An oncoming mineral shortage may derail our green future

Clean tech like EVs and wind power require a lot of rare earth and minerals. We may not have enough to support our long-term clean energy goals.


May 11, 2021

STR/AFP via Getty Images

Humans can’t catch a break, even in the future.

A recently released report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), highlighted the at-odds relationship between the surging demand for rare minerals and their tight supply.

Experts believe this mismatch could derail countries’ efforts to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the most recent UN goal.

The reason…

Green energy production is a mineral junkie

Popular green energy solutions use a variety of rare earth metals and minerals. Two examples:

  • An electric vehicle (EV) uses 6x as many mineral resources as a fossil fuel car.
  • An offshore wind plant requires 9x as many mineral resources as a comparable gas power plant.

According to the IEA’s analysis, manufacturers will need 6x the amount of minerals being produced today by 2040.

Predicted demand for “White Gold” lithium used in EV batteries is otherworldly, expected to 70x in the next few decades. Accounting for existing global lithium mines, we’d only be able to meet about half the demand expected in this decade.

And there’s the supply chain…

… it’s delicate, like one-country-produces-most-of-it delicate.

In 2019, 70% of world’s cobalt production comes from the Demorcatic Republic of Congo. And not to be out-dug, China produces nearly 60% of all rare earth metals — AKA fancy elements ending in “-ium.”

But there’s hope. The IEA report outlined 6 areas of action to avoid the oncoming shortage, which included developing green technologies that aren’t so mineral-dependent.

So if we all work together, we can avoid Armageddon… sounds promising.

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