An employee works on electric vehicle battery systems at a workshop of Sunwoda Electric Vehicle Battery Co. on March 12, 2021, in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province of China.
(Photo by Xu Congjun/VCG via Getty Images)
- The demand for these minerals could increase six-fold by 2040, the International Energy Agency said.
- A typical electric car requires six times more minerals than a conventional car.
- The IEA recommended six steps to lead to more stable supplies of these critical minerals.
As the world switches to clean energy technologies to combat climate change, demand for the minerals needed to build those technologies is going to skyrocket, according to a new report.
That rising demand could create potential energy security hazards that governments must act now to address, the International Energy Agency said in the report.
“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realizing those ambitions,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a news release. “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.”
Solar power plants, wind farms and electric vehicles require more minerals than traditional fossil fuel-based technologies.
Batteries need lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite. Wind turbines and electric vehicle motors require permanent magnets that rely on rare earth elements. Electricity networks need huge amounts of copper and aluminum.
According to the report, an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a similarly sized gas-fired power plant. A typical electric car requires six times more minerals than a conventional car.
Overall, mineral requirements for clean-energy technologies are expected to double by 2040 under energy policies in place or announced, the IEA said.
However, a concerted effort to meet the goal of the Paris climate agreement to keep global warming below 3.6 degrees (2°C) would quadruple mineral requirements by 2040. Reaching net-zero warming by 2050 would increase the demand for minerals six-fold by 2040, the IEA said.
Current supply chains are not set up to meet these rising demands, the IEA warned.
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The three countries that produce the most lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements control well over three-quarters of global output, the report said.
For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was responsible for 70% of the global production of cobalt in 2019. China was responsible for 60% of the production of rare earth elements.
China also processes nearly 90% of rare earth elements and 50% to 70% of lithium and cobalt.
South Africa is responsible for about 70% of the global production of platinum.
Because the mineral supply is so concentrated, it is at greater risk from physical disruption, trade restrictions or other developments in the major producing countries, the report said.
The Steenkampskraal rare-earth mine in South Africa has been confirmed as one of the highest-grade deposits of rare earth minerals in the world. The rare earth minerals are used in the manufacture of powerful magnets,