There always seems to be a catch with Green technology

There always seems to be a catch

THERE seems to always be a catch with Green technology. Just when you think there has been a breakthrough that will make all the promises believable, something or other pops up to make you think again.

It’s a case of “Back to the drawing board”. Not that anyone in developing countries is prepared any time soon to close coal-fired power stations or stop planning at least a few nuclear ones. But there you are.

The latest Green breakthrough that got (almost) everyone excited reminded me of how graphene was going to make batteries super powerful and capable of holding a charge almost forever. We are still waiting to see them on our shelves.

The source of the hype and hope was again British scientists. This time those clever chaps say they have found a way to use nuclear waste in the shape of Carbon 14 to make diamonds and thus, buy a scientific miracle too complex for most of us to understand, create batteries capable of powering your laptop almost forever, and your cell phone, and all the thousand and one gismos that rely these days on lithium-iron batteries.

Imagine being able to raise a two-fingered salute to Eskom and all those overpaid and over-manned municipalities who take such a large bite out of our after-tax incomes. Imagine factory-made goods dropping in price as their input costs drop. I can’t wait for this promise of energy plenty to come about. At last the pie-in- the-sky will be edible.

Those with shares in oil companies need not panic. Even in this future, there will still be hundreds of uses for petroleum products – lubricants to lipstick to artificial rubber covers a mere fraction.

But my Green enthusiasm is getting the better of me. There is a flaw in the diamond nuclear battery promise of clean power — it’s nuclear. And we all know how terrified everyone is of all nuclear radiation – however small. So the chances of persuading thousands of people, if not millions, to wear a nuclear device on their wrists, hold one to their ears, and (shudder) have one on your desk at work, is slim. Very slim.

So it’s back to lithium-ion batteries. But wait, they too contain a snag that Greens would rather no one knows. They contain cobalt. A nice shiny EV motor car that our own Elon Musk peddles so successfully contain more than 15 kilos of the stuff.

So what is the snag exactly? Well, you see, most cobalt comes from inconvenient parts of the world that are not noted for their health and safety measures, trade union freedoms, or indeed any kind of freedom other than the freedom of their rulers to do some deep mining of their own.

The list is sobering if you consider such things as individual liberty important.

Cobalt is found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “the worst forms of child labour,” are practised on the mines. They include forcing children to carry heavy loads, digging, and sifting, sorting, using explosives, and working underground.

The OECD found that 13% of the labour force in cobalt mines are below the age of 18 and almost half are between 10 and 15 years of age. There are even some less than 10. Overall the child labour force in the DRC numbers 40 000.

Much of the balance of world cobalt supplies come from places like Cuba, the Philippines, Russia, Madagascar, and China where safety is at best an afterthought.

There are a few places where everything is above board but still, Cobalt is a flaw in the Green ideal. This may change as the word spreads, but like the awful long term pollution involved in the making of photo-voltaic panels, and the massive quantities of carbon dioxide emitted in the making of wind turbine towers, it makes the sceptics wonder how Green the future will really be.