By Brandon Levy

Resources That Will be Used to Produce Electricity

Outside of the natural resources used to produce the metaverse’s infrastructure, the larger abundance of natural resources will go to powering it and keeping it alive. Electricity is at the forefront of necessity for the metaverse to thrive—it’s what powers bitcoin mining operations, charges phones and computers used to purchase bitcoin and NFTs, and it’s what developers use to create surreal AR and VR experiences. Yet powering something so futuristic without an equally futuristic infrastructure to match could unfortunately mean relying on sources of energy that are crude and harmful.

Coal

Believe it or not, coal currently accounts for 40% of the world’s electricity generation. However, coal only generates around 19.3% of our electricity in the U.S. It is shocking to think that something like the metaverse will be powered with the same resource as that of the locomotive. We have come far, but not far enough.

How sustainable is it?

  • Coal is fossilized peat (wet soil that exists at the bottom of swamps) and thus is nonrenewable
  • Coal could improve its environmental impact by utilizing high-efficiency low emission (HELE) technology and carbon capture/ storage (CCS) technology, but even with these technologies in place coal still has a massive impact on the environment
  • Coal GHG emissions are directly responsible for climate change
  • Coal accounts for 46% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and 72% of the electricity sector’s total GHG emissions

Top exporters of coal:

  • Australia, Indonesia, Russia, United States, South Africa

Oil

Producing both energy and plastic makes oil a major player in the metaverse’s energy sector, infrastructure and success. Oil produces plastic that can be found almost everywhere in the metaverse’s infrastructure, from Oculus’s VR headset to the plastic optical fiber (POF) used to transmit light (or data) through the core of fiber optics—providing high speed internet. Not only is the plastic that oil provides seemingly crucial for the metaverse, but the energy it provides is as well. In 2020, 1,128.39 TWh of electricity was produced by oil.

How sustainable is it?

  • Oil is fossilized plankton and thus is a nonrenewable resource which inherently means it can never be sustainable
  • Oil used for electricity, though not its main usage, still has a large impact on climate change
  • Oil, though arguably cleaner than coal, produces an enormous amount of air pollution in its refining process into petroleum

Top exporters of crude oil:

  • USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada, China

Natural Gas

Oil cooked at a higher temperature forms natural gas which is then used to produce roughly 24% of the world’s electricity. Natural gas offers a bridge, even if it does so temporarily, to support the transition to renewable energy.

How sustainable is it?

  • Out of all fossil fuels, natural gas burns as one of the cleanest (which is why natural gas will most likely still be operational or at least available as an emergency resource while coal and oil are phased out in the energy sector to meet net-zero goals)
  • Natural gas emits GHGs with a lower lifecycle in the atmosphere than its other fossil fuel counterparts
  • Among other non-renewable resources, natural gas produces some of the lowest CO2 emissions, offers reliable storage and transport (which often cannot be said for renewable resources), and provides one of the cheapest sources of energy available
  • Natural gas extraction, fracking, due to its release of methane which has a higher heat trapping ability than CO2 (roughly 80 times as much), can be incredibly damaging to the environment
  • Natural gas burning releases carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere—all environmentally harmful chemicals

Top exporters of natural gas:

  • Russia (by a huge margin in part due to its natural gas pipeline running to Germany), USA, Qatar, Norway, Australia

Biofuel

The two main biofuels are biodiesel and ethanol. Biodiesel, made primarily of soybean oil or rapeseed oil, is an effective energy source despite common criticism. Ethanol is an organic compound mostly made from corn. Both ethanol and biodiesel can be converted to electricity through either burning, bacterial decay, or conversion to gas/liquid fuel. Ethanol, the more popular and widely produced/consumed of the two, is not necessarily a clean alternative (even if it is renewable). Biofuels, though they are used in the production of electricity in numerous locations around the globe, are not by any means more advantageous when compared to other more sustainable energy outputs. However, they are on this list because they might become somewhat of a loophole for fossil fuel companies looking to keep assets alive during the push towards net-zero. Every 1J of ethanol requires anywhere from .6 to 1.3 J of fossil fuels to produce it. With the rise of the metaverse coinciding with a shift to net zero emissions, biofuels could very well become a way for fossil fuel companies to stay afloat in the energy sector.

How sustainable is it?

