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The next energy crisis is possibly going to be worse, the supply of Essential Minerals for Renewable Solutions

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Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation & Energy Knowledge Provider Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

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  • Mar 16, 2022

The next crisis is possibly worse, supply of Essential Minerals for Renewable Solutions

Lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel and other essential minerals are all presently required for the renewable solutions we require to replace fossil fuels and for that, we rely specifically on China, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Australia.

An essential report to be read was published by the IEA in May 2021, “The role of critical minerals in clean energy transitions. highlights our need for these essential minerals and while we are facing a growing energy crisis in the world our rush to reduce dependence on oil, gas and coal will take us into another very different energy crisis in the possibly the next 5 years to come.

This offers an extensive review of this topic of critical minerals needed in the Energy Transition and anyone interested, concerned or wishing to understand issues that are critical to a successful energy transition should find time to read this report.

The mineral intensity for renewable solutions will become the critical focus point as we attempt to scale up any energy transition

The mineral intensity for our renewable solutions within the energy transition will have an increasing focus on Rare earth elements, and Manganese, Nickel, Chromium, Silicon, Zinc, Copper for our new power generation capacity

Mineral security will become a new variable in the energy transition, that is for sure. Briefly taking some points from this report.

Will the supplies be resilient and secure?

The reality is today that many of the energy transition minerals are more concentrated on a few countries than oil or natural gas supplies—that indicated real risks.

For lithium, cobalt, and rare earth elements, the world’s top three producing nations control well over three-quarters of global output. In some cases, this is one single country. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the People’s Republic of China (China) are responsible for 70% and 60% of global production of cobalt and rare earth elements, respectively, in 2019.

China has a very high concentration for processing operations and has global refining shares of 35% for nickel, 50-70% for lithium and cobalt, and nearly 90% for rare earth elements.

The Chinese companies have been making substantial investments in overseas assets in Australia, Chile, the DRC and Indonesia to make for even more critical mineral control.

The decline in resource quality is becoming a growing concern as well.

One example mentioned in the IEA report was Chile, where the average copper ore grade has declined by 30% over the past 15 years. This extracting the metal content of lower-grade ores requires more energy, exerting upward pressure on production costs, greenhouse gas emissions and waste volumes.

This impact from poorer quality will add growing scrutiny on environmental and social performance. Consumers and investors are continuing to source the minerals in sustainable and responsible produced ways. Will they?

Increased mining in already highly stressed parts of the world of climate issues will add to higher water stress levels. Some areas or regions in Australia, China and Africa have extreme heat, and flooding gives greater challenges in ensuring reliable and sustainable supplies.

Reliability, affordability and sustainability for minerals will become critically important to manage.

The IEA regards the risks to the reliability, affordability and sustainability of mineral supplies are manageable, but I openly would question that in this changing world of global conflicts and politics.

This supply management will require a greater focus on these critical minerals, collaborations and policy co-ordinations in a rapidly polarizing world of global politics

The suggestion of recognizing mineral security in similar ways to how the world monitors and manages oil or gas security as this critical mineral threat can have far-reaching consequences throughout the energy system if not globally managed and recognized for the risks it will present.

Recognizing energy dependencies in the public domain.

Mineral supplies will not be seen as quickly as “spikes in pump prices” but in how minerals as essential components for infrastructure and our energy transition will make it more expensive and delay the pathway to net-zero even more than we see today.

Pump prices get immediate public attention, less so for essential infrastructure or energy transition delays although this will change, as more dependence on energy resilience comes into play, as we when ourselves off fossil fuels onto renewable clean energy.

A critical overview of the dependencies and crisis potentially coming for securing essential materials can be seen below.

Let’s take the time to evaluate the following slides from the IEA in support of their May 2021 report, “The role of critical minerals in clean energy transitions.

Energy instability will dominate much in the next ten years, in conclusion:

Mineral security and intensity of use will become the energy risk we will all be facing in ever-increasing growing realities, once the transition from fossil fuel dependence is fully on its way to being replaced by renewables, that is for sure.

The EU in particular has to find a way out of its current fossil fuel dependence, especially reliant on Russian gas supplies.

In the next big crisis, both the EU and increasingly the USA has to face up to its even more dependence on China’s dominating role in essential mineral supply and processing both inside China but in all its investments made in Africa, Asia and Latin America to gain world dominance in these.

Energy management at the global, regional, country and local levels is going to be dominating in the years to come.



*This summary has been drawn from the report from the IEA as per the links shown.

The report by the IEA in May 2021, “The role of critical minerals in clean energy transitions“, offers an extensive review of this topic and anyone interested, concerned or wish to understand issues that are critical to a successful energy transition should find time to read this report.
All rights reserved by IEA. The report reflects the views of the IEA Secretariat.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 16, 2022

The decline in resource quality is becoming a growing concern as well.

We hear a lot about the shortage in supply and the rising prices, but we don't hear much about this aspect of the situation. I wonder why that's the case? 

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Mar 17, 2022

Extraction is finite, demand is high, cutting corners in purity all add up to a supply dominating position. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 17, 2022

Next energy crisis? America's dependence on China for rare earth minerals has been recognized for at least 20 years - but like climate change, it's gotta hurt before anyone wants to do anything about it.

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Mar 17, 2022

You are right Bob- it will hit and hurt!

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Thank Paul for the Post!
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