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Getting better at mining the minerals needed for clean energy (Volts Podcast)

Building the machines and batteries needed to decarbonize the economy will require enormous amounts of a few key minerals. The proven reserves of those minerals, sitting in mines now operating, are nowhere close to enough to satisfy what is expected to be skyrocketing demand.

Without the minerals, we can’t make the clean-energy economy. And we don’t know where the minerals are going to come from.

What’s worse, exploring for new mineral deposits has been getting less and less efficient over the last several decades, as the amount of investment needed per successful discovery has risen. We seem to be getting worse at finding this stuff right when we badly need to be getting better.

That state of affairs has drawn in several new startups that endeavor to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve mining’s hit rate. The most talked-about is KoBold Metals. With financial backing from Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other big-name investors, KoBold is now exploring for minerals on four continents.

To get a better handle on mining and how we can improve at it, I contacted KoBold CEO Kurt House. We talked about the projected gap between supply and demand, the somewhat primitive way current exploration works, the massive data-gathering and coordination project the company has undertaken, and the role of justice and equity in this AI-accelerated future of mining.