August 3, 2023: Mining for battery materials needs to be ramped up worldwide over the next decade if countries are to meet their net-zero economy pledges, according to a new study published on July 20.
The paradoxical situation of digging up more of the planet to fuel the clean energy transition is set out by the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) — a coalition of organizations including energy producers, technology providers, finance players and environmental bodies.
ETC’s report, Material and Resource Requirements for the Energy Transition, says water requirements for activities including metals mining, cleaning solar panels and electrolysis for hydrogen, could be as much as 1.5–2 times higher than for fossil fuel energy systems, but lower than that for agricultural uses.
Meanwhile delays in the battery materials supply chain could spark further fresh price increases for EVs, leading to “hundreds of millions of internal combustion engine vehicles remaining on the road for many more years”.
ETC says building the new energy system will initially push up CO2 emissions because the first generation of any new clean technology has to be built using fossil fuel based energy.
But the production of materials to support the energy transition will result in total global cumulative life cycle emissions of 15-30 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent, compared with the approximately 40 GtCO2e produced every year from the current fossil-fuel-based energy system.
ETC chair Adair Turner said there are enough resources and minerals in the world for the energy transition.
However, with some key minerals such as lithium and copper “it will be challenging to scale up supply fast enough over the next decade to keep pace with rapidly rising demand”.
Turner said governments, regulators, producers and consumers must work together to increase recycling, improve material efficiency, invest in new mining and regulate environmental and social standards.
Wood Mackenzie research analyst Max Reid told the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Germany in June 2022 that more mining of raw materials would be needed to supply lithium ion battery manufacturers because “recycling alone cannot meet demand”.