For the production of electric cars, wind turbines and solar panels, for example, various minerals such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and rare earths are indispensable. Of some of these substances shortages are looming, because they are insufficiently extracted, according to the IEA. In its World Energy Outlook Special Report, the agency mapped the demand for minerals for the energy transition for the first time.
“The current data shows that there is an imminent mismatch between the heightened global climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realise those ambitions,” says Fatih Birol, director of the IEA.
Electric cars and batteries, in particular, will cause an sharp rise in the demand for certain raw materials. For example, at least 30 times as much lithium, nickel and other metals will be needed by 2040 in order to meet the Paris climate agreement. Minerals and rare earths are also indispensable for magnets in wind turbines and electric motors.
For sustainable energy technology, many times more non-renewable raw materials are needed than for the generation of fossil or even nuclear energy. Wind energy in particular is anything but sustainable in this respect: for wind farms (on land and offshore), 4 to 6 times more raw materials are needed per MegaWatt generated than for coal-fired power stations and even 8 to 12 times more than for gas-fired power stations. A large part of these consist of zinc, which is harmful to the environment. The production of electric cars also requires about 8 times more raw materials than a conventional vehicle. The electrification of industry, mobility and households will also lead to a sharp increase in the demand for copper and aluminium for electricity networks, the IEA expects.
Last month, Egbert Dommerholt (professor at Hanze UAS Groningen) warned in Agro&Chemistry that the European circular concept: economic growth and less use of raw materials, is inherently contradictory.
- The circular economy requires a complete makeover (Agro&Chemistry 7 May 2021)
Read the full report on the IEA website.
Top image: open-pit copper mine in Spain (Denis Zhitnik/Shutterstock).