just so the process plants also electric. And generally what happens is you have a gas power plant, and a pipeline of gas will come in because the mind is remote, and it generates the electricity and powers the rest of the mind. So gas is actually how the electricity happens.


Chris Keefer  1:05:44  

And this is like a 3030 megawatt generation plant. It's not a small plant. I think that's what you said with Robert Bryce. Right. 3030 30


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:05:53  

megawatts is the sag mill on its own one unit in the process plant the sag mill can be like a 32 megawatt. And


Chris Keefer  1:06:01  

Sir What was the sag mill is not the generation plant is the excavator?


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:06:05  

So so this, this, now we're in the process plant where we've got the wrong grain stockpile, and we're going to, we're going to crush and grind it, the sag mill will combinations all about taking big rocks and turning them into little rocks, right, the segment will take rocks as big as a meter. And, you know, all the way down to, you know, the fines, but we're going to crush and grind them to about a, you know, a two or three millimeter, top size, right. And so these mines run it like 3000 times now some of the really big ones, right, and you often got like two sag mills in parallel and multiple ball mills behind them, the ball mill will take the sag mill and take the top size of two millimeters, and grind it down to a top size of say 50 micron, right. And then behind the ball mills, you've got what's called the fine grinding mill, which will take the top size of say 50 micron, and grind it down to say 10 micron. And you need to grind the rock down to that level because the grains of metal in the ore little specks and you've got to actually sort of grind them to the point where the metal is what's called liberated, is completely free. So your separation process, let's say flotation, can actually then pick out those little bits of metal and leave everything else behind. If you don't grind the rock fine enough, you're not liberating the rock and it can't be extracted.


Chris Keefer  1:07:25  

And as as our grades get worse, we need to grind it up even finer. Is that correct? That's right.


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:07:31  

It's the greatest amount of metal per tonne, right, but the grind size is defined by the mineralogy where the little grains of metal or the mineral we're chasing is so fine. And it's disseminate. So instead of having like great big chunks of nuggets in the actual core, where at the beginning of my career, for example, the classic clothes size was about 150 micron, right? But now we're down to you know, grains of gold or like four or five microns, right? And the fine ego, the more expensive it is and the more power you've got to consume to do it. So to do each of these units


Chris Keefer  1:08:08  

to summarize, okay, so let's say we're just arriving at a greenfield that we're going to turn in an open mind, we come there, I think this is where your explosives expertise comes in, we blow up a bunch of shit, the overburden, and then we have to start scooping it and putting it in these enormous trucks. Get rid of the overburden, first, maybe make a pile of that, then get down to the deposit, blow it up some more and shovel it up, put it in the trucks, take it to the mill, grind it really fine. And then put it through whatever as you said, flotation, flotation, etc. So the power demand for one of these grinding machines is 30 megawatts. So how big of a gas power plant are you building to power? You know, and the other the other? The hilarious thing I learned was, you know those big excavators? I think they're one of the biggest vehicles in the entire world. Those lignite coal mining machines, they're run off electricity as well, the low power cable, but how much power are we talking about for large mine like this, to run those mills to run whatever else? The electricity requirement is beyond just the diesel for the haul trucks, etc.


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:09:08  

This is just the electricity the power generation plant? Yeah, rather surprisingly, it could be two 300 megawatts install power. Right. And so we're talking about a substantially serious industrial activity, right? And then that power is in divvied up and sent across the whole site. So the shovel, you've got this giant electric cable that plugs into the back of a shovel or the dragline if you're in a coal mine, and that


Chris Keefer  1:09:33  

can be electric, because it's not moving so far, whereas the haul trucks are having to move a lot. That's why they need to be


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:09:38  

Yeah, so the shovel can move around. But it takes a long time. It's it will move up to a face and operate at that face, and then it will slowly move into further in the end. It's quite an effort to move things around. And the cost of these things is extraordinary. Like a dragline, for example, is the most expensive part of a coal mine It's a, it's a big societal block of flats, right? And it's like a big shovel that clicks dirt up and lifts it up and then dumps it in a pile somewhere else to expose the coal. So it has to be working three shifts a day, seven days a week, it has to be constantly working. And it takes something like 10 years for that red line to pay for its CAPEX expenditure. How long are you going to buy this stuff, about 10 years of operation,


