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Solar Panel Recycling: Let’s Make It Happen

By James Gignac - Union of Concerned Scientists, October 30, 2020

This is one of four blogs in a series examining current challenges and opportunities for recycling of clean energy technologies. Please see the introductory post, as well as other entries on wind turbines and energy storage batteries. Special thanks to Jessica Garcia, UCS’s Summer 2020 Midwest Clean Energy Policy Fellow, for research support and co-authoring these posts.

Growth of solar panels and their lifespans

Solar energy is converted into electricity primarily with photovoltaic (PV) panels (there is another technology, called concentrating solar power, or CSP, but it is less commonly used and not addressed here). PV panels are comprised of individuals cells linked together, forming various shapes and sizes based on the needs of the system. The panels themselves are made with semiconductor materials—generally silicon, but sometimes various rare metals—and generally covered in glass.

The cost of PV panels has declined dramatically in recent years while their efficiency has gone up. These trends are continuing, leading to rapid growth of the solar industry globally. Solar panels on average last 25-30 years (and maybe even longer); thus, solar installations occurring today can be expected to remain productive until the middle of this century.

The reliability and longevity of new panels means that the volume requiring recycling or disposal is currently low, except for very early generations of PV panels and small numbers that may get broken during the installation process or damaged in storms.

However, options for recycling and disposal need to be addressed as PV production continues to ramp up. And while the larger recycling need may not come for another decade, infrastructure and policy should be put in place now to accommodate future needs.

Frank Little: The man that was hung

From the International Socialist Review - Reposted to Libcom.org by Jaun Conatz, March 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Libcom.org Editor's Note: [Here follows a] 1917 article from the International Socialist Review about the murder of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer, Frank Little. We do not approve of the offensive reference to Native Americans but reproduce this text in its entirety for historical accuracy.

Well, they got Frank Little. No wireless message ever sped faster than these five words thru the .world of labor. For on the first morning of this month an agitator was hung in Butte, Montana.

A social war has been going on in that hell hole of labor since the 12th of June. On the one side are the few mine owning capitalists represented by their henchmen and an army of 600 Standard Oil gunmen. On the other side are 17,000 unarmed striking copper miners with their Metal Mine Workers' Union.

Came Frank Little, a fellow unionist, with a message of good cheer and solidarity from the miners of the southwest. He told them that their real enemy was the industrial kings and copper barons of America.

He repeated his words to Ex-Governor Hunt of Arizona: "Governor, I don't care what you are fighting for, but we, the Industrial Workers of the World, are fighting for Industrial Democracy." And the miners of Butte cheered his words.

The copper barons replied by sending six of their gunmen to "get" the damn agitator, who championed the cause of hated labor; who made war upon capitalism and the wage system, who advocated industrial democracy. The story of the assassination and what followed is told in the Montana Socialist.

"Driven to desperation by the peaceful, non-resisting strike of the Metal Mine Workers, the company has played its last trump—murder.

Freeport-McMoRan Finishes Destroying the Famous "Salt of the Earth" Labor Union

By David Correria - La Jicarita, September 31, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Web Editor's Note: According to one of our members, "(The) 'Salt of the Earth' union was destroyed by the company union a long time ago. I am friends with someone with roots in Bayard, NM and whose mother was involved in the strike. The USWA recent had a 60th anniversary celebration of the film here in March. They didn't 'merge', Mine, Mill Smelter was purged." Nevertheless, the following article shows just how ruthless the copper bosses still are and why a union like the IWW is needed more than ever, not just for the workers, but for the environment as well:

Members of Steelworkers Local 9424-3 in Bayard, NM are employed at one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines owned by one of the world’s most profitable companies, Freeport-McMoRan. They voted last week 236 to 83 in favor of decertifying the union.

The vote was the culmination of six months of union busting work by Freeport employee Irvin Shane Shores, a Deming-resident and recent Freeport-McMoRan employee. According to the National Labor Relations Board, any employee who no longer wants a union to represent him or her is entitled to seek an election to determine if a majority of their coworkers agree.

In mid-August Shores circulated a petition asking members of the Steelworkers to decertify the union. He collected signatures from more than 30 percent of members of the bargaining unit, thus triggering the decertification vote. The National Labor Relations Board scheduled the election for September 17 and 18.

The local Steelworkers union Shores decertified is the inheritor of Mine-Mill Local 890, a union made famous by the 1954 film “Salt of the Earth”, which dramatized Local 890’s 1951 Empire Zinc strike. A number of members of the creative team behind the film had been blacklisted by Hollywood. The director, Herbert Biberman, went to jail for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated communist “infiltration” in politics, entertainment and education, among other industries.

The film was financed by the national office of Local 890, the International Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers Union, which was expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1950 for presumed communist influence.

