Analyst Says Australian Lithium Needs To Get Greener

Australian lithium mining and carbon intensity

Australia has lots of lithium. Unfortunately due to the nature of the deposits, it takes a lot of energy to process into a form suitable for batteries. Luckily there are solutions to this problem.

I feel undeservedly lucky, that in the worst bushfire summer imaginable, fires came no closer than about 5 km from the little patch of bush I inhabit.

The bushfire crisis brought home a fearful truth: climate change is no longer a worrying future – it’s here and now, and we have to decarbonise sooner than we hoped.

In the energy market, that has started – and is accelerating. Sunwiz just reported that in December 2019, all Australia’s mainland states broke records for new PV installs. With 220MW installed in December, that leaves Australia with 10.2GW of solar power capacity nationwide.

Transport, however, remains stubbornly wedded to fossil fuel. Although The Driven was able to trumpet record EV sales in Australia in 2019 (in an otherwise tanking new motor vehicle market), it amounted to a mere 3,000 vehicles.

Battery-Grade Lithium: The Achilles’ Heel Of EVs

Clearly the world needs to decarbonise transport, fast – but here a paradox emerges: while electric vehicles emit less CO2 than internal combustion engine vehicles, their contribution is non-zero, and the growth in EV sales worldwide could spike vehicle manufacture emissions.

Why? As Jade Cove Partners analyst Alex Grant explained in this LinkedIn post, it’s because the old way of extracting lithium – evaporation ponds, mostly in Chile – has neither the supply reliability nor the scale to meet the EV market’s needs.

As a result, battery manufacturers have switched to a different source for their lithium:

“Major lithium producers like Ganfeng, Albemarle, SQM, and Tianqi have turned to spodumene ‘hard rock’ deposits in Australia”, Grant writes.

There’s Australia’s persistent inability to grab its own opportunities again – the carbon footprint of transporting ore to China is horrible. While there are projects underway as we reported last year, they’re in their early stages. Last August, Albermarle cut $2.2 billion from its Australian investment plans, and in November it acquired and then closed the Wodinga lithium mine.

The spodumene is refined into lithium hydroxide for battery manufacture, and based on modelling using America’s Argonne National Laboratory’s life cycle model, that’s problematic in terms of CO2 output. Grant states the energy input is expensive and if the energy inputs can’t be decarbonised, the EVs at the end of the supply chain will have trouble in markets like the EU.

Australia, You’re Missing An Opportunity

Right now, Jade Partners estimates processing Australian spodumene in China has a carbon impact of 14.8 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of lithium hydroxide, while Portugese spodumene sent to China involves 15.1 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of lithium hydroxide. As you can see in the image below, published in the Jade Partners post, that’s at least twice the carbon intensity of battery grade lithium from brine.

Lithium carbon intensity of different sources

Relative carbon intensity of different lithium sources. Source: Jade Cove Partners

Grant writes that mining, roasting of the spodumene concentrate, and chemical conversion are the factors resulting in elevated CO2 intensity of lithium hydroxide. In addition, in terms of CO2 emissions, China is the worst place in the world to carry out the processing.

While EVs retain their whole-of-life advantage over ICEs, he wrote:

“just because the Australian spodumene-Chinese conversion LiOH•H2O supply chain was developed to meet demand in a 2010s “lithium rush”, doesn’t mean that such high CO2 intensity (and high cost) approaches should be deployed further as the lithium market grows”.

What that means, he concludes, is lithium batteries that historically only contributed 4% of the embedded CO2 in an EV will contribute as much as 30% in the future if the industry doesn’t get serious about decarbonising lithium processing and battery manufacture.

It Can Be Done …

The good news is there are pathways to decarbonisation. One Grant highlighted are projects in the USA and Germany:

“geothermal-lithium projects that use advanced direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies paired with low CO2 intense power/heat from geothermal energy production”.

If successful, such projects would eliminate both the mining of spodumene and the fossil fuel inputs needed for processing.

The other is to find “unconventional” sources of lithium:

“like sedimentary materials which do not require roasting, but do require H2SO4. Sulfur can be burned on site to produce H2SO4 and low CO2 intense power/heat produced to facilitate energy-intense lithium processing similar to the geothermal-lithium case.”

And, of course, the lower the carbon inputs into a country’s electricity generation, the lower the carbon inputs in conversion. We’d love to see the kind of entrepreneurial enthusiasm that’s backing renewable electricity export projects turned towards Australia’s potential as a low-carbon lithium powerhouse.

Also, Grant added:

“Institutional investors, especially those in Europe, should fund new lithium projects which may be able to produce veritably (quantified) low or negative carbon intensity LiOH•H2O products.”

About Richard Chirgwin

Richard Chirgwin is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience covering a wide range of technology topics, including electronics, telecommunications, computing and science.

Comments

  1. Too little, too late. In a ‘closed system’ the only option is to capture/store carbon. We can’t ‘reduce’ it. In (lotsa!) time much carbon may end up back where it was captured/stored (trees/oceans/etc) before we clever homosaps came along and couldn’t resist tampering with it. (and even if Ma Nature offered us a short-term ‘solution’ we’d be too clever by half to accept it ~ as the record shows.
    We’ll probably go down kicking and screaming ~ but there’s no doubt we’re headed for extinction. And the sooner the better as far as the rest of the planet and it’s inhabitants are concerned. (Stephen Hawking gave us “perhaps” 1000 years. ( For perspective:about the age of an average mother-in-law!)
    Within the restricted parameters of our ‘normal’ lifetimes our best hope is to adapt to the changes. King Canute shouldn’t have made the effort of carting his throne down to the beach: he’d’ve done better to to take a Rubber Duckie!

  2. ps…..I think the term is ‘go with the flow’.

