New research exposes extent of mineral demand for renewable energy technologies
Under a 100% renewable energy scenario, demand for metals such as cobalt, lithium and rare earths could rise dramatically. Solar PV, wind turbines, electric vehicles and battery storage technologies require a complex mix of metals, many of which have only been previously mined in small amounts. Greater rates of recycling and the adoption of responsible sourcing is essential to ensure that the transition does not increase the already significant environmental and human impacts of mining.
A new study by ISF, commissioned by U.S. non-profit organisation Earthworks, assesses the projected mineral demand for fourteen metals used in renewable energy and storage. The study links the projected mineral demand at a global scale, the potential to offset demand through recycling, supply risks and potential environmental and human rights impacts.
The potential metal demand from clean energy has been modelled against an ambitious scenario for a 100% renewable electricity and transport system by 2050, that limits climate change to 1.5 degrees in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.
As demand for minerals such as lithium and rare earths skyrockets, the already significant environmental and human impacts of mining are likely to rise steeply as well.
If manufacturers commit to responsible sourcing this will encourage more mines to engage in responsible practices and certification.
There is also an urgent need to invest in recycling and reuse schemes to ensure the valuable metals used in these technologies are recovered, so only what is necessary is mined.
- Under a 100 percent renewable energy scenario, metal requirements could rise dramatically, requiring new primary and recycled sources
- Clean technologies rely on a variety of minerals, principally cobalt, nickel, lithium, copper, aluminium, silver and rare earths. Cobalt, lithium and rare earths are the metals of most concern for increasing demand and supply risks
- Batteries for electric vehicles are the most significant driver of accelerated minerals demand.
- Recycled sources can significantly reduce primary demand, but new mining is likely to take place and new mining developments linked to renewable energy are already underway
- Responsible sourcing is needed when supply cannot be met by recycled sources.
Download the Executive Summary (pdf, 7 pages, 10.6MB)
Dominish, E., Florin, N. and Teske, S., 2019, Responsible Minerals Sourcing for Renewable Energy. Report prepared for Earthworks by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney.