3bn tons of minerals needed to meet climate goals

14 May 2020

The production of minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt could increase fivefold by 2050 to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies, according to the World Bank.

In a report the bank estimated more than three billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy wind, solar and geothermal power generation equipment in order to meet climate change goals.

The report said that while clean energy technologies will require more minerals, the carbon footprint of their production will be relatively low.

From extraction to end-use these minerals will account for only 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuel technologies.

Minerals such as copper and molybdenum will be used in a range of technologies but others, such as graphite and lithium, are likely to be needed only for battery storage.

This means that any changes in clean energy technology, for example battery design, could have important consequences on demand for certain minerals.

Scaling up recycling rates for minerals such as copper and aluminum by 100% would still not be enough to meet the demand for renewable energy generation and storage, the report said.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 is causing major disruptions to the mining industry across the world and causing revenue gaps in developing countries that rely on minerals. 

Riccardo Puliti, World Bank global director for energy and extractive industries and regional director for infrastructure in Africa, said: “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.” 

Mines have remained open in some areas such as Western Australia but severely restricted in others such as Peru and South Africa in response to government lockdowns.

Metals such as nickel, a major component of electric vehicle batteries, have seen production cuts of more than 30% due to reliance on a small number of countries for supply.

Despite reduced demand, falls in supplies have led to price rises for some minerals such as uranium, which has seen a 30-35% drop in production.

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