Chris Keefer  1:10:30  

but running 24 hours a day ship before


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:10:33  

that dragline pays off its debt to actually purchase it. Wow. So these are massive, massive machines that cost a fortune, lots and lots of money. Okay, so now you've got these these like, like a shovel, which actually sort of picks up the dirt. And you have the dump trucks back up to either side of the shovel. And you have like, two or three shoveled loads into each truck, you cut, any downtime is a problem, any maintenance downtime as a problem. So you've got these dump trucks that are running, and you need to say 40 or 50 of them and a big mine, and they're going back and forth in this constant convert. So you've got a there's a diesel, you have like a diesel fuel truck that runs an electric generator. And the electric generator runs these electric motors on the wheels. And so that's that's how they powering such large.


Chris Keefer  1:11:25  

And this is key because in some of our arguments after this, we call the diesel power decoupling this episode of BF Randall, if you haven't listened to it, check it out. But you know, in the feedback, people are saying, well, no diesels are replaceable, we can replace them with electric motors because electric motors can generate really high torque. But these mining trucks are essentially like a diesel electric train, they have a massive generator on them the powers electric motors that turns the wheels, okay, cool.


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:11:47  

And those and those power source is a tank of diesel fuel to run that electric generator. Right, so that eel conventional electric truck is an electric propulsion motor, powered by a battery. Right, and that battery will only last a small period of time. And so not only does the battery only last a short period of time, yeah, I think it's like 90 minutes is what's they run for now, these trucks have to run to eight hours without stopping. And then the driver gets out and the next driver gets in their hot seat change, and then it goes off again. Right then when they refuel, the, the refuel. I forget the actual time cycle for refueling. But when they refuel it only a couple of minutes.


Chris Keefer  1:12:28  

Wow. It's like a Formula One, right? So and not so much money's


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:12:32  

involved. But here's the thing, when you pay off a loan, you're paying off interest, right? So if you've actually invested, so it takes about 4 billion US dollars to actually build a copper mine to the point where you're actually going to make some money. So 4 billion upfront, see, consider if you will, the amount of interest you would pay. So there is a very, very real pressure to get as much done as fast as humanly possible, so they pay less interest off that loan. And that's why they go like the clappers, day and night. And that's why the ergonomics and economics are actually looked at so carefully. So all right, so you've got these diesel trucks going back and forth. If you've got an electric truck, yes, you can keep up with in a straight race over say 100 meters, right? But after a say, What is it 90 minutes, let's let's say battery technology gets the point where they could do it for four or five hours, four or five hours, that truck has to go offline to be recharged. How long does it take to recharge that truck, a battery of that size. So that truck has a downtime that's massive, so massive, that the economics and ergonomics of the truck and shovel fleet would have to be completely redesigned to allow for that to actually put and it will take so much longer to pay off those assets. So the business model behind mining at the moment is barely holding together based in diesel, but if we go to electric that a lot of all existing track shovel fleets won't be economically viable. So mines won't be viable in their current form.


Chris Keefer  1:14:16  

And obviously, if you're recharging those batteries with intermittent wind and solar, your truck might be offline for a week or something if the weather didn't cooperate, but that's just that's a bit of a that's another wrinkle. That's a wrinkle again, that's a facetious comment. So one of the one of the themes that came up, I think in your conversation with Nate Hagens, you know, your your sense of the way things are, and I think it's quite realistic when we go to that, you know, bird's eye view, when we zoom out, you know, the carbon pulses running out, energy is the secret ingredient in anything. It's what has enabled, you know, in combination with technology. It has enabled the incredible flourishing of human civilization we've seen in the last 300 years. But all of this technology has rested on energy and there was a great quote, I'm not sure if you said it or if Nate said it, but it was that, you know, human labor, without energy is a corpse. And technology, technology without energy is a sculpture. I just love those lines, but we're running out of the energy. And, and I agree with you, I think that renewable energy in no way is going to replace fossil fuel services in any meaningful way, as we've described, both in terms of powering the grid powering currently non electrified things and powering mining, I agree with you, I think that nuclear can substitute for some fossil fuel services, but as obviously imperfect, and not going to replace a number of essentially not possible to decarbonize on a pilot scale model, which the media will write big stories about, but not scalable to the needs of 8 billion. So we do face a pretty radical change in human society. And part of that, you know, this is essentially not not a political movement towards Degrowth. But an enforced Degrowth reality that we're heading into. And I think that's part of Nate's podcast is how to bend and not break as we do that. I mean, to me, knowing and studying history, to the degree that I have, this is likely to be very ugly, there's times with a natural disaster, where there's a temporary shortage where human beings can come together and do beautiful things for one another. But in terms of the kind of generosity that we've seen within our society, save towards immigrants and refugees, these things vaporize, when there's a scarcity mindset is my impression, and we're likely to see some pretty nasty things evolve out of this. So, you know, I want to keep chatting with you, I really hope we can have you back in the future, that that description of of the you know, the how the sausage gets made, when it comes to an open pit, mine was incredibly illuminating to me. But let's kind of close off with some thoughts around this, this, this kind of imposed Degrowth that is on the horizon because of energy and material constraints. You know, I come I think from a bit of a, I've been flirting a lot with Ecomodernism, which says, we're just going to keep out innovating some of these material and energy constraints. First off, do you agree with that loaded question? And second off, what do you mean, predicting the future is a highly imperfect science, but give us your vision, at least of the future that you are fighting for.


