Michael, thank you for your article and Twitter thread on this important topic. I love your visualization. I wonder if anyone will scroll to the end to see these comments;)

I commented on Hannah Ritchie’s article with this same information, but I figured it would be good to have it here for those that are interested in this topic.

There always seems to be an endless horde of energy transition skeptics on Twitter that criticize the use of net-metals rather than gross ore in these comparisons. For those that want to dive deeper I recommend investigating the Material Flow Analysis Portal compiled and maintained by WU Vienna rather than trying to extrapolate rock-to-metal ratios (which can easily be off by an order of magnitude). Even when gross ore values are utilized, fossil fuel extraction dwarfs metal extraction.

The MFA portal provides great context of global materials flows based on gross ore values. When put to scale, the critical minerals for the energy transition are a relatively small slice of minerals, even when scaled up as required to meet the IEAs mineral demand projections in the Sustainable Development Scenario.


Material Flow Analysis Portal data is sourced from the Global Material Flows Database of the UN International Resource Panel.

The Global Material Flows Database technical annex provides detailed descriptions of the data sources and methods used. For example page 18 explains how gross ore is calculated for metals. “Estimation of gross ore from data on net-metal contents MFA standards however require that metal extraction should be accounted for on a run-of-mine ore basis, i.e., total ore extracted for further processing and concentration.” “in cases where only data on net metal content are reported, the application of factors to compensate for lose in recovery, as well as basic ore grades (metal concentration in ore), are required in order to transform reported net metal content values into gross ore equivalents.”


2019 Global Extraction Context (Gross Ore)

Fossil Fuels 15,882,230,265 tonnes

Copper Ore 2,682,164,417 tonnes

Gold Ore 2,101,223,327 tonnes

Nickel Ore 190,546,057 tonnes

Silver Ore 164,379,430 tonnes

Manganese Ore 56,588,591 tonnes

Lithium Ore 2,281,485 tonnes

I can provide a link of the data in a spreadsheet with a more detailed breakdown that includes biomass and non-metallic minerals, if anyone is interested.

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Thanks Skylar! I'll dig into some of what you shared soon.

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Catching up with this invaluable deeper dive. Thanks for posting! Yes, apples > apples requires ores, not just the resulting materials. Has anyone broken this down by fossil fuel? Natural gas, particularly with horizontal drilling minimizing surface impacts, would be profoundly different than coal. Same for oil produced that way compared to coal. revkin@substack.com to get in touch!

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Hi - I would very much love this spreadsheet, thanks! I always want to share these infographics, but then find myself wondering if it actually compares apples & oranges when it comes to the land-use footprint (in km2, as Bill McCabe says)

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This is great, thanks Michael. Going a step further than looking at sheer volume of fossil fuel extraction compared to renewable resources extracted, I'd be curious as to compare the actual area of disruption of the earth's surface (km2) by fossil fuel vs renewable extraction, and take into account social/geographical vulnerability as an added layer.

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Thanks Bill. That'd be interesting to see. Let me know if you ever come across a data source for that kind of comparison.

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Will do!

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Complimenti. Una buona analisi. Ho fatto anche io qualcosa di simile nel mio libro "La Risposta"

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Really very grateful for this, much appreciated! What do you think of this other piece of analysis by Hannah of km2 per MWh? https://ourworldindata.org/land-use-per-energy-source#:~:text=It%20is%20the%20most%20land,than%20on%2Dground%20solar%20PV.&text=Second%2C%20we%20see%20that%20there,to%20the%20maximum%20land%20footprint. https://ourworldindata.org/land-use-per-energy-source#:~:text=It%20is%20the%20most%20land,than%20on%2Dground%20solar%20PV.&text=Second%2C%20we%20see%20that%20there,to%20the%20maximum%20land%20footprint

I was wondering about what lifespan was assumed for solar panels, wind turbines etc in this analysis. Given the point you & Hannah both make about a fossil-fuelled system demanding additional mining to power it every single year, I was surprised that renewables didn't come out even further ahead once the full life-cycle is considered?

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