Mining for renewable energy materials could threaten biodiversity, researchers have found.
Scientists at the University of Queensland, Brisbane found a high degree of overlap between areas used for mining essential minerals like lithium, which is used for car batteries, and areas with high levels of biodiversity as yet untouched by industry.
Conservationists are “often naive to the threats posed by significant growth in renewable energies”, the researchers said in the study published in the journal Nature Communications, pointing out that 14 per cent of protected areas contain metal mines or have them nearby.
Overall, the researchers found that eight per cent of mining areas were within range of areas designated as protected by national governments, and seven per cent were within the same range of key biodiversity areas.
Using this metric, 50 million square kilometres of the earth’s land surface are influenced by mining, with 82 per cent of mining areas focused on elements needed for renewable energy production.
Elements including lithium, cobalt and nickel are essential for rechargeable batteries, which are used for power storage in wind and solar projects, as well as in electric cars.
New mines are planned targeting these substances, adding to the global surface area covered by mining activities.
“Increasing the extent and density of mining areas will obviously cause additional threats to biodiversity, and our analysis reveals that a greater proportion of mines targeting materials for renewable energy production may further exacerbate threats to biodiversity in some areas,” the scientists wrote.