2019 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition:

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Geoscience Perspectives on Technology Development in Energy Storage and Implications for Strategic Mineral Exploration

Abstract

In May, 2018, the US Department of Interior released its list of 35 critical mineral commodities, most of which are used in energy storage or electronics. As the cost of lithium ion batteries drops, electric vehicles are becoming the preferred new purchase of car-buyers in Europe, China and parts of the US. Lower cost of operation will accelerate this trend and enhance the need for new batteries and their mineral components. Storage associated with the dramatic growth in off-grid baseload power, such as solar, wind, and hydro, will also increase the pressure on battery manufacturers. Minerals such as cobalt, graphite, lithium and vanadium, along with rare earth elements, are seeing an uptick in demand. Economic geologists are needed to explore for and sustainably extract them in ever increasing volumes. A review of the landscape of mineral exploration and extraction reveals similarities to the fossil fuel production business. A small group of major multi-national integrated corporations are supported by a plethora of “junior” exploration companies who provide a feedstock of leases and prospects. Mining geologists use 3D geologic models to explore for and assess reserves of metals and are now expanding the use of geophysical techniques, including 3D seismic. The concept of ore trends, similar to petroleum play fairways, can be adapted and refined to better predict exploration corridors and future areas of extraction. Data employed by economic geologists are similar to those used to find hydrocarbons and include borehole records, surface geologic maps, rock mineralogy, and size statistics. Predictive models of ore accumulation rely on mass transport calculations at assumed heat, pressure, brine composition and mineral equilibria. As exploration geoscientists, we can readily transfer our skills from one hunting ground to the other. Geoscientists can also maximize energy efficiency for development of new mineral deposits via the use of low carbon energy resources. We can apply our environmental experience to minimize the footprint of the mine itself. We can utilize our industry strengths in risk assessment, environmental remediation, social license, and greening the oil field to become leaders in sustainable mineral development. As with all disruptive technologies, the plates will likely shift rapidly. Battery innovations will continue to redefine our concept of strategic minerals.