  3. don’t blame climate change, blame gross mismanagement on state governments and their employees responsible for park management or lack off, we are in drought, something that has happened before and will happen again,climate is always changing,

    • John Mitchell says

      While it’s difficult to pin any one climate event on climate change, the Australian bush fires are exactly what the climate science predicts. More extreme events, more often. I also dispute the gross mismanagement claim – where do you get that from? What happened was an inability to back burn because conditions were just too dry to do it safely. Massive fuel loads that were simply impractical to reduce. Almost zero water to stop the bush from drying up.
      The two worst droughts Australia has ever experienced back to back. A bush fire season that is longer and more intense than any on record. Fires on an unprecedented scale.
      Yes climate is always changing – but never on a time-frame like this before. Previously it took hundreds of thousands of years, not hundreds of years. And unfortunately hundreds of years is still beyond human lifespans so it’s easy to say “climate has always changed” rather than look at the actual science.

      • You’re mixing and mashing a bunch of things there. Fuel loads are so clearly the direct issue with why the fires themselves were so intense – ignoring for a moment the arson factor in why many arose in the first place (nothing to do with climate change). There have been many many recommendations from previous RCs that highlighted the need for fuel load management – by state governments. And all these major fires started on public land; i.e parks and forests. There’s no excuse for those recommendations for not being followed, regardless of conditions. Simply not doing it doesn’t shift the blame to climate change.
        The drought cannot be pinned to climate change. The IPCC and others acknowledge this. The IOD and its extent is generally acknowledged as the predominant factor in our very long drought. So the extreme dryness of that burgeoning fuel load is not a climate change issue.
        Also it’s worth acknowledging that despite the extended hot season, bushfire ‘experts’ generally acknowledge that ambient air temperatures aren’t directly related to the likelihood of fires starting, nor propagating.
        So there are numerous issues that interact, but trying to draw a straight line through them all that leads to ‘climate change’ is disingenuous.

        • Geoff Miell says

          Ralph,
          You state:
          “The IOD and its extent is generally acknowledged as the predominant factor in our very long drought.”

          The IOD seems to be only positively very high in 2019. How does this explain (as you say) “our very long drought”? Australian mean temperatures have been consistently higher over the last decade. Sydney’s water supply has been rapidly declining since 2017.
          See: https://www.waternsw.com.au/__data/assets/image/0009/152658/GS_Thurs_1601.JPG

          I’d suggest the ferocity of this season’s bushfires is due to ongoing higher temperatures over the last decade and a lack of rain/moisture over the last few years, causing the vegetation/’fuel loads’ to become very dry and therefore very easily combustible. I’d suggest the underlying driver for this is the escalating effects of dangerous climate change primarily due to continuing and increasing human-induced GHG emissions.
          See my comment: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/fossil-fuel-bushfire-recovery-mb1358/#comment-598308

          You also state:
          “Also it’s worth acknowledging that despite the extended hot season, bushfire ‘experts’ generally acknowledge that ambient air temperatures aren’t directly related to the likelihood of fires starting, nor propagating.”

          Do you have a link, Ralph, so that we can see what ‘they’ actually said/stated? Who are these “bushfire ‘experts'”?

          I’d suggest you view: [Australia fires: Debunking ‘arson emergency’ claims – BBC News] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDvmAMsYwNY

          You finish with:
          “So there are numerous issues that interact, but trying to draw a straight line through them all that leads to ‘climate change’ is disingenuous.”

          Ralph, it seems to me you are a climate science denier. When are you going to wake-up to reality, Ralph?
          See my comment: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/climate-attitudes-australia-mb1369/#comment-597793

          • Like the old adage about using Hitler in a debate, Geoff, I say whomever starts accusing the other of being a ‘denier’ is more interested in dogma and politics than in the reality and practical outcomes.

          • Geoff Miell says

            Ralph (Re: your comment Jan 23 at 11:02am)
            You say:
            “…I say whomever starts accusing the other of being a ‘denier’ is more interested in dogma and politics than in the reality and practical outcomes.”

            And yet it seems to me you offer no explanations or evidence to support your statements and apparently just regurgitate climate science denying rhetoric.

            It appears to me (even when I’ve challenged) you won’t engage at all in arguing your case with any evidence. It suggests to me you are the one more interested in “dogma and politics”.

            In the YouTube video referred in my previous comment, from about time interval 2:15, one fire expert – Victoria’s fire chief – said:
            “…the reality is we’ve had fire down a landscape here that has had burns go right through it and it hasn’t slowed it up at all and so the emotive argument is not supported that fuel reduction burning on a large-scale will fix all our problems…”

            And the NSW RFS Comissioner is saying (re proscribed burns):
            “…we are waiting for the window of opportunity…”

            So, Ralph, I think I have a larger body of evidence to support my statements. What do you have, Ralph – apparently baseless, hollow, ill-informed rhetoric?

            What are your suggestions for “practical outcomes”, Ralph? Do you have any evidence-based ones?

          • Since the website appears to not allow me to reply to your comment of 23 Jan, 11:02am in sequence, I must insert it here.

            Firstly, Geoff, let’s just acknowledge then, since you casually ignored my challenge, that it was you, and usually is from your side of the argument about strategic implications of bushfires, to start throwing names (‘denier’) around.

            You’ve selectively picked one authority to try bolster your case, but you’re being disingenuous, Geoff. His words include “…will fix all our problems…” No-one is saying, Geoff, including me, that controlled burning is the single solution to preventing the scale and ferocity of fires. However, logically, and with the advice of other authorities, it’s a major one, and it’s failure to be successfully managed for various reasons appears to predominantly explain why these fires were so fierce. Clearly from the fire chief’s own words, he also isn’t saying that controlled burning shouldn’t be considered a necessary or key risk mitigation technique.

            Bushfire research scientist Dr Neil Burrows, who has been working in the WA bushfire scene since the 1970s, supports the position I advocated in my original comment.

            “Bushfires get their severity, or their intensity, or their killing power from how much fuel they burn. Prescribed burning removes some of that [fuel],” Dr Burrows says. What a sensible and perfectly logical analysis, don’t you agree, Geoff? I imagine even the Victoria fire chief would agree with that.