The aggressive, pro-labor message made the film an instant favorite among leftists and labor unions. It found an enthusiastic audience in union hall screenings all over the US. It was banned or boycotted everywhere else. The film and its creators were condemned by the House of Representatives, investigated by the FBI; theaters refused to play it and it was widely denounced by newspapers and chambers of commerce throughout New Mexico.

It was rediscovered by Chicano Movement activists in the late 1960s and remains today a neo-realist classic for its focus on Chicano activism and feminist politics.

The strikers found success in the film but the real union found little more than struggle. Mine-Mill Local 890 organizer Clinton Jencks was arrested by federal agents in 1953 and jailed for alleged communist connections. The Kennecott Copper Company refused to negotiate with Mine-Mill Local 890 in the mid 1950s, telling the union’s members “we have refused to bargain with unions whose officers have failed to file the non-Communist affidavits required by the Labor-Management Act, 1947 [Taft-Hartley]. We believe, with Congress, that the spread of Communism in the United States is fast becoming a menace that presents a serious threat to our free way of life.”

Apparently, Kennecott defined “freedom” as its ability to reap windfall profits while its workers, on whose backs it made those profits, labored in miserable working conditions for immiseration wages. Kennecott Copper Company was the world’s largest copper producer with mines in the US and Chile. Its domestic production at four mines in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico accounted for nearly half of all copper produced in the US and 20 percent of the world’s copper supply. The mine in Bayard was the largest industrial operation in New Mexico and accounted for 12 percent of Kennecott’s total copper output. In the years prior to the “Salt of the Earth Strike”, and despite a series of strikes that shut down mines in Utah, Kennecott reported more than $23 million in profit. It had $17 million dollars on hand in reserve and reported to its board of directors an earned surplus of nearly $165 million of accumulated profit.

While the mine recorded record profits throughout the 1940s and 50s, most Anglo workers at the mine made less than $5 per day. Kennecott paid lower wages to Spanish-speaking and Navajo workers.

Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies

By Edgar G. Hertwich, et. al. - National Academy of Sciences of the United States, September 3, 2014

Decarbonization of electricity generation can support climate-change mitigation and presents an opportunity to address pollution resulting from fossil-fuel combustion. Generally, renewable technologies require higher initial investments in infrastructure than fossil-based power systems. To assess the trade offs of increased up-front emissions and reduced operational emissions, we present, to our knowledge, the first global, integrated life-cycle assessment (LCA) of long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable sources (i.e., photovoltaic and solar thermal, wind, and hydropower) and of carbon dioxide capture and storage for fossil power generation. We compare emissions causing particulate matter exposure, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and climate change for the climate-change-mitigation (BLUE Map) and business-as-usual (Baseline) scenarios of the International Energy Agency up to 2050. We use a vintage stock model to conduct an LCA of newly installed capacity year-by-year for each region, thus accounting for changes in the energy mix used to manufacture future power plants. Under the Baseline scenario, emissions of air and water pollutants more than double whereas the low-carbon technologies introduced in the BLUE Map scenario allow a doubling of electricity supply while stabilizing or even reducing pollution. Material requirements per unit generation for low-carbon technologies can be higher than for conventional fossil generation: 11–40 times more copper for photovoltaic systems and 6–14 times more iron for wind power plants. However, only two years of current global copper and one year of iron production will suffice to build a low-carbon energy system capable of supplying the world’s electricity needs in 2050.

Read the report (PDF).

The Bisbee deportation of 1917

By Sheila Bonnand - University of Arizona, 1997

"How it could have happened in a civilized country I'll never know. This is the only country it could have happened in. As far as we're concerned, we're still on strike!" ~ Fred Watson*

The Bisbee Deportation was still fresh in Fred Watson's mind when interviewed 60 years later. This is not surprising, because on July 12, 1917, Watson and 1,185 other men were herded into filthy boxcars by an armed vigilante force in Bisbee, Arizona, and abandoned across the New Mexico border. The Bisbee Deportation of 1917 was not only a pivotal event in Arizona's labor history, but one that had an effect on labor activities throughout the country. What led to this course of action by the Bisbee authorities?

Arizona in the early 1900s was home to huge copper mining operations. The managers and engineers controlling these mines answered primarily to eastern stockholders. During World War I, the price of copper reached unprecedented heights and the companies reaped enormous profits. By March of 1917, copper sold for $.37 a pound; it had been $.13 1/2 at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. With five thousand miners working around the clock, Bisbee was booming.

To maintain high production levels, the pool of miners was increased from an influx of southern European immigrants. Although the mining companies paid relatively high wages, working conditions for miners were no better than before the copper market crash in 1907-1908. Furthermore, the inflation caused by World War I increased living expenses and eroded any gains the miners had realized in salaries.

The mining companies controlled Bisbee, not only because they were the primary employers but because local businesses depended heavily on the mines and miners to survive. Even the local newspaper was owned by one of the major mining companies, Phelps Dodge.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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