New technology could cement Indonesia’s dominance of vital nickel (The Economist – July 5, 2023)

But harvesting the crucial metal will be bad news for the country’s rainforests

Each year scientists discover an average of five new bird species. In 2013, on a trip to a remote set of islands in Indonesia, researchers found ten in six weeks—the biggest haul in more than a century.

The region in question, known as Wallacea after Alfred Russel Wallace, a 19th-century naturalist, is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Its rainforests host creatures found nowhere else, such as the maleo, an endangered bird that uses sunlit beaches and geothermal heat to keep its eggs warm rather than incubating them itself.

But Wallacea’s environment is rich in more than wildlife. Logging, clearance for agriculture and, more recently, the growth of palm-oil plantations have seen huge areas of forest chopped down since the middle of the 20th century.

Now a new resource boom is under way. Indonesia is already the world’s biggest producer of nickel, a metal that is—among other uses—vital for building high-performance batteries.

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