            He further states: “We’ve been prescribed burning for 60 years and on analysing the data we can see a very strong trend between how much prescribed burning we do and how much bushfire there is.”

            Call my opinions based upon the advice from a research scientist ‘hollow rhetoric’ if you like, Geoff, but I won’t return the childish name calling, and I’ll stick to my logic and science-based opinions thanks.

          • Geoff Miell says

            Max (Re: your comment Jan 24 at 3:00pm):
            You state:
            “Since the website appears to not allow me to reply to your comment of 23 Jan, 11:02am in sequence, I must insert it here.”

            What comment of mine of 23 Jan 11:02am? I’d suggest that was Ralph’s comment, not mine.

            You then state:
            “Firstly, Geoff, let’s just acknowledge then, since you casually ignored my challenge…”

            What challenge, Max? I only see what is allowed through moderation. I can’t read your mind, Max.

            You then state:
            “No-one is saying, Geoff, including me, that controlled burning is the single solution to preventing the scale and ferocity of fires.”

            Well, it seems to me that Ralph is suggesting it. He states (Jan 22 at 7:17pm):
            “Fuel loads are so clearly the direct issue with why the fires themselves were so intense…”

            I’ll repeat what I stated in response to Ralph’s comments:
            “I’d suggest the ferocity of this season’s bushfires is due to ongoing higher temperatures over the last decade and a lack of rain/moisture over the last few years, causing the vegetation/’fuel loads’ to become very dry and therefore very easily combustible. I’d suggest the underlying driver for this is the escalating effects of dangerous climate change primarily due to continuing and increasing human-induced GHG emissions.”

            You refer to comments by Dr Neil Burrows. You accuse me of: “selectively picked one authority to try bolster your case”. Aren’t you doing the thing you are accusing me of, Max?

            An ABC article, dated 13 Sep 2018, refers to “Bushfire research scientist Neil Burrows”, but it also refers to other expert opinion. The article includes:
            “Today the main arguments against prescribed burning are that it does not help reduce the damaging impacts of bushfires, and/or that it causes problems for biodiversity.”
            See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-13/is-the-prescribed-burn-window-closing-in-australia/10236048

            My point is the escalating effects of dangerous climate change will make prescribed burning increasingly ineffective in future. The windows of opportunity for prescribed burning will become less and less to eventually non-existent in the coming decades. Therefore we (the human species) need to deal effectively with the root causes of dangerous climate change, and that means (per the evidence I see) we need to rapidly reduce human-induced GHG emissions within this decade (i.e. 50% reduction by 2030, and no emissions by 2050). The rest is window dressing. We are facing an existential threat. Do you agree, Max, or do you deny it?
            See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-24/doomsday-clock-moves-closest-to-midnight-in-73-year-history/11896294

            You finish with:
            “Call my opinions based upon the advice from a research scientist ‘hollow rhetoric’ if you like, Geoff…”

            IMO, you are being selective in the scientific advice you choose to accept.
            [Neil deGrasse Tyson scolds cherry picking climate science]

        • WRONG RALPH!–> “Fuel loads are so clearly the direct issue with why the fires themselves were so intense.”
          You, along with the herd of self-appointed media/bar-room ‘experts’ have obviously never been ‘up close and personal’ with a wall of fire moving at speed and roaring like a jumbo-jet take-off.
          I can assure you there were NO fuel-loads in Marysville or Kinglake in 2009, nor in Canberra in 2003 ~ among a few dozen other examples… like Mallacoota, etc. more recently.
          I fought my first serious bushfire in 1962 on the outskirts of Melbourne (dozens dead and hundreds of houses destroyed) , and my most recent one in East Gippy a couple of weeks ago.
          And I Iived in the forest on the outskirts of Marysville, in a muddy surrounded by native forest, a 400-ton woodpile and domestic vegetation/gardens. One reason my house survived unscathed was that (by pure chance!) a dense wall of NON-fuel-reduced kiwi-fruit protected my front wall, made entirely of glass. (A mate’s house in the town, similarly constructed, went off like a bomb when radiant heat shattered the glass and admitted the flames.)
          Never mind the shiny-arsed ‘experts’ and Royal Commission Wanks, the documented facts time and again demonstrate that the fiercest and most unstoppable fires occur in ‘managed’ (ie tampered-with ~ including ‘fuel-reduced’ ) state forests and towns. The ‘UNmanaged’ national parks usually fare much better.. (Though indications are that that’s changing too ~ probably , from a pragmatic perspective, indicating a link between fire-ferocity and climate-change which is definitely happening.

          • Thanks Jackson. And from someone who knows.
            Can we, instead of making fire breaks of nothing throughout the forests, can we plant fire-resistant species? Not necessarily kiwi fruit…
            And what of the traditional aboriginal methods of forest management? I note they dont clear everything and just leave the most volatile of species.

            After the Canberra fores (2003) I was walking along one of the areas badly burnt by the fires. Eucalypts were in a lot of cases, completely destroyed – down to ash.
            But what surpirsed me was the survival of green trees – oaks, birch, and even some poplars, in amonst the destroyed eicalypts. This was not in an area of high moisture, and no way would any of the trees in the area be watered by anything other than rain.

          • …. and ps. It used to be that about HALF of all bushfires were the result of escaped ‘fuel-reduction’ burns* official or otherwise.. Dunno what the figure is these days, but DO remember hearing on the news that several of fires at one point threatening Sydney recently were the result of such misadventure.

            *The 1939 fires (Black Friday) were largely the result of (expert) rural-dwellers ~ on seeing smoke in the distance ~ chucking fire-brands over their back fences to ward off the fire. (To this day many ‘expert’ commentators ~particularly those on the radio, like Peta Credlin ~ don’t understand the difference between ‘fuel-reduction burns’ and ‘backburns’.