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:17:14  

So a lot of the ideas that we're going to somehow invent a new energy system, right, does not recognize the fact that that energy has to come from some way you have, you have to have a source of energy, and you have a technology to access it. Right. And then once we develop that, we've got to manufacture in large enough numbers to be available to everyone. But they're the steps that we have to go through. There are things I'm actually sort of looking at Urban unconventional nature, we're moving into an environment where all conventional solutions are going to be problematic. And so unconventional ideas that we previously rejected, might all of a sudden be forced into, out in the open again, once more. So the future like, which is the idea of the horse race, where you've got multiple horses, and each horse has a scenario? Right? Instead of putting my hat on one scenario, this is what will happen, or have say, like 10 scenarios? And then so what do I need to see, before I can say this scenario is valid, and which horse is going to make race, and how many of these horses aren't going to make it over the line. And so you put yourself in a position where you don't have to actually commit to any one scenario or another, you have an understanding of a set of issues. Right? And so that's how I approach things, a series of systems that are in competition with each other. Now I see the problem. And the solution is our group human consciousness. We as a society, how have we done for the last century? Why is it the point blank refuse to see certain things? Why why is it we won't approach certain things? Why won't we consider certain ideas, and I think we're going to see some flamboyantly stupid actions from our leaders. As they try and hold things together with everyone, we'd like to keep it the same. So humanity, I believe, will go through a three step process. And if we don't do this, then we get the worst case scenario. And it all comes apart at the seams. And we're no different from a unique use culture. Right? Step one, all of us. And I mean, all of us have got to understand the true nature of the challenge in front of us, not just one challenge, but all of them. Because we've been able to use this exotic energy and the way our finances are structured, we've managed to put off all sorts of problems for a long time. The energy is drying up, the money is drying up. Now, all those problems are there all at once. So we've got to look at those problems and understand them for what they really are. And there's a lot of crap out there. There's a lot of things that we don't we found Because some things that I don't think are appropriate, or even sensible, and the real problems we might even look at, in many respects, that's for most people. So that's step one. Step two, is given those problems. And we just looked at one route through capabilities. What are our options for doing something here? Okay, once we've been through that, step three, is we make a plan for the first time. And when we do that, we've got to consciously decide as a group, what kind of world do we want to live in, after we decide who are we, and that sounds a little abstract after an engineering effort. But if we can't see the problems and the solutions, we're going nowhere, and the Malthusian Ian's are right. If we actually face these problems, and actually start to actually do things properly, and we all step up together, then there there are vectors out of this with the understanding that we are going to have the most difficult challenge in front of us in history, the generation that will actually build the next whatever it is, we'll have to be stronger than the generation that fought World War Two, right? That's the nature of the challenge in front of us. And so the world I'm fighting for, is a human species that actually understands that three step process.


