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Recycle Rare Earth & Renew Energy


Through this article I would once more attempt to join the dots which would perhaps lead us to practice sustainability as naturally as breathing. To do this each of us must be able to co-relate as how seemingly diverse things dove-tail to one conclusion. The modern humans insatiable need, which without being tempered by understanding at the basic level would not lead us towards the very Millennium Development Goals we aspire Using just one product, my attempt is to put forth an idea, which used as a datum could hopefully be applied over a vast field of products by those who are more capable.

“Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development — from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes,” World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte said in a press statement. “The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.”

A July 2012 report – Approximately three-quarters of the world’s population now has access to a mobile phone, according to a new study from the World Bank. The number of mobile phone subscriptions has sky-rocketed over the past 12 years. Fewer than 1 billion mobile subscriptions were active in 2000, while there are six billion subscriptions active today. Last year alone, mobile users downloaded more than 30 billion apps. A study by the World Bank and infoDev titled “Information and Communications for Development 2012” found that worldwide mobile subscriptions grew from less than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion. And mobile subscriptions in low and middle-income countries increased by more than 1,500 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 4 to 72 per 100 inhabitants.

Reading – Digging for rare earths: The mines where iPhones are born About 60 miles southwest of Las Vegas, in a mine some 500 feet deep, the beginnings of an iPhone come to life.But the sleek, shiny iPhone is far, far removed from the rocks pulled out of this giant hole, which looks like a deep crater on the moon. A very deep crater. The ground is covered with rust-colored boulders, rocks, and pebbles. The walls etched with striations in varying shades of black, are notched, every 75 feet or so, creating steps that only a giant could use to climb out of the pit….Inside the rocks from this mine are rare-earth minerals, crucial ingredients for iPhones, as well as wind turbines, hybrid cars, and night-vision goggles. Minerals such as neodymium are used in magnets that make speakers vibrate to create sound.….

As defined by IUPAC, rare earth elements (“REEs”) or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium.Despite their name, rare earth elementsare relatively plentiful in the Earth’s crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper). However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found concentrated as rare earth minerals in economically exploitable ore deposits. It was the very scarcity of these minerals (previously called “earths”) that led to the term “rare earth”.

We pause at the word – typically dispersed and not often found concentrated in economically exploitable ore deposit.and the words of World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte.-..”to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications”..

Sustainable development as we know requires the principle of the three “P”s – Planet – People – Profit fitting perfectly with the four “R”s Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Recover (energy).

  1. Wherever possible, waste reduction is the preferable option.
  2. If waste is produced, every effort should be made to reuse it if practicable.
  3. Recycling is the third option in the waste management hierarchy. Although recycling does help to conserve resources and reduce wastes, it is important to remember that there are economic and environmental costs associated with waste collection and recycling. For this reason, recycling should only be considered for waste which cannot be reduced or reused.
  4. Finally, it may be possible to recover materials or energy from waste which cannot be reduced, reused or recycled.

Empirical evidence suggests that by practising waste prevention, reusing products, recycling, and making environmentally conscious purchases, businesses can cut costs and increase profits. Cost savings take the form of:

  • Lower waste disposal costs;
  • Lower waste treatment costs;
  • Lower energy costs;
  • Savings on materials and supplies;
  • A reduction in regulatory compliance costs;
  • Lower storage costs;
  • Cost recovery through the sale of recyclable materials;
  • Cost recovery through sales of 4Rs technologies.

Now let us add two more” R”s – Refuse and Rethink.

While we all are attempting to practice sustainability, that it has still not percolated down to the grass roots is because we as a collective of Sustainable practitioners are yet to join the dots in a simplistic fashion. And unless we do so, the ground swell of awareness and true sustainable practice which is balanced with modern life-style will elude us. The concept of Sustainability can not be a placard which one can paste on the door of the office. It has to be from within us. The society as a whole must adopt sustainability in their consciousness. The Peoples must be identified as such; just as we associate Precision = German / Swiss; Adaptive = Indians;  Disciplined = Japanese; and other cultural stereotypes; the world as a whole must adopt it as a culture.

We as modern humans are so trapped in our system that while we say Sustainable Development, in the same breadth we also look to encourage Countries to develop Mobile Applications, without pausing to think that the very popularity and success of these applications would lead to another explosion of growth in manufacturing of Mobile phones and thus from 6 Billion in 2012 we would perhaps cross the 12 Billion mark in half the time it took us to reach the first 6 Billion.