          • Hello Jackson, thanks for your thoughtful, broad ranging comments. Regards your putdown of me not having been up close to the flames, your experience in fighting fires themselves is – with all respect – irrelevant to a strategic consideration of what is happening to make them worse, as so many people are saying, than previous fires. Forgive me if on this issue I pay most attention to people who have researched the issues, many as they are, rather than yourself.
            I do agree with your sentiment regards the use of the right trees to shield structures from radiant heat, which as you describe, can have such critical effect in whether a structure is lost. Clearly our beloved eucalypts are just fuel bombs when the fire hits them.
            You appear to be saying that fuel loads have no impact on the ferocity of a bushfire, and cite the ‘documented facts time and again demonstrate that the fiercest and most unstoppable fires occur in ‘managed’ (ie tampered-with ~ including ‘fuel-reduced’ ) state forests and towns. The ‘UNmanaged’ national parks usually fare much better..’ Perhaps you could point us to where those documented facts can be found for our interest.
            I have friends on Kangaroo Island who lost their properties. They advise that they had been warning council for years that the unmanaged fuel loads and restrictions on clearing were a clear danger that they had recognise and dreaded. And those fears were borne out. I’d like to see you tell them that fuel loads have nothing to do with it.
            Aside from just one researcher I cited in a previous contribution regards the significance of fuel loads to bushfire risk, I recall especially a PhD researcher in the field (unfortunately her name escapes me – an article appeared in a major paper a few months back that referenced her work and quoted her). She said she had undertake a study (for her PhD) of all major fires in Australia this century. She had reviewed all the relevant facts, circumstances, and trends. She identified clear trends that pointed to the growing risks, and what could be done to mitigate them. Fuel loads were a substantive part of that ‘equation’, significant because the Native Vegetation Act and council management of state parks and forests was leading to fuel loads increasing. Climate change is another. (And for the record, to address a sneering insult from Geoff previously, I believe we are seeing climate change. But I don’t subscribe to attributing everything, such as these fires, to it.) And the extended drought of course made their risk even higher. She said based on her research the scale and ferocity of the fires we have seen this season was entirely predictable. She has advised every Royal Commission into major bushfires over the last few decades. Her advice has been totally ignored.
            Have a great day.

          • Geoff Miell says

            Ralph (Re your comment on Jan 28 at 2:03pm),
            You state:
            “Forgive me if on this issue I pay most attention to people who have researched the issues, many as they are, rather than yourself.”

            And yet it’s apparent to me you cannot name/identify any of the people you “pay most attention to” or provide links to any. Why is that, Ralph? Would that perhaps be revealing too much of your biased influences? Something to hide, Ralph?

            You continue (in response to Jackson) with:
            “You appear to be saying that fuel loads have no impact on the ferocity of a bushfire…”

            Perhaps you didn’t read (or ignored?) my earlier reply to you (Jan 24 at 11:13am) where I quoted Victoria’s fire chief saying: “…had burns go right through it and it hasn’t slowed it up at all…”, IMO meaning fuel loads, whether they have been substantially reduced or not, has had little effect on moderating the wildfire ferocities. In other words, prescribed burns are not the panacea.
            See also: https://www.smh.com.au/national/hazard-reduction-burns-are-not-the-panacea-rfs-boss-20200108-p53poq.html

            IMO, Jackson’s observations appear to be consistent with what the fire experts I’ve referred to are saying.

            You also state:
            “Aside from just one researcher I cited in a previous contribution regards the significance of fuel loads to bushfire risk…”

            What “one researcher”, Ralph? What “previous contribution”, Ralph? I don’t see you in this thread anywhere explicitly citing anyone or any research. IMO, it’s all so vague! Why won’t you reveal your sources of information, Ralph?

            You then follow with:
            “…I recall especially a PhD researcher in the field (unfortunately her name escapes me – an article appeared in a major paper a few months back that referenced her work and quoted her).”

            How convenient “her name escapes” you, Ralph? It means we cannot identify what “her work” is to view and make our own assessments about it – we can only get your abridged interpretation. Why won’t you name the “major paper”, Ralph? Why can’t you explicitly cite any scientific (or non-scientific) work you “pay most attention to”, Ralph? Your comments are devoid of ANY specific and verifiable references.

            And then you state:
            “Fuel loads were a substantive part of that ‘equation’, significant because the Native Vegetation Act and council management of state parks and forests was leading to fuel loads increasing.”

            Yet in your previous comment (at Jan 22 at 7:17pm) you state:
            “Fuel loads are so clearly the direct issue with why the fires themselves were so intense…”

            IMO, “substantive part” does not have the same meaning as “the direct issue”. Ralph, have you had a change in position, or are you just being inconsistent with your word usage?

            In your previous comment (at Jan 22 at 7:17pm) you state:
            “So there are numerous issues that interact, but trying to draw a straight line through them all that leads to ‘climate change’ is disingenuous.”

            Your latest comment includes:
            “…I believe we are seeing climate change. But I don’t subscribe to attributing everything, such as these fires, to it.”

            IMO, these are more inconsistencies. What you stated earlier are apparently inconsistent with what you have stated more recently.

            It suggests to me perhaps you are wrestling with cognitive dissonance? Ralph, perhaps you are coming to the realization the “major paper” (you won’t name so far) is not adequately informing you of the real situation?

            Better late than never to wake-up to reality, but don’t leave it too late, Ralph.
            See my comment: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/bushfire-smoke-deaths/#comment-593139

            I suspect business is waking-up. Recently published by Breakthrough is a discussion paper by Paul Gilding titled “Climate Contagion: 2020-2025”, that outlines four factors that are shifting market sentiment. See: https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/papers
            It seems this first appeared in Dec 2019 here: https://paulgilding.com/2019/12/13/climate-contagion-2020-2025/

