2021 was the year clean energy finally faced its mining problem

Lithium And Geothermal Power Projects In California’s Imperial Valley
A drill rig at Controlled Thermal Resources’ (CTR) Hells Kitchen Lithium and Power project in Calipatria, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Demand for electric vehicles has shifted investments into high gear to extract lithium from geothermal wastewater around the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley. | Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This year, the clean energy sector finally started grappling in earnest with one of its biggest challenges: how to get enough minerals to build solar panels, wind turbines, and big batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Figuring that out will be critical for escaping fossil-fueled ecological disaster. It’ll also be crucial for policymakers and industry to move forward without throwing certain communities under the bus in the transition to clean energy.

Instead of cutting through landscapes with oil and gas wells and pipelines, clean energy industries and their suppliers will open up the Earth to hunt for critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and copper. Compared to a gas-fired power plant, an onshore wind turbine…

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