From a World Bank perspective that is Sustained growth. From an Sustainable Development Goal, it is a prelude to doom, as the miners rub their hands with glee whilst ripping out the “rare earth” from the bosom of Earth and lay waste vast tracts of land. Which would take a Millennium to sustain itself again. No better anti- thesis can be found for the term Millennium Development than this.

So is the euphoria at the World Bank on the reach of the cell phone right to the grass-roots misplaced ? The answer is a resounding NO! Right from Disease Response; Education Through Games; Monitoring Government Accountability;  and Disaster Response; cell phones have a very positive impact and this achievement is set to grow over time.

But it becomes a little too much when Preserving the Rainforest as mentioned in the link is added to support it. The crony capitalism becomes evident. Although the very same mobile telephony can be used to create greater awareness on climate change. This boon itself is a curse, should we not also not make Mandatory for all mobile phone manufacturers to create a reverse supply chain management to recall each and every cell phone; when its stipulated usage life is over. 

And to believe that the people would do this out of altruism would be the biggest folly. One would rather have someone at e-bay buy it, than s/he walk down and put it into the recycle bin for free. That is how we all are. We are a market society conditioned by a market economy and we all are buyers and sellers. We can do nothing positive (or negative) unless we can see tangible benefits (profit) for ourselves.

While we teach our children the advantage of the R’s ( Learning the 4 R’s :Recycling and Rubbish Exhibit (R.A.R.E.) program teaches kids to reduce, reuse, recycle and rot ) why is it that the Corporates not adopting it. Or rather why is it that the UN unable to make it mandatory for all corporates to follow the rules, by declaring a resolution at the United Nations Security Council ? As in my last article, I firmly believe post the devastating Hurricane Sandy that Climate change become an agenda for the Security council rather than the UNFCCC.

That the 4 R’s has distinct advantages has already been highlighted earlier in this article. If we just take the advantages – Savings on materials and supplies; Cost recovery through the sale of recyclable materials; and apply it to just the cell phones let us see what we get.

English: Global rare earth element production ...

English: Global rare earth element production from 1950 through 2000, colored to indicate source. (1 kt=106 kg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Mobile phone is made Gold, Silver, Tantalum, Platinum, Palladium, Lead, Tin, Copper, Plastic, Glass, Steel, Aluminium, Silicon etc. Coltan is used to make the SIM card. Now if we assume that in a year at least 50% of the 6 Billion Mobile phone users world wide change their handsets, the savings on material supplies and cost recovery through the sale of recyclable materials would be handsome.

What if this recall of Mobile phones is driven by one of the many arms of the UN, with active support from the NGO’s who have the depth of reach into the hinterlands of the developing world? NGO’s which are truly altruistic and would surely give value for money deals to the rural poor. And at the same time convince the city dwellers to also partake through school programs in this novel recovering of the Natural resources.

There is already a stellar example of this form Nokia, The need of the hour is that more people know about it and start doing something similar. And this is where the failure of the popular media to take up a cause which is really worth-while is completely underscored. And it also shows how less traction the UN gives to promote ingenious concepts, leaving it at the mercy of market forces which are hostile to change. A market based society can only look at every thing from its skewed logic of economics, which is responsible for the mess we are in today.

Nokia’s ‘Remade’ Cell Phone Made Of Recycled Materials – In February 13, 2008 Nokia’s CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo unveiled Remade at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. The idea was to create mobile phones that cause less of a strain on natural resources, while reducing landfill and increasing energy-efficient production. A concept phone called “Remade,” which would be built almost entirely out of recycled materials. Phones based on the Remade concept were to be made out of metals from aluminium cans and plastics from drink bottles. Materials from old car tires would make up the phones’ rubber key mats. The phones were also to use environment-friendly technologies, including printed electronics and display graphics that save energy.

Map showing the estimated thickness of the Wor...

Map showing the estimated thickness of the World’s crust (km) (Photo credit: BlatantWorld.com)

The above example shows how Corporate responsibility if truly applied can create a sea-change in how we look at our resources and develop sustainable ways to live our lives without sacrificing the comforts of modernity. I wish we would be able to see more companies follow. We must understand that our ability to sustain and survive depends on how we care for the planet. If we continue to create great wound ( mines ) on the skin of the Planet, somewhere and somehow there is bound to be effects which we can not fathom at present. And if we don’t think on those lines soon, it might just be too risky a situation later.

