A new World Bank Group reports that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500 per cent by 2050, to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. It estimates that more than 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, required for achieving a below 2°C future.
The report “Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition” also adds that even though clean energy technologies will require more minerals, the carbon footprint of their production – from extraction to end use – will account for only 6 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuel technologies.
The report underscores the important role that recycling and reuse of minerals will play in meeting increasing mineral demand. It also notes that even if we scale up recycling rates for minerals like copper and aluminum by 100 per cent, recycling and reuse would still not be enough to meet the demand for renewable energy technologies and energy storage.
In the current global context, COVID-19 is causing major disruptions to the mining industry across the world. In addition, developing countries that rely on minerals are missing out on essential revenues and, as their economies start to reopen, they will need to strengthen their commitment to climate-smart mining principles and mitigate any negative impacts.
“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 Riccardo Puliti, World Bank global director for energy and extractive industries and regional director for infrastructure in Africa. “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.”
The report reveals that some minerals, like copper and molybdenum, will be used in a range of technologies, while others, such as graphite and lithium, may be needed for just one technology: battery storage. This means that any changes in clean energy technology deployments could have significant consequences on demand for certain minerals.
The report is designed to help governments, especially resource-rich developing countries, the private sector and civil society organisations (CSOs), understand how the clean energy transition will impact future mineral demand. It is part of the joint World Bank-IFC Climate-Smart Mining initiative and builds upon the World Bank’s 2017 report “The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low- Carbon Future.”