          • Well-reasoned comments, Ralph; I’ll try to be brief.
            Firstly, since we’re all agreed that Climate Change exists/has effects (ask any polar-bear), and that fires are becoming more ferocious/unstoppable, can mean only that (a) these two factors are related, or (b) that they are pure coincidence.
            The bulk of the research you cite has been made by people who work with the same ‘documented/reported’ sources. Think ‘Chinese Whispers’, which, even if they were accurate observations at one point, have lost any real claim to ‘factuality’ per se. And I note that the ‘numbers’ of people saying the same thing has bearing NO bearing on facts (and the ‘truth’) of the matter. History in any sphere demonstrates that the reverse is most often the case. (one example is your casual remark that “our beloved eucalypts are just fuel bombs when the fire hits them.” The man at the fire-front will tell you that the released protective ‘eucalypt-vapour’ is what goes off like a bomb ~ and most often before the tree catches fire.
            Aside:- in the 1962 fires we had virtually no resources, least of all reticulated water, and I recall several of us clinging to the back of a Caltex petrol-tanker full of water racing down the hill and outpaced by the highest flames ~ ABOVE the trees, which only caught on fire after the initial ‘flame-wave’ had passed. I’ve seen the phenomenon since, but NEVER heard it described/explained by a ‘strategic researcher’.
            Nobody would deny that ‘fuel-loads’ make a difference, but not NEARLY to the extent claimed by chair-polishing ‘experts’ or radio commentators, etc. Moreover, ‘opposition experts’ are more recently cited (in the media) as contradicting the ‘popular view’. But the reality is that (depending on several factors) ground-cover can actually retard a fire’s progress*: I’ve seen it happen often and can go into detail if you liken. But there ARE indisputable changes to the ferocity encountered with each new event. (Rainforest/similar used to be virtually fireproof, but don’t seem to be so any more. That’s the sort of thing that cleary suggests other factors at play. ‘Climate change’.
            In conclusion pertinent to ‘fuel-reduction’ thing (and without wishing to be unkind) one could suggest that to save entire towns being burned down, at the start of each fire season every fifth house should be torched to decrease the ferocity of the fire-threat to the others. I know….. but it’s as silly as suggesting that ‘fuel-reducing’ 10% of forest at random would alleviate the sort of thing we’ve witnessed recently. It DOESN’T take a ferocious fire: one single burning ember can turn a house into a fire-bomb in minutes. (And I vaguely recall reports that embers from the 1962 fire near Melbourne were landing in Tasmania.)
            Sorry to disrupt a blog about solar power ~ if you want more get back to me by email. [email protected]

          • Hi again Jackson, happy to continue here, regardless of the further risk of Geoff chiming in with sniping and churlish personal attacks. (I hope this appears as a reply to your latest – hard to tell when trying to ‘reply’)
            Regards your very first comments in response, and notwithstanding your cynicism for research in this area, nonetheless you may be interested in studies done by the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (funded by the United Kingdom and European Commission). They have produced a summary of what the Fifth Assessment of the IPCC concluded about the risks of wildfires (bushfires for us), including placing conclusions into context of more recent peer-reviewed literature. The report in full if you’re interested is at: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GL080959
            They conclude that, “Detection and attribution of global fire activity to anthropogenic climate change is confounded by influences of other anthropogenic activities such as land‐cover change, population, and fire suppression as well as temporally limited satellite‐based fire records.”
            However, the emergence of that impact has only been detected in ~22% of the world’s burnable land area, according to a recent study by John Abatzoglou and colleagues.
            In the Abatzoglou study, the 22% of the burnable land area where detection of the role of human-caused climate change has been achieved includes the Amazon, Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Western North America. It does not include Siberia or Australia.
            In other words, the role of human-caused climate change in Australian bushfires has not yet been detected. The apparent lesson from this is that jumping to conclusions that this fire season’s ferocity is evidence of the effects of climate change isn’t borne out by research. We’ll see if analysis after this season changes that, but nonetheless any opinion for now stating certainty that this is climate change manifesting as bushfires is really premature, and may not be proved.
            Regards the eucalypts, yes I do understand the phenomenon you describe, which I didn’t feel necessary to detail in the point I was trying to make.
            Just to clarify, when I talk about addressing fuel loads, the focus is on vegetation and dead material at ground level, not universally removing all growth including trees. Fuel loads are critical because once a bushfire ignites its patterns are determined by weather, topography and fuel, but of course our only options to mitigate in advance are through fuel management. That’s not including other measures like fire breaks, access trails etc etc. Despite the Victorian fire chief saying that some fires had still raced through areas where controlled burning had occurred, and that therefore controlled burns aren’t a ‘panacea’ for risk mitigation, that comment should be seen in the context of extreme fires that had developed under the prevailing conditions. It wasn’t a universal assessment that controlled burns aren’t a key risk mitigation factor, nor under less extreme circumstances a critical factor in how or if bushfires become extreme in the first place.
            I understand well about the burning ember issue you mention. I was in Canberra for the 2003 fire, and remember seeing ash falling around us for days in advance of the ‘main event’, and every now and then one would still have a glow to it. That’s when I really started getting worried. A friend elsewhere lost the roof of his house because of the same effect you described of a fireball racing through the tops of trees down his street. He was outside working when it happened – there was no warning. What he described was terrifying. He said he heard a weird sound, looked up, and a fireball was coming down his street. He said he ducked for cover, it raced overhead, lifted the roof of his house clean off, and dropped it again. Being ex-military aircrew like myself he was wearing an old flying suit, which is designed primarily to protect from radiant heat (only for an instant mind you). It protected him but he lost his eyebrows, lol.
            Cheers.

          • Hi again again Jackson, to close out my comments I thought you’d appreciate some observations, admittedly contrary to yours, from a fellow firefighter – Geoff Walker, who is a former President and Deputy Captain of the Lemon Tree Passage and District Volunteer Bushfire Brigade. He is the author of the book ‘White Overall Days’– a bushfire memoir.
            Two articles from him are rather seminal to this topic I think:
            https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2020/01/i-cheered-when-the-bushfire-came/
            and:
            https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2014/10/burn/

            Cheers.

          • Geoff, Dr Christine Finlay is the person whose name I couldn’t recall, Geoff. The reference was in The Australian, Geoff. Here’s the link, Geoff:
            https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/firestorms-follow-move-away-from-cool-burning/news-story/9e0b6bc2cee5851d56dbedaafa7ce26e
            I eagerly await your next diatribe, Geoff.