“Remade” is simply a concept for now and not a commercial product, but it demonstrates what can be done using nearly no new materials to build a mobile phone, said Nokia’s spokeswoman.

The above speech needs to change thus – “Remade is now being provided funds from the UN sponsored Global Climate Fund and we would encourage more companies to submit their ideas to avail the funding & market support (through mandatory resolutions passed) required to make their sustainable products economically viable” – a hypothetical spokesperson of the UN.

Courtesy: http://www.iisd.org; http://news.cnet.com; http://wiki.answers.com;

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Global Warming & Climate Change, My Thoughts

 

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Green Business Ideas: Greening the Solar RE raw material supply chain.


 A hyperpure polycrystalline single-crystal silicon by the Czochralski process. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Human race has gone through many ages. The Stone AgeIron Age … and now the Wind & Solar Age (Crystalline Silicone Age ) has begun. And in every age each action has had a reaction. The reason for worry, to put it simply – the stone age guy had lots of resources and very little impact on Earth by his action, while for the RE -age guy the opposite holds true.

Solar Panels, which is predicted as the next messiah along with its other RE counterparts  needs a closer scrutiny from the perspective of what it is manufactured from. Simply because a wrong policy would kill the initiative before it truly matures from the nascent stage it is today. And nothing would give the detractors of RE more pleasure than seeing the premature death of the promising “One”.

Silicon : The chemical compound silicon dioxide, also known as silica (from the Latin silex), is an oxide of silicon with the chemical formula SiO2. It has been known for its hardness since antiquity. Silica is most commonly found in nature as sand or quartz, as well as in the cell walls of diatoms.

Uses: Silicon dioxide is used to produce elemental silicon. The process involves high temperature reduction with elemental carbon in an electric arc furnace.The most prevalent bulk material for solar cells is crystalline silicon (abbreviated as a group as c-Si), also known as “solar grade silicon”. Bulk silicon is separated into multiple categories according to crystallinity and crystal size in the resulting ingot, ribbon, or wafer.

Types:

  1. monocrystalline silicon (c-Si): often made using the Czochralski process. Single-crystal wafer cells tend to be expensive, and because they are cut from cylindrical ingots, do not completely cover a square solar cell module without a substantial waste of refined silicon. Hence most c-Si panels have uncovered gaps at the four corners of the cells.
  2. polycrystalline silicon, or multicrystalline silicon, (poly-Si or mc-Si): made from cast square ingots — large blocks of molten silicon carefully cooled and solidified. Poly-Si cells are less expensive to produce than single crystal silicon cells, but are less efficient. United States Department of Energy data show that there were a higher number of polycrystalline sales than monocrystalline silicon sales.
  3. ribbon silicon is a type of polycrystalline silicon: it is formed by drawing flat thin films from molten silicon and results in a polycrystalline structure. These cells have lower efficiencies than poly-Si, but save on production costs due to a great reduction in silicon waste, as this approach does not require sawing from ingots.

Health: Inhaling finely divided crystalline silica dust in very small quantities (OSHA allows 0.1 mg/m3) over time can lead to silicosis, bronchitis, or cancer, as the dust becomes lodged in the lungs and continuously irritates them, reducing lung capacities. However a study which followed subjects for 15 years found that higher levels of silica in water appeared to decrease the risk of dementia. The study found that with an increase of 10 milligram-per-day of the intake of silica in drinking water, the risk of dementia dropped by 11%.

That ends our brief introduction on the most common form of material being used to make Solar Photovoltaic Panels. Now we will understand what does CIGS stand for.

Copper indium gallium selenide (CuIn1-xGaxSe2 or CIGS) is a direct bandgap semiconductor useful for the manufacture of solar cells. Because the material strongly absorbs sunlight, a much thinner film is required than of other semiconductor materials. The CIGS absorber is deposited on a glass backing, along with electrodes to collect current. CIGS’s absorption coefficient is higher than any other semiconductor used for solar modules. Devices made with CIGS belong to the thin-film category of photovoltaics (PV). The market for thin-film PV grew at a 60% annual rate from 2002 to 2007 and is still growing rapidly. Therefore, a strong incentive exists to develop and improve deposition methods for these films that will allow lower cost and increased throughput.

