All clean energy paths lead to mining
World Bank sees 500% battery metals growth on current path Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – May 13, 2020
Last updated 7/24/2020 at 6:59am
The World Bank Group estimates that more than 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy the wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, required to meet carbon reduction goals to achieve the 2 degree Celsius temperature increase limit outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The global adoption of renewable energies could power a 500% increase in the annual production of battery minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, according to a report published by Word Bank on May 11, "Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition."
"This new report builds on the World Bank's long-standing expertise in supporting the clean energy transition and provides a data-driven tool for understanding how this shift will impact future mineral demand," said Riccardo Puliti, senior director and head of the energy and extractives global practice at the World Bank.
"In other words, the clean energy transition will be significantly mineral intensive," World Bank posted to the Climate-Smart Mining page of its website.
While clean energy is mineral intensive, the organization established to fight poverty believes that socially and environmentally responsible mining of low-carbon minerals and metals is essential and provides opportunities for resource-rich developing countries.
World Bank's Climate-Smart Mining Initiative aims to position developing countries to take advantage of these opportunities, while also ensuring these clean energy minerals are sustainably sourced.
The organization said not taking environmental or societal shortcuts is particularly important in a world disrupted by COVID-19, which is causing developing countries reliant on minerals to miss out on jobs and revenue.
"COVID-19 could represent an additional risk to sustainable mining, making the commitment of governments and companies to climate-smart practices more important than ever before," said Puliti.
All pathways lead to mining
The increased demand for the individual minerals and metals needed for a low-carbon future will depend on how aggressive the world adopts renewable energy and which technologies are adopted.
"Based upon what we call the demand risk matrix, we know that aluminum, copper and nickel are 'critical' minerals that will play a strong role in the transition to a low-carbon future, as they will be needed for a wide variety of technologies," said Christopher Sheldon, energy and extractives global practice manager at World Bank. "Graphite and lithium are also 'critical', but their outlook depends on the extent to which battery storage is deployed between now and 2050."
At the current trajectory for low-carbon energy, the demand for "high-impact" battery minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt is expected skyrocket. However, if energy storage shifts away from lithium-ion batteries, then the demand for these battery minerals will go down.
Copper, on the other hand, will be needed in greater quantities no matter the future sources of electricity are.
World Bank had previously estimated roughly 550 million tons of copper will be needed for generating and transmitting electricity over the next 25 years, which is about the same amount humankind has produced in the past 5,000 years.
Aluminum, nickel, molybdenum and chromium, which cut across most of the 10 energy generating technologies investigated by World Bank, will likely also see increases in demand no matter what low-carbon pathway unfolds over the next 30 years.
Lying between high-impact battery metals and cross-cutting base metals lies a range of medium-impact metals such as neodymium and silver, which are needed in modest quantities for certain green energy applications.
While low-carbon energy is only expected to drive moderate demand for these minerals, they are vital. Neodymium, a magnet metal, is an important ingredient for wind turbines and electric vehicles.
No matter what mix of clean energy technologies emerge, World Bank believes all pathways to a low-carbon future lead to the need to mine some combination of more than 3 billion tons of metals and minerals by 2050.
The organization hopes to ensure these commodities are sustainably sourced, while also helping to bolster the economies in some of the poorest regions on Earth.
Sheldon said mineral-rich countries "need to plan for a range of so-called 'pathways' and pay close attention to how the nature of the clean energy transition will shape future demand."