Carbon-capture tech., lithium mining topics of two televised reports

This past weekend on both Saturday (Apr. 29, 2023) and Sunday (Apr. 30, 2023), I watched two of what I thought were powerful, made-for-television programs.

The first “In Real Life,” the Mining for Clean Power, episode, and first aired on the Scripps News network on May 15, 2022, dealt with one aspect of the renewable energy boom: Natural resource mining. The feature was narrated by reporter Zach Toombs.

The second was broadcast on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday (the evening of Apr. 30th); its second of three separate segments. The so-called “evening-news-magazine” Out of Thin Air presentation had to do with taking carbon out of the air. That segment, incidentally, was hosted/narrated by none other than Bill Whitaker, a veteran reporter working for CBS.

Both topics were covered quite comprehensively and, it seemed that the segment reporters, at least from what I could tell, didn’t miss a beat.

So, let’s now get to the nitty gritty of each covered topic.

Mining lithium

Much of today’s technology runs on electricity. Those products considered mobile or portable in nature require batteries. The minerals needed for battery manufacture are many; cobalt, copper, lithium and nickel among them. It is a well-known fact that fires connected with lithium-ion batteries are possible. But, the bigger, more important issue grabbing media attention and making headlines these days has to do with the environmental fallout that, in certain circumstances, has been highly problematic regarding the way a number of said minerals needed for battery manufacture are mined.

Toombs, in the “In Real Life” production in question, made reference to the South American country of Chile, which, purportedly, contains the world’s largest deposit of lithium. Also so-referenced was the Australian-headquartered Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) company that has established a combined lithium-extracting-and-processing and power-generating facility located in this case in the Salton Sea area in southern California’s Imperial Valley.

“CTR anticipates the completion of its Stage 1 geothermal operation and the commencement of 25,000 metric tonnes of lithium hydroxide production in late 2024,” the company wrote in a Mar. 20, 2023 news release. “At total production capacity, CTR expects to deliver 1,100 MW [megawatts] of clean, renewable power and over 300,000 metric tons of lithium products annually, establishing Hell’s Kitchen [in California’s Imperial Valley] as the world’s largest and most sustainable lithium and power development.”

News that’s both very exciting and very promising.

Air-carbon capture

The Sunday evening (Apr. 30, 2023) story broadcast in this case on the CBS network covered, in considerable detail, carbon-dioxide capture.

Direct-air capture (DAC) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) capabilities were the feature highlights. (Editor’s note: There are several posts here on the Air Quality Matters blog covering these aspects of carbon-dioxide-extraction-from-air techniques specifically).

Interest in the capability appears to be growing and it would also seem that significant expansion in the numbers of these installations is in the offing. All of this, of course, is good news.

Referenced in the Out of Thin Air episode also, meanwhile, was one “big-oil” interest; it too having an interest, apparently.

A key point brought up centered on injecting carbon dioxide (captured from air) into oil wells for the express purpose of creating increased extracted oil-yield opportunities from said oil wells.

The representative oil-company executive interviewed on-air insisted that, at the end of the day, in utilizing said process(es), released are fewer carbon emissions when the so-extracted oil (refined into the form of petroleum, presumably) in question is combusted, at least, this was my takeaway, anyway.

One other point raised in the same segment catching my attention was the idea that there exists the possibility of abuse within the CCS and/or DAC realms. With the prospect of these capabilities becoming viable and effective air-carbon removal and storage or reuse practices and processes, little or no regard could be paid with respect to the quantities of carbon dioxide being allowed to enter air, and, if that were to be the situation and become, say, the order of the day, such could lead to greater and greater CO2 amounts filling the atmosphere, this thus becoming an ethical issue.

Outstanding reporting and then some

All in all, the two topics covered, not only were they important, relevant and apropos, but the on-air reporting thereof was both well-done and thorough.

Last updated on Jun. 3, 2023 at 5:54 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

⁃ Alan Kandel

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Corresponding, connected home-page-entry image: Pearson Scott Foresman