Building a Sustainable World
Goiás / Brazil / LAC / Word
Prof. Sérgio Granato Welcomes You !
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The world is changing!
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Is Brazil ready for the energy transition?
“It's all about mining and processing”
THE SHIFT TO LOW-CARBON renewable energy (RE) solutions to limit global warming has been in the headlines for decades, although it has intensified in recent years due to the severe environmental impacts and geopolitical issues.
The bills are on the table! If no action is taken, climate change losses will top 5% of global GDP each year (peaking 18-20% in the worst-case scenario). Instead, the costs of reducing GHG emissions to avoid the worst impacts can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.
After relying on a basket of fossil fuels, from wood to gas, passing through coal and oil, the humankind “found” the energy from sun and wind, to put simple. These two primary clean energy sources, complementary to each other, widespread and abundant on earth, can be converted into a secondary form, the electricity, sine qua non for the energy transition.
Nevertheless, the transformation of the energy sector, imposed by processes of decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization, brought technical, economic, and regulatory challenges that need to be overcome quickly as time is running out. In fact, the great uncertainty concerns the speed of this transformation.
One of the main technical challenges occurs when RE exceeds that provided by conventional synchronous generators in a grid section. The lack of rotating mass inertia of solar PV and wind power generation units can lead to system instabilities. By using advanced power electronics and control algorithms, these inverter-based resources (IBR), when ideally paired with storage, can emulate inertia by quickly detecting frequency deviations and respond to system imbalances.
A new paradigm
Curiously, clean energy transition relies no more on a fuel, as seen before, but in materials. More precisely, a net-zero economy will be metal-intensive. So, new energy-trade patterns are strongly related to the occurrence of critical mineral deposits, extraction capacity, raw material refining expertise, and material processing. A real game changing!
A critical mineral is defined as a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the strategy, economy, and security of a nation, with high-risk associated with its supply chain. Ok, but what and where are they? Who owns the mining and refining technologies? What about starting with a short list of machines/equipment associated with the green transition? Here it is: solar panels, wind turbines, electric motors, electrolysers, fuel cells, and batteries!
Lithium, nickel, cobalt, vanadium, graphite, platinum group metals (PGMs), and rare earth elements can face significant supply shortages in the coming decade.
Lithium rush: imbalances between supply & demand
"Lithium is simultaneously the simplest and most complex metal”
RENEWABLE ENERGY (RE) sources, energy storage systems (ESS), and electrification are the key elements that underpin the energy transition. However, the development of such elements will require a stable and cost-effective supply of critical minerals.
In fact, there is no major technical hurdles on the way towards green goals for 2050. But, to take the first steps efficiently, it’s worth looking at the entire chess (or even “Go”, the ancient game) board: “it doesn't matter how fast you're going if you're headed the wrong way”.
As RE resources are based on energy flows, not on energy stocks as fossil fuels, a storage unit is needed. Currently, a wide range of ESS solutions is available to carry out the energy transition, the most prominent being the battery ESS (BESS), which can be characterized by three aspects: safety, cost ($/kWh), and performance (e.g.: energy capacity, power capacity). Maintain and advance BESS tech leadership is crucial in today's and tomorrow's global economy.
BESS fall into two buckets: Lithium-ion (Li-ion) and non-Li-ion technologies. Currently, Li-ion batteries (LiB) stand out, completely dominating the electric vehicle (EV) battery market and capturing 93% of the battery market for (front and behind the meter) stationary energy storage applications in 2020.
As the first alkali metal of the periodic table, Lithium, a highly reactive element with the lowest density of all metals, rules the battery world. But Li-demand is especially critical, expected to rise five-fold to 5,500 GWh between 2021 and 2030.
El punto clave es…
Amid a record-high demand for Lithium, a question remains unanswered: can supply keep pace with demand in the future? Here is the one-million-dollar question of the decade!
First, it is worth distinguishing countries that are leaders in mineral extraction and those that are leaders in mineral processing. Although extraction is taking place in several nations, a single country dominates the processing of all these critical minerals: China. The Dragon controls more than half of the Lithium, cobalt, and graphite processing and refining capabilities.
Second, though found in nearly all igneous rocks and in mineral springs, Lithium is a poorly concentrated mineral, making it difficult to obtain.
Third, extraction and refinement are complex and very time-consuming tasks: LiB factories can be built in a couple of years, but it takes up to a decade to bring on a Li-project.
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Is Brazil ready for the energy transition?
“Only renewables are truly sustainable;
that’s why the future belongs to them ”
BRAZIL STANDS OUT among the largest economies in terms of renewable energy, ranking first in South American and second in Southern Hemisphere (after Australia) in the IHS Markit's Global Renewable Market Attractiveness Rankings.
In 2021, 44.7% of the Brazilian energy mix came from renewable sources, while the share of renewables in the electricity mix stood at 78.1%. Brazil leads wind and solar PV power growth in Latin America (LA), having added 26.7% of wind and 55.9% of solar PV in 2021 alone, for a total of 20.7 GW and 13.7 GW (CG + DG) of installed capacity, respectively .
Biomass also plays an important role in the Brazilian energy mix, producing ethanol, demonstrating the country's flex fuel competence, and electricity, mainly from the burning of sugarcane bagasse, contributing about 8% to the country electricity mix in 2021 and 27% of total thermoelectric generation .
Brazil’s electric energy (EE) production and transmission is a large and widespread system, with predominance of hydropower plants of multiple owners. Such interconnected system, formally “SIN-Sistema Interligado Nacional" (AKA “Basic Grid”), provides the transfer of energy between subsystems, allows synergistic gains, and explores the diversity between the hydrological regimes of basins, serving the market in a safe, efficient, and economical way .
As a powerhouse in terms of water resources, the country ended 2021 with a total electricity installed capacity of around 181 GW, of which 60% (109 GW) came from hydropower plants. However, such plants, branded by their great storage capacity, should reduce its relative share to 46% by 2031 , giving way to non-conventional RE sources, which, in turn, are marked by their temporal variability.
In 2031, Brazil is expected to i) be the 5th largest oil exporter, with 80% of it coming from the pre-salt, ii) have about 40% of EE installed capacity from DG, and iii) add one more nuclear power plant besides Angra 3 (still in construction). Investments in 2021-2031 period is forecasted to reach BRL 3.25 trillion, 84% in O&G and 16% in EE generation .
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