  • Biofuels are renewable. However, they will continue to require deforestation and monocultures to be effective in large scale implementation
  • On average, the GHG reduction found when converting to biodiesel is over 80%
  • Biodiesels are one of the few renewables applicable for medium to heavy-duty trucking (a huge source of GHG emissions currently) but they have been proven to produce more NOx, hydrocarbon, acetaldehyde, and ethanol emissions than diesel from fossil fuels
  • An increase in the percentage of ethanol in gasoline does not necessarily make the total outcome more “sustainable” (especially when land conversion is taken to account)

Top exporters of biodiesel:

  • USA (first by a huge margin), Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, China

Top exporters of ethanol:

  • Canada, Brazil, India, EU27+UK, South Korea

Nuclear

Nuclear fission is an incredibly viable alternative to fossil fuels. Nuclear power in its simplest sense operates as such: Uranium 235 releases energy which then boils water and spins a turbine that runs a generator. Nuclear power operates in 32 countries—that’s 32 countries where the metaverse will be powered partially by nuclear.

How sustainable is it?

  • Nuclear energy is considered by many as renewable
  • Nuclear energy produces steam emissions which when compared to the emissions of fossil fuels and biofuels is far less negatively impactful to the environment
  • Uranium mines are one of the world’s most environmentally destructive and harmful mines currently active due to their propensity to be massive in size   

Top exporters of uranium 235:

  • Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Namibia, Niger

Top exporters of nuclear energy:

  • USA, China, France, Russia, South Korea

Geothermal

Geothermal energy as an electricity source has already been denoted specifically as something which for one small nation will be instrumental in its progression towards the metaverse. El Salvador has employed a volcano within their nation, the Tecapa, to fuel the nation’s bitcoin mining operation. Outside of El Salvador, geothermal accounts for a fraction of a percent of the world’s total energy production in use. Nevertheless, geothermal is capable of producing roughly 8.3% of the world’s electricity—supplying electricity for nearly 17% of the human population.

How sustainable is it?

  • Since heat is constantly produced by the Earth’s geothermal energy, it can be considered a renewable resource
  • CO2 emissions from geothermal electricity production is not negligible but still far less than that from fossil fuels
  • Emissions of hydrogen sulphide from geothermal energy production is a concern to atmospheric quality, but countries like the USA and Italy have mandatory regulations in place that hydrogen sulphide emissions must be removed

Top producers of geothermal energy:

  • USA, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, New Zealand

Solar

Solar energy may very well be the most crucial electricity source for the metaverse’s success. In part, this is because the metaverse’s progression parallels that of the movement towards sustainable energy. As companies work to fulfill the energy need left behind by fossil fuels, it’s possible for solar to take up a majority of the demand. Here’s why:

  1. The infrastructure required to establish large solar farms is relatively easy to set up
  2. Solar technology is only getting better, while commercial panels typically convert 20% of the sun’s rays into energy there are already panels in production that can convert up to 47%
  3. Solar is starting to become increasingly affordable and with residential incentive programs around the world this statement is only becoming truer
  4. Solar panels, unlike other renewable resource contenders, take far less energy to fabricate than they produce
  5. The area needed to produce enormous amounts of energy is incredibly small considering the amount of energy it can produce. For example, with only 10 million acres of land (or .4% of the area of the U.S.) we could technically supply energy to the entire country

How sustainable is it?

  • Sunlight is by far the most sustainable and renewable resource available
  • The amount of sunlight the Earth receives in 1 hour could power the whole planet for 1 year
  • The energy that goes into making the pure silicon lenses for the panels, and the initial mining of silicon, could be considered unsustainable

Top exporters of solar panels:

  • China (with 78% of market share), Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong

Top producers/ exporters of solar energy:

  • China, USA, India, Japan, Vietnam

Sources

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsenergylett.0c02100

https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/silica-sands-and-quartz-sands

https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/silicon-9999-pure-6280469

https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3

https://endcoal.org/climate-change/

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/electricity-oil?tab=table&time=latest

https://www.ciena.com/insights/articles/5G-wireless-needs-fiber-and-lots-of-it_prx.html

https://www.utilitydive.com/news/close-to-16b-in-gas-investments-could-be-stranded-with-a-net-zero-by-2050/608510/

https://group.met.com/en/mind-the-fyouture/mindthefyouture/natural-gas-environmental-impact

https://www.edf.org/climate/methane-crucial-opportunity-climate-fight

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biofuels/

https://www.bsr.org/en/our-insights/report-view/fuel-sustainability-brief-biofuels

https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/us-corn-based-ethanol-worse-climate-than-gasoline-study-finds-2022-02-14/

https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/uranium-enriched-u235-plutonium-compounds-alloys

https://www.greenfacts.org/en/geothermal-energy/index.htm

https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/top-reasons-solar-energy