    • Precisely the point. We CANNOT manage the environment to any degree of usefulness. The ‘fittest to survive’ over 4 billion years have done so due tho their ability to ADAPT…..And before anyone gets too smug about being clever-buggers, remember that cockroaches have been here since before the dinosaurs and will be here long after homosaps have disappeared into the depths of history.
      Our species is more like a virulent cancer, which can overpower and subjugate everything with which it comes in contact, and even outshines the gods on occasion ….. and then kills the very body on which it’s flourished because it can’t adapt to changing circumstances. So let it be with Caesar: The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

      • (Couldn’t reply to the particular post).
        Jackson says
        January 28, 2020 at 12:44 pm
        …. and ps. It used to be that about HALF of all bushfires were the result of escaped ‘fuel-reduction’ burns* official or otherwise.. Dunno what the figure is these days, but DO remember hearing on the news that several of fires at one point threatening Sydney recently were the result of such misadventure.
        According to ABC research (not theirs, but reorted by) 94% of bushfires – over agerage time, are caused in some way by humans. About 6% of those are proved to be arson. From my recollection of the rest of the figures, more than 1/2 of the remainder are controlled burns that got away. Dont cinfuse hazard reduction and controlled burns, either. Hazard reduction can be via bulldozers, cutting down of trees etc.

  4. Paul Bergild says

    Actually King Canute said –Even a great king like me can’t hold back the tide–

    • I wasn’t there (and anyway don’t speak Norwegian) so I can only go by historical notes/Chinese whispers about what was/wasn’t said.
      But that’s irrelevant anyway; WHATEVER he said, history has it that he dragged his throne down to the beach to impress the encroaching tide….and, clearly, would’ve done better with a Rubber Duckie.

  5. Graham Revill says

    Whose job is it to advise the government’s advisers that there is an opportunity for Australian ownership of this process? I have spoken to politicians and they have no idea about anything technical. Referred me to the promotors web site where all the possible benefits are listed and explained but the negatives are not mentioned.

    Does the Chief Scientist have a suggestion box where ideas can be discussed and reasons for rejecting them can be made public and open to discussion?

  6. Australian company Lepidico is developing a new process to produce lithium from sources other than the usual spodumene that were previously considered waste. There is no calcining (roasting) in the process so a large part of the energy (read co2 ) is bypassed.
    The process is being proven by a pilot plant in WA
    And the best part is that there is virtually no waste generated- products being generated include lithium carbonate/ lithium hydroxide,potash fertiliser,caesium drilling fluid,sodium silicate and gypsum

  7. Geoff Miell says

    Graham Revill,
    You ask:
    “Whose job is it to advise the government’s advisers that there is an opportunity for Australian ownership of this process?”

    May I suggest you look at Michael West’s/Greenpeace’s “Dirty Power – Politics and Australia’s Coal Networks”, dated 8 May 2019 – IMO it explains why we are where we are at – vested interests maintaining the status quo for the few.
    See: https://www.michaelwest.com.au/dirty-power-politics-and-australias-coal-networks/

    Also suggest: https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/dygvjy/who-to-blame-for-australia-coal-mining-lobbyists-fires-bushfires-bullshit-approach-to-climate-change

    You then state:
    “I have spoken to politicians and they have no idea about anything technical.”

    Good on you for engaging and letting them know you are interested in what they are doing and watching their performances!

    I’m not surprised. Look at the backgrounds of politicians – most don’t seem to have any science-based work experience.

    You finish with:
    “Does the Chief Scientist have a suggestion box where ideas can be discussed and reasons for rejecting them can be made public and open to discussion?”

    Why don’t you suggest it, Graham? Would it hurt you to do so?
    Contact the Australian Chief Scientist here: https://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/contact

    • Well said Geoff.
      Michael West is one of my favourite reads. I hope Graham, and evryone here, follows the links.

      Oh, and thanks for the link to the Chief Scientist!

      Jeff

  8. Mike Dutton says

    The problem is that most Australian lithium mines are either owned or controlled by Chinese government backed companies and they would rather process the lithium hydroxide in China to control the battery market.
    The fact that most politicians are either ignorant when it comes to lithium or in the pockets of coal companies doesn’t help either.

  9. Paul Bergild says

    Jackson: Actually you are wrong again-King Canute was a king from Denmark and also king of England and Norway-and I assume you speak English and have been taught your english history
    I know it dosen’t matter but if you quote anything as least get your facts right

  10. oh dear! Another one! (and one who “dosen’t” know how to spell ‘doesn’t’! (or that “English history” is written with a capital E.)….
    But in any case, exactly WHAT “fact” (or “quote”) have I gotten wrong??
    ps… I don’t suppose you’re related to Ian Thompson?

  11. Geoff Miell says

    Ralph (Re your comment on Jan 30 at 5:04pm),
    Thanks for the link, but I won’t be looking at it; firstly, because it is behind a paywall; and secondly, the article is in a Murdoch-based publication that I refuse to support in any way for, IMO, their climate science denial propaganda.
    Who’s Dr Christine Finlay? Why should I take notice of her work, Ralph? Is it because she is saying something different compared with what the Victorian and NSW fire chiefs are saying? Ralph, do you have a direct link for her work, that’s not paywalled, so that we can see all the information that wasn’t reported by The Australian?

    Ralph, if you are relying on The Australian for reliable/unbiased climate science reporting, IMO you are without question looking in the wrong place.
    See: http://theconversation.com/new-low-for-journalism-why-news-corps-partisan-campaign-coverage-is-harmful-to-democracy-116796
    Also: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/jan/14/james-murdoch-criticises-fathers-news-outlets-for-climate-crisis-denial

    Ralph (Re your comments to Jackson on Jan 30 at 4:03pm),
    You refer to a summary of the 2014 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research re the risks of wildfires and provide a link. The document you link to is dated 30 Nov 2018.