Chris Keefer  1:21:21  

One example, you brought up, chatting with Nate, again, in your episode there, and I highly recommend people checkouts. I believe his podcast is the great simplification. We're going to have him on I think in the new year, I'm really looking forward to some cross pollination between our communities, my listenership and his, there'll be some strong differences of opinion on some things, but I think it's going to be a lot of fun. But you brought up the example of Cuba, and the Special Period. And you know, I understand I've been to Cuba many times, I have lots of Cuban friends, the Special Period was when the Soviet Union collapsed. And essentially Cuban GDP dropped by something like 70, or 80%, as the Soviets had been providing them with just about everything in exchange for some sugar. You know, the average Cuban lost 20 pounds, there were recipes for Orange Peel soup that were quite popular, there was a number of children that went blind because of vitamin A deficiencies. And yet, you know, say what you will about socialism and central planning. And whether this would have happened without it in the first place. But I would say it was an interesting example of a managed collapse with, again, this is highly political, but without as much collateral damage, as you might see in a neighboring country, you know, in the Caribbean, or Central America. I mean, I'm not sure if you've studied the Cuban thing, but you meant you mentioned it in the podcast, I'm really trying to get some some people who are well acquainted with that story. And with Cuba in general, it's a challenge because of their internet access and the language barriers, but you brought it up, I just I'm not sure if you have any, like a minute or two, if you've if you've studied that, or you think it's interesting.


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:22:56  

So I'll take your political and raise you one. So the Cuban example is excellent. Yes, it was rough. But they're able to meet the challenge. And they survived as a society through that fundamental change. There are not many examples in the human story, that are able to do that. It wasn't perfect. And there were things that they undertook that we may not like. But the there an example where it was possible. Now, if we're stepping into a low energy world with the idea of, for at least for a period of time, we've got growth based economics is going to transition to a contraction based economics. Even if we're able to innovate a solution that somehow gets passed on that we can get back to the way we are now, at least for a period of time, that's won't be the case. So all existing human systems, whether they were planned, or the laissez faire, whether it's free capitalism, whether it's socialism, fascism, all of them feudalism, they were all based on the idea of growth in some form, whether it be conquest, or profit, or expansion through population expansion. Every single human system has been based around the idea that we will expand. So moving into whatever we're facing now, we're probably not going to be able to do that. Right? So we have an unprecedented situation. So all existing human systems in their current form won't work. And what I think we'll might have what we'll see like a little bit of everything, but what might be successful, is if we develop a system that takes things from all systems, we make a new system that's never been seen before, unprecedented, then it could be something like if resources of all kinds are going to be a short problem, and there's not enough to go around. We either agree to share those resources equitably. Or we go to war with each other. And that's a choice If we go to war with each other, as we don't bother planning, and if there's lots


Chris Keefer  1:25:04  

of human precedent for that very little further,


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:25:09  

but after a while, it will become apparent that that's not going to work either. Because we never get past a certain point. So it'll be give war a chance for a bit, but then we'll realize that we actually have to start doing things, we can't just keep taking things, right. So let's say we can agree to share resources in some form. The human spirit, though, needs to have some kind of self determination. So we can have, for example, a top down structure with a division of resources across a region. But from the bottom up, we can have a free market enterprise model, where we can how we use those resources is up to us. So everyone can feel they've got some kind of control. But we also recognize that we've got to do this this way. Otherwise, we turn on each other. Now, I don't know what that works, or if even that's even stable for very long. But if we don't come up with something unprecedented, then we're going to have a very, very difficult time of things


Chris Keefer  1:26:08  

a rough a rough fall from grace. Okay, so I guess last question for you, because I do keep it under an hour and a half. And I know you need to go to bed soon. You're in Finland, for God's sakes. So is the current global energy crisis, and I guess burgeoning financial crisis of, you know, fiat currency and quantitative easing, and, you know, that attempt to use our financial system to, you know, make some things that are increasingly less viable, such as our mineral extraction and maybe energy extraction possible. Is this the beginning of the decline in your, in your opinion, I mean, the fracking revolution, put off spheres of peak oil, maybe, you know, or I remember Nate talking about interviewing John Ehrlich and Norman Borlaug told Paul Ehrlich you know what, you're right. But I bought you a generation, you know, do you think do you feel like now is the moment where we're beginning this decline with with the current energy crisis is energy going to get cheap again, again, I had another guest on and they said, you know, the decade of 2010 to 2020 was a special period in human history, you know, all forms of global primary energy, you know, whether that was oil, coal gas, uranium dropped 90%, from peak to trough, and we had access to the lowest cost capital in the last 4000 years. I mean, are we ever going to get back to that? Or do you feel like this 2022 energy crisis and maybe materials mineral crisis is kind of the beginning of the end of growth? World? Big Question big to


