70 percent of the world’s climate emissions are now covered by targets to reduce to net zero by 2050. This is very good. To meet these ambitions, technological shifts are required in many sectors – not least in terms of how we generate and use energy. Electrification with fossil-free electricity is a key to achieving our ambitions.
An important conclusion is that emission-free energy technologies need more minerals and metals than the conventional ones that use fossil fuels – that we go from using fossil fuels as energy carriers to copper, nickel, cobalt and lithium instead taking on the role of energy carriers. And a higher climate ambition gives even higher demand – a scenario with net-zero as a goal globally increases the needs 6 times compared to today’s needs. The supply of these minerals is currently limited and a key conclusion is that there is an imminent risk that the supply of critical minerals will become a bottleneck for coping with the climate.
Another conclusion is that the energy sector will become a leading consumer of minerals as the energy transition accelerates. In other words, a mutual dependence is created – to produce the minerals that the energy conversion requires fossil-free electricity, and the fossil-free electricity requires minerals to be able to be generated.
A third conclusion is that the shift means that the world is moving from being heavily dependent on the countries that produce fossil fuels to being dependent on the countries that can extract and refine the materials that the new energy technology needs. China is currently a dominant player in terms of many minerals, and not least the EU is a region that today has a low capacity to produce these important minerals.
What about recycling? It is obvious that circular flows need to be created for increased resource efficiency. However, the IEA points out that it has only a limited impact on demand for primary raw materials in a medium-term perspective. In 2040, they estimate that recycling can reduce the need for primary raw materials by about 10%. Increased production of primary minerals will therefore be needed for a long time.
Sweden, as a leading mining nation in the EU, has fantastic opportunities to contribute with sustainably produced minerals that are needed for globally increased climate ambitions. Of the minerals that are critical for fossil-free energy technologies, virtually all are found in the Swedish bedrock. We just need the conditions to continue to develop and extract these.
Unfortunately, the trend is in the opposite direction. Changes in the order in which the environmental assessment for Natura 2000 is to be carried out create new obstacles. The news that recently came from Bergsstaten regarding one of the world’s largest deposits of rare earth metals in Norra Kärr shows this. The image that is now spreading of Sweden as a mining nation internationally is worrying. The trend needs to be reversed!
The main conclusions of the report
- an imminent risk that access to critical minerals will become a bottleneck to cope with the climate
- the energy sector will become a leading consumer of minerals as the energy transition accelerates
- the world goes from being heavily dependent on the countries that produce fossil fuels to being dependent on the countries that can extract and refine the materials that the new energy technology needs
- in 2040, it is estimated that recycling will reduce the need for primary raw materials by about 10% – increased production of primary minerals will therefore be needed for a long time
> Download The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions from IEA.org
Source: IEA (2021), The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/the-role-of-critical-minerals-in-clean-energy-transitions