How to stabilise the supply of minerals vital for the energy transition

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released a new report exploring how governments can ensure a reliable and sustainable supply of minerals vital for the development of equipment and technologies required to make the energy transition a reality.

The report, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, states that global governments must act now to ensure the supply of critical minerals essential for technologies including electric vehicles and wind turbine increases.

Increasing the supply of these minerals including copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements would help accelerate the development and uptake of clean and distributed energy resources vital to ensure energy security and the mitigation of climate change, according to the study.

Clean energy resources require more minerals compared to conventional energy resources. For example, a typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a similarly sized gas-fired power plant.

Minerals used in clean energy technologies compared to other power generation sources

Depending on how rapidly governments act to reduce emissions, demand for these critical minerals is expected to increase by six times by 2040. If governments are pursuing climate-driven energy transition plans, mineral demand for use in batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage is expected to be a major driving force, growing at least thirty times to 2040.

The rise of low-carbon power generation to meet climate goals also means a tripling of mineral demand from this sector by 2040. The wind sector is expected to take the lead, bolstered by material-intensive offshore wind. Solar PV will follow closely, due to the sheer volume of capacity that is added. The expansion of electricity networks also requires a huge amount of copper and aluminum.

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The commercial importance of these minerals is also expected to increase owing to an increase in demand and as such regulation is needed to ensure price stability.

 The six key areas recommended for governments include:

  • Ensure adequate investment in diversified sources of new supply
  • Laying out their long-term commitments for emission reductions, which would provide the confidence needed for suppliers to invest in and expand mineral production
  • Promoting technological advances
  • Scaling up recycling to relieve pressure on primary supplies
  • Maintaining high environmental and social standards
  • Strengthening international collaboration between producers and consumers.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said: “Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions.

“The challenges are not insurmountable, but governments must give clear signals about how they plan to turn their climate pledges into action. By acting now and acting together, they can significantly reduce the risks of price volatility and supply disruptions.

“Left unaddressed, these potential vulnerabilities could make global progress towards a clean energy future slower and more costly – and therefore hamper international efforts to tackle climate change.

Find out more about the report.