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:27:38  

two things, two things to say there, the system has been thermodynamically trying to correct for decades, okay. And we keep intervening to stop it from happening. In 1971, the US was the world reserve currency at the time, but because they'd actually manage their money inappropriately, and the agreements for the gold standard, they will face with bankruptcy, because all the nations around the world kept withdrawing their gold. So instead of going bankrupt, which was, alright, we tried failed in work, right? That's the best would have been the capitalist way, they changed the rules. So we will now Decouple from the gold standard, and we will have what's called a fiat currency, we then attach that fiat currency to oil, and we force the world to buy oil in US dollars. That's the petro dollar agreement of 1973. So we went from a system that was about to explode. And they will, it blew out for a bit. But then we actually attached to a new system with a new set of rules. In 2005, was the next flashpoint for me, when we had a blowout of metal prices. And that had its origin in the oil industry. Right, three years later, that put unprecedented strain on the system, and the system broke. The Weakest Link was the housing market, or so they say that was the global financial crisis with the price of oil peak was the temporal market. And instead of letting that system crash, we intervened again, and we started using quantitive easing and unprecedented levels. Now, the real problem was energy. Energy plateaued in 2005. That was the actual blowout. And the way we solve it, well, someone pulled a rabbit out of the hat, and we had fracking, fracking took off and save their bacon, and then push things back near 1015 years. Okay, then we had the black swan of COVID. And instead of actually letting the system crash, we printed again an unprecedented amount of money to hold everything together. We keep intervening and it keeps blowing out. But every time it blows out, greater actions are required to patch it up the band aid on a bullet wound. So here we are in 2022. And, okay, someone has got to pull a rabbit out of the hat because what's happened is we've run out of money. My model for Peak Oil is based on Gail to verbose ideas where the price of oil has to be high enough to produce has to survive, but low enough for consumers to access the petroleum products in a way that allows economic growth. When those, that window closes, the oil industry stops becoming a free market enterprise and evolves into something else. And we because we need oil, it will, it will evolve, it won't actually stop. So the trouble we're having at the moment, I'm seeing in the oil industry and inability to get capital on the ground, to do drilling in the title oil sector, which means I don't think they're going to be able to get oil back up to where it was. And if they can't do that, then we have an economic correction on our hands. At the same time, we have a debt saturation, currency defaults. And that's going to ripple through the whole system, our ability to do mining, if we don't have access to fossil fuels, at some point, we're going to have another thermodynamic blowout. Now, if we can, someone might come up with a way to actually sort of keep the system going but changing the rules. Now, what I think is happening this time is they don't know what to do. And so instead, they're talking about what they called the Great reset by the World Economic Forum, where this is for a society that that suggests, you know, the movie Elysium, you with Matt Damon as the actor, right? They want to do the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will require more technology more energy. Right. But that will work for a small number of people who are rich, everyone else is in poverty, because it's not going to work for everyone. And that's they don't know what to do. They've run out of ideas. Right? And so that that is their bullet on the bullet, a band aid on a bullet wound, this time, the great reset of 2030. And it's I don't believe it will work. Is this the time where it all sort of starts and takes off? I don't know, probably, I would like to see something extraordinary happen if it's to prevent it. And so far, I


Chris Keefer  1:31:59  

haven't. That's so interesting that, you know, in this in this thesis of yours, you know, absent fracking, we would have hit one of these walls. It's a much hated technology by many, many folks. I think we're gonna have to leave it there, Simon. This has been just absolutely fascinating. And we will definitely have you back if you're willing. So I feel like we could we could run with a bunch of different themes, we had to do a whole episode on them. You know, that was a very tantalizing ending to our conversation, because a lot more I'd like to explore there. Really, really enjoyed chatting with you, your breadth of knowledge and then throwing that curveball at the end in terms of that analysis. Very, very interesting. So thank you again for making the time. And you know, Hasta Luego. We'll see you again soon. I'm sure.


Dr. Simon Michaux  1:32:47  

Panta lasagna Yeah. All right.



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