Clean energy transition could lead to metals shortage, finds new report

There is hope however in recycling the metals from existing infrastructure.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of clean energy sources.jpg
Representational image of clean energy sources.


A new report is highlighting a drawback to the clean energy transition if action is not taken swiftly. The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) has warned that shortages for lithium, nickel, graphite, cobalt, neodymium and copper could lead to higher prices and delay the global goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 if early investments are not made.

This is according to a report by Reuters published on Thursday.

The report recommended that mines produce more of these metals but also warned that large-scale mining projects can take up to 20 years to become operational. This is troublesome as the last decade saw a significant lack of investment in exploration and output, meaning it has not kept pace with the development and introduction of new clean energy projects.

"In some key minerals - particularly lithium and copper - it will be challenging to scale up supply fast enough over the next decade to keep pace with rapidly rising demand," ETC Chair Adair Turner said in the report according to Reuters.

The report noted that annual capital investment in energy transition metals averaged $45 billion over the last two decades. However, should the industry want to keep pace with the clean energy transition that number should reach $70 billion a year by 2030.

"Governments, regulators, producers and consumers must work together to increase recycling, improve material efficiency, invest in new mining, and regulate environmental and social standards," Turner said.

Future plans to switch to renewables and other clean energy options will require production of up to 6.5 billion tonnes of materials cumulatively between 2022 and 2050, with steel, copper and aluminum accounting for 95 percent of that output.

This number was calculated by researchers taking into account an aggressive deployment of clean energy technologies for global decarbonisation. The report also assumed that recycling and the amount of material needed would follow recent trends.

There is hope however. According to Reuters, if recycling of clean energy materials is employed correctly, the cumulative need for fresh supply from mines would eventually fall by 20 percent to 60 percent, making the energy transition feasible and smooth.

Just last week, in the US, the Biden administration announced it will invest $20 billion from the federal “green bank” for clean energy projects in the region.

The money will come from two programs and will supply competitive grants to nonprofits, community development banks and other groups to invest in clean energy projects. Both funds will have a focus on disadvantaged communities helping both the environment and those most in need of aid.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board