Now having understood the process, what we must look at are the methods of obtaining these minerals. While we may be extolling the virtues of  Solar Photo Voltaic, we must also keep an eye at the process of extraction, refinement and delivery of the basic raw materials that go into production of these wonderful RE tool. In effect we must map the complete manufacturing process and see to it that every time it is sustainable all the way. The question which then rises is, are we doing it ? Because as in other sectors and industry, the fact that the total supply chain must be green and sustainable is gaining traction and the RE industry, which is supposed to be the messiah should look into that aspect too.

Chemical Processing Equipment at a Poly-Silico...

Chemical Processing Equipment at a Poly-Silicon Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The raw materials that go into making a solar photo voltaic panel starting with raking & tracking system, cabling, inverter and batteries and ending with the voltaic panels are a huge list. Most of them are mined, some like gallium are  recovered from the by-products of zinc refining, Bauxite and the mineral sphalerite, as well as coal, often contain gallium as an impurity. No gallium is mined; it is obtained as a by-product of mining and processing other metals, notably aluminium, zinc and copper, and is produced in any nation that produces these metals.Therefore to get gallium we need all these mines and the problems associated with these will have a direct bearing on Solar PV.

Silica sand is the major raw material used by foundries for making moulds to pour molten metal to cast the intricate metal components for use in practically all industrial sectors. This too is the basic raw material for the most popular and efficient Mono & Poly crystalline Solar PV.

India is mineral-rich. Approximately 24 types of minerals, including iron, bauxite, copper, chromite, gold, lead, manganese, zinc and coal, are found in nearly 50 percent of its total landmass of 3.20 million sq km.  But the main concentrations of this mineral wealth happens to fall in the ecologically rich, tribal-inhabited areas of south, central and north-eastern India that has suffered neglect say environmentalists and development activists. Then there are various emerging issues with mining that can be associated with cultural or industrial factors or trends, such as changes in commodity demand, workforce, or technology. Health and safety is also becoming a major issue in all countries.

It is therefore important that the sunrise industry look into sourcing most of its material from recycled materials. If it starts early, nearly 50% of its raw materials can be sourced from recycled material and this would in effect reduce the over all cost. In time as the industry matures, the older generation panels would itself feed into the raw-material chain.

To achieve this, industry captains need to pause and think in the direction of sustainable supply chain and the Climatologist could surely help with a nudge.

 

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Solar PV – Record Efficiency reported.


Photovoltaic cells produce electricity directl...
Image via Wikipedia

A company called First Solar has just raised the bar for every other photovoltaic cell manufacturer by setting a record for PV efficiency. First solar, among other things, makes cadmium-telluride (CdTe) solar cells and increased their efficiency to 17.3-percent.

According to First Solar, “…it set a new world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) solar cell efficiency, reaching 17.3 percent with a test cell constructed using commercial-scale manufacturing equipment and materials. The test cell’s performance, confirmed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), far surpassed the previous record of 16.7 percent set in 2001 … The average efficiency of First Solar modules produced in the first quarter of 2011 was 11.7 percent, up from 11.1 percent a year earlier, and the company has recorded full-module efficiencies over 13.5 percent, with a 13.4 percent module confirmed by NREL. First Solar’s module efficiency roadmap sets a goal for production-module efficiencies of 13.5-14.5 percent by the end of 2014.

Now, this may not sound like a big deal on first glance, but from early 2011 to mid- 2011, First Solar has increased the efficiency of its solar cells from 11.7-percent to 17.3-percent which is a huge leap for an industry that measures itself by one-tenth of a percent increments.

Look, if you’ve read this far then this means I have you a little excited with this news. But, there is even bigger news in breakthrough solar technology. Just two days ago a startup in Santa Clara, California called Alta Devices scored a huge victory by upping its thin-film gallium-arsenide cell to 28.3-percent efficiency.

According to ieee Spectrum, “The key to achieving the record was photon recycling. When the photons in sunlight are absorbed in a photovoltaic material, they split into an electron and a hole. The electrons that pass out of the cell can be used as electricity, but many of them are lost in the semiconductor when they recombine with a hole to produce either waste heat or a new photon. By carefully growing a high-quality single crystal of gallium arsenide, the company managed to ensure that more than 99 percent of the recombination would result in new photons.”

Both of these breakthroughs are exciting developments in the field of solar energy. We are at a tipping point my friend where efficiency goes up and cost comes down to a price that is starting to make solar energy competitive with fossil fuels.

Originally Posted on green tech gazette. Posted by Kevin Green, September 8, 2011

 
 

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