    Ralph, are you not aware of recent IPCC’s special reports, namely “SR 1.5°C – Global warming of 1.5°C”, published Oct 2018, and “SR CCL – Climate Change and Land”, published Nov 2019? The IPCC SR 1.5°C and SR CCL (and SR OCC) reports are parts of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment cycle, culminating in AR6 in 2022. Ralph, why are you still referring to AR5? – elements have been superseded.
    See: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/download/
    See: https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl-report-download-page/
    See: https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/download-report-2/

    In IPCC SR 1.5°C, section “3.5.2.2 RFC 2 – Extreme weather events”, it includes a paragraph on fire:

    “Fire: Increasing evidence that anthropogenic climate change has already caused significant increases in fire area globally (Section 3.4.3) is in line with projected fire risks. These risks are projected to increase further under 1.5°C of global warming relative to the present day (Section 3.4.3). Under 1.2°C of global warming, fire frequency has been estimated to increase by over 37.8% of global land areas, compared to 61.9% of global land areas under 3.5°C of warming. For in-depth discussion and uncertainty estimates, see Meehl et al. (2007), Moritz et al. (2012) and Romero-Lankao et al. (2014).”

    Note that the references given are dated 2007, 2012, & 2014. The key point is fire risks are “projected to increase further under 1.5°C of global warming”. IMO, the Australian bushfire emergency of 2019-20 is consistent with the IPCC projections.

    The SR 1.5°C continues with:
    “Regarding extreme weather events (RFC2), the transition from moderate to high risk is located between 1°C and 1.5°C of global warming (Figure 3.21), which is very similar to the AR5 assessment but is assessed with greater confidence (medium confidence).”

    So, SR 1.5°C has greater confidence than AR5 (presumably due to more evidence available – 5-years’ worth of extra, more recent data).

    In the IPCC SR CCL, on page 14, there’s a risk bar shown for wildfire damage as a result of climate change. Starting on page 148 to 150 is Cross-Chapter Box 3 – Fire and climate change, and includes under the sub-heading: “Fires under future climate change”:

    “Temperature increase and precipitation decline would be the major driver of fire regimes under future climates as evapotranspiration increases and soil moisture decreases (Pechony and Shindell 2010; Aldersley et al. 2011; Abatzoglou and Williams 2016; Fernandes et al. 2017). The risk of wildfires in future could be expected to change, increasing significantly in North America, South America, central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa and Australia (Liu et al. 2010). There is emerging evidence that recent regional surges in wildland fires are being driven by changing weather extremes, thereby signalling geographical shifts in fire proneness (Jolly et al. 2015). Fire weather season has already lengthened by 18.7% globally between 1979 and 2013, with statistically significant increases across 25.3% but decreases only across 10.7% of Earth’s land surface covered with vegetation. Even sharper changes have been observed during the second half of this period (Jolly et al. 2015). Correspondingly, the global area experiencing long fire weather seasons (defined as experiencing a fire weather season greater than one standard deviation (SD) from the mean global value) has increased by 3.1% per annum or 108.1% during 1979–2013. Fire frequencies under 2050 conditions are projected to increase by approximately 27% globally, relative to the 2000 levels, with changes in future fire meteorology playing the most important role in enhancing global wildfires, followed by land cover changes, lightning activities and land use, while changes in population density exhibit the opposite effects (Huang et al. 2014).”

    Ralph, you go on to state:
    “In other words, the role of human-caused climate change in Australian bushfires has not yet been detected. The apparent lesson from this is that jumping to conclusions that this fire season’s ferocity is evidence of the effects of climate change isn’t borne out by research.”

    Ralph, what a load of BS – it seems to me you are the one jumping to conclusions. Just because one paper/study you (conveniently?) find doesn’t appear to specifically mention Australian bushfires, you conclude there is no evidence, is that what you are saying, Ralph? Have you done an exhaustive search of ALL recent peer-reviewed research papers/studies related to Australian-based fires and their relationship to climate change, Ralph? I don’t think so.
    See: https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/report-dangerous-summer_V5.pdf

    • Hello Geoff, thanks for not disappointing us.

      I’m sorry about the paywall regards the newspaper link – I forgot about that. The Australian’s environment reporter, Graham Lloyd, presents the analysis and data from a host of sources, and presents all sides of the ‘climate debate’. He doesn’t present his opinion, he synthesises reports and statements from relevant SMEs from around the world. Still, why doesn’t it surprise me you would ignore anything from a Murdoch publication, that doesn’t accord with your view of the world. Your loss.

      Dr Christine Finlay – PhD, Bushfire Management, UNSW; BA Hons, Disaster Management, JCUNQ; BA UNSW. Why should you take notice of her? Why take notice of anyone with credentials and experience in the field? What an absurd question.

      Regards the fire chiefs, what exactly did they say, Geoff? You seem to be hanging on their words, but it seems to me you’re deliberately taking them out of context, to suit your opposition to anything I say here. The Vic chief was discussing fires that had turned into extreme, or ‘catastrophic’ blazes. They didn’t start that way; they built up from their origins into that extreme state over days and weeks. In that extreme state the chief stated that even in areas where some controlled burning had been done they still raced through. And therefore, in response to questions about the factor of controlled burning, he said that controlled burning isn’t a panacea. Fair enough, and no-one has said controlled burning directly equates to no bushfire risk. What he didn’t say, Geoff, was that if a suitable amount of controlled burning had been done in the parks where the fires originated, it might have prevented them from becoming extreme in the first place, and in turn becoming virtually unstoppable. So his comment about ‘not being a panacea’ isn’t a blanket statement that controlled burns aren’t vital in bushfire risk management. Take a look, if you can bear it, at the links I provided to Jackson from an experienced firefighter and his views about fuel loads and controlled burning.

      Regards elements being superseded in the report that I referred to, the report I cited dated 30 Nov 18, as you helpfully pointed out, would appear to be more recent than one of the reports you cited dated Oct 18, but I could be wrong, Geoff.

