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Michael Roche: Resources vital link for renewables

The following is an op-ed piece written by Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche. 


Everything you do today will be possible thanks to the natural resources sector.

The alarm clock that you abused as it reminded you for the fifth time that it was time to get out of bed – made from metals, glass, plastics, all of which come from our sector.

The first cuppa of the day – you boiled the water using gas or electricity. Even the water came from a dam and water treatment plant made from steel reinforced concrete. The milk on your cereal was chilled by a refrigerator made from metals found, mined, refined and forged by the resources sector.

QRC_Resourcing_Innovation_Electric_CarThe same water system gave you a hot, steamy shower and also used gas or electricity to reach the desired temperature. Possibly you used a solar hot water system instead – every solar panel contains 16 minerals and metals from the resources sector.

The bus or train that carried you to work or school or the shops – made from metals, powered by electricity, gas or petroleum… all from resources.

Now imagine life without our sector.

No alarm – you rely on sunrise and the birds to wake you. That’s fine if it’s a sunny day, rather than bleak and raining.

The first cuppa of the day? Well, go find the nearest stream, rub a couple of sticks together and get the billy on the boil… Oh, that’s right, no metals equals no billy. Sip the stream water if you dare.

That also means no hot shower. Extra deodorant? No, that comes from the resource sector as well, so off you go to work au natural. Perhaps a quick rub with a couple of squashed flowers will do the trick.

Ah, work… Now that might be a bit of a problem too.

How do you get there without a train, bus, car or even a push bike? How good are your shoes? If you have rubber soles, you will be walking barefoot. And you should call work and say you will late.

No can do – your home phone relies on metals and plastics, and your mobile is creation of 40 minerals and metals.QRC_Resourcing_Innovation_Solar

What work do you do? Does it involve using a computer or telephone? They are courtesy of the resources industry, so back to pencil and paper? No, the resources sector contributes to those as well.

And the list goes on.

The Queensland Resources Council this week launched an education campaign to highlight just how important the resources sector is to our everyday lives – now and, particularly, into the future.

From alarm clocks to solar panels, from toasters to microscopes and optical lenses, from bicycles to buses and trains, from HB pencils to desktop computers.

The resources sector touches you every day. But what of the future as we all look to sustainable options for everything we do?

The key to a sustainable future is to harness the knowledge and skills of the natural resources sector to deliver innovative solutions. Indeed, there is no alternative to using our natural resources, there is no Uber on the horizon.

Let’s look at the sustainable energy innovations. Solar panels immediately come to mind.

Australia has one of the highest rates in the world of penetration of domestic solar panels, mainly thanks to Queensland, where the combined output from the roofs of homes is greater than the coal-fired Stanwell power station.

But the drive is on to increase solar farms to inject electricity into the national power grid.

Indeed, the largest generator of solar energy in India, the Adani Group, is seeking to replicate that ranking in Australia. The Australian solar generation projects would be in addition to Adani’s $16.5 billion investment in the planned Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin a well as rail and port facilities.

Adani has identified two solar projects in Queensland totalling 250MW, which is similar in capacity to the gas-fired power station at Oakey in southern Queensland.

One of the two solar projects – a proposed 100MW plant – could be located near Emerald in central Queensland. Adani is also looking at solar projects in South Australia with total capacity of 400MW.

The important thing to remember here is that the manufacture of each solar panel requires 16 metals and minerals, including coal, bauxite and alumina, copper, silica and titanium (both sourced from mineral sands), lead, lithium, tellurium, cadmium and iron ore. Each plays a vital role in the construction and operation of every solar panel on every roof. And Queensland is a leading producer of coal, bauxite, copper and alumina, mineral sands and lead. Queensland also has some exciting lithium prospects.

Wind power is also attracting attention. Again, these towering structures require significant input from the natural resources sector of Australia, particularly Queensland. For example, each part of a wind turbine relies on steel. The generator is 66 per cent steel and 35 per cent copper. The blades are held in place by steel bolts, and the foundations are made from concrete that is reinforced with steel rods. The towers are 90 per cent steel.

Queensland’s contribution to the modern day windmills is significant. Approximately 70 per cent of steel is made using coking coal, with Queensland the world’s largest seaborne exporter of coking coal.

In simple terms, it takes 220 tonnes of coal to produce a wind turbine capable of generating one megawatt of electricity which is sufficient to power around 40 Queensland homes when running at full capacity.

It should come as no surprise then that electric vehicles rely on the resources sector.

And for those who leave the car at home for their daily commute, the natural resources sector gets you to work on time.

Iron ore and coal are used to make steel for frames, seats, and wheels. Bauxite is transformed into aluminium for frames and fixtures. Factories that produce steel, plastics, rubber and paints use a long list of natural resources including natural gas.

Glass and plastic windows are manufactured from natural resources as well.

Natural gas is also used for air-conditioning to make the commute more comfortable, while most of the new model commuter buses are powered by natural gas.

Natural gas is also increasingly being used to generate electricity to cover the increased demand during peak periods.

There are some who believe that they can leave the electricity grid.

But what happens to the lights – and the TV and drinks fridge – when the sun sets and the wind generators stop turning because the breeze has run-out of puff just as Friday night football is about to start?

Two solutions – tap into large and still relatively expensive banks of batteries, or stay connected to the largest battery of all, the existing electricity grid.

Whichever you chose, both require massive contributions from the natural resources sector. And that situation will not change for some time.

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