Planet Positive: A Better Future
I volunteer as a one of the committee members of the IEEE SA Planet Positive 2030 Standards Working Group led by Dr. Maike Luiken and John Havens. It is a fantastic group of people who wish to save, revive and replenish the planet for future generations. We look at technology not only for the great good it can do but where it can do better (supply chain or unintended consequences). I would like to illustrate a few examples of how we can improve.
We need more R&D initiatives into less environmentally damaging technologies (via extraction, manufacturing, or even end-user consumption). As a world, we still don't have great extraction techniques. For example, a single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials (not just cobalt). Think of the waste, the pollution, the devastation of the ecosystems, and the loss of biodiversity!
Most of the future technologies like AI and electric cars need cobalt. Most of the world’s supply is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (an older story here). Cobalt (used in lithium batteries in e-cars, laptops, mobiles, and jet engines) is often a secondary-sourced metal. Did you know that approximately 1,500 tons of ore must be mined to retrieve one ton of cobalt? Surprised? At the rate of consumption today, we may run out of cobalt by 2200.
Think your e-car is sustainable? When you look at the supply chain, the materials to build a single EV battery - mining, moving, and processing requires more than 500,000 pounds of materials from different parts of the world. This is 20 times the 25,000 pounds of petroleum that an internal combustion engine uses over the life of a car! Which is dirtier? Source: Manhattan Institute
Take another example: According to some experts, the metaverse is the next evolution of the web that will lead to a creator economy. Because it will be easier to program and track contributions via blockchain and also to set up micro-contracts (think NFTs), there will be greater participation in the economy. Currently, in gaming which forms a small part of GDP revenues, micro-transactions form 85% of revenues. So what will be the impact of these new technologies on the environment? Look at the chart below to get an idea of the magnitude of the problem.
To create a cleaner world, we must consider recycling and a circular economy. The countries that have embraced digitalization and green energy need stronger and better recycling. Often products are still exported to poorer countries. Let's hope we do better addressing these problems!
Going forward – what do we need?
Ø So we need more education about sustainability.
Ø We need better tracking of the supply chain and consumption patterns.
Ø We need to focus on Reduce!!! Reuse!! Repair!! And Recycle!!
Ø We need more information on environmental footprints.
Ø More research into better technologies (extraction, processing, and modular products)!