      Regardless, all you’ve said from drawing from those reports is that – in your hallowed opinion – the projections of the reports are reflected in the fire season we’ve seen. You know what they say about opinions, Geoff. But my statement is true – there is no acknowledged scientific evidence that what we’ve seen this fire season is a function of those projections. When the season is over some analysis may very well determine that the characteristics of our fires this season do directly relate to those projections. In which case you can pop your party hat on, Geoff. But my factual statement is somehow ‘…a load of BS…’ according to you. It’s clear that’s just another one of your opinions. Forgive me if I ignore that one too.

      • Geoff Miell says

        Ralph (or for anyone who should be educating themselves on the climate emergency),
        You state:
        “I’m sorry about the paywall regards the newspaper link – I forgot about that.”

        It’s a basic mistake, but it seems to me you don’t look closely enough at details that matter.

        It seems to me that The Australian’s Graham Lloyd has extensive and long-standing form for quoting non-experts and climate science deniers to fit in with his bogus narrative, whilst misrepresenting scientists and academic research. It seems to me Lloyd engages in sophistry, or false balance, and you seem to lack the wit to recognize this, apparently swallowing Lloyd’s nonsense as the ‘gospel truth’.
        See: http://www.readfearn.com/2016/07/media-watch-challenges-the-australians-misreporting-on-coral-science/#more-2203
        Also: http://www.blotreport.com/2020/01/13/how-murdoch-editors-lie/

        IMO, I’d doubt I’m missing much as there’s a wealth of reliable, accurate information elsewhere, and I have many reasons to ignore Murdoch-based publications (and Sky News after dark, and many radio ‘shock jocks’). IMO, they appear to me to wilfully ignore, contradict with false balance, misrepresent, distort and lie about the vast, overwhelmingly compelling scientific evidence. It escapes me why anyone would knowingly support people and businesses that wilfully lie about the climate emergency that is an existential threat to us all and about the available, affordable solutions to mitigate. Why would you support people/businesses that are propagating dangerous lies facilitating potential harm in the longer-term to you and your family?

        Ralph, why would you take notice of Dr Christine Finlay and ignore the NSW & Victorian fire chiefs? – I’d suggest perhaps Finlay fits your desired narrative and the fire chiefs’ views (where, I’d suggest, their wrong decisions could have the potential to kill people – meaning their decisions/actions can have great consequences), and other experts with similar views, are inconvenient to your narrative, so you apparently dismiss/downplay them – in other words, it seems to me you shamelessly ‘cherry pick’ the convenient and dismiss the inconvenient.

        What would you define as “a suitable amount of controlled burning” for management and suppression of a wildfire like the one that originated at Gospers Mountain, Ralph? Burn the whole remote, inaccessible region, perhaps? I’d suggest you (and others like you) have no idea of the scale of the task, or the resources required, or whether it would be at all effective.
        See: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/the-monster-a-short-history-of-australia-s-biggest-forest-fire-20191218-p53l4y.html

        Byron Lamont, a professor in plant ecology at Curtin University, and co-author Tianhua He, a senior fellow, include in their op-ed:
        “It may seem counter-intuitive but the longer old-growth forests remain fire-free, the less combustible they become. The thicker canopy creates more shade, the undergrowth becomes thinner and less vigorous – and hence there is less fuel for fires.”
        See: https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/why-prescribed-burns-don-t-stop-wildfires-20200122-p53tl9.html

        Do Lamont & He’s comments look familiar, Ralph? Jackson stated earlier:
        “…the documented facts time and again demonstrate that the fiercest and most unstoppable fires occur in ‘managed’ (ie tampered-with ~ including ‘fuel-reduced’ ) state forests and towns. The ‘UNmanaged’ national parks usually fare much better…”
        See Jackson’s comments: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/lithium-co2-intensity/#comment-605349

        Why would we need any experts when we have you (and all the other opinionated keyboard jockeys) with all the so-called “common sense” answers, eh Ralph?
        See Finn’s comment: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/fossil-fuel-bushfire-recovery-mb1358/#comment-597226

        Your ONLY cited peer-reviewed report is dated 30 Nov 2018. The IPCC’s SR 1.5°C was published only several weeks earlier (8 Oct 2018) with vastly greater substance and detail (and with far greater scientific vetting). The similarly detailed IPCC’s SR CCL was published a year later (28 Nov 2019), but you apparently ignore that in your latest comments – it’s apparently inconvenient for your narrative when it refers to the “risk of wildfires in future could be expected to change, increasing significantly in … Australia”. It’s already apparently happening now, as evidenced in the 2019-20 fire emergency, but it seems to me that you, Ralph, and others who appear to be similarly ill-informed, are apparently blind to it.

        You finish with:
        “Forgive me if I ignore that one too.”

        Yes, Ralph, it seems to me you have an apparent knack for ignoring reality.

        I presume “tiresome” (re your comment below at Jan 31 at 3:25pm) means you have no compelling evidence to support your original statements that: “Fuel loads are so clearly the direct issue with why the fires themselves were so intense…”; or “…trying to draw a straight line through them all that leads to ‘climate change’ is disingenuous.”

        Cheerio, Ralph. I presume you are retreating to go back to your comfortable and non-confronting ‘echo chamber(s)’ – the multiple challenges to your ill-informed ideology are apparently just too much for you to bear here. Perhaps you can’t countenance the thought you’ve been misled and duped for years by people you “pay most attention to”, eh Ralph?

  12. Anyway, Geoff, this is getting rather tiresome, for both me and I imagine the moderator. So do your worst in my absence – you won’t be getting any more reaction from me as I won’t be revisiting this blog. But I’ll certainly keep an eye out for you on any other online forums that I visit. Your pedantic, tedious style will be hard to miss.

    All the best.

  13. Your comments re aircrew ~ and fuel-reduction ~ brought a forgotten memory to the surface…… about the day Old Ernie Snell stopped a finger of fire sneaking up to the town…with gelignite! Literally ‘blew it out’ 😉
    Fuel-reduction in another guise? 🙂

  14. A gem. Not mine, but acceptable, surely, to both sides of the debate…

    “What if Climate Change IS a hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

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