At ARPN, we have long argued that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as green energy technology relies heavily on a score of critical metals and minerals.
The World Bank’s latest report, entitled “The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition,” published earlier this week in the context of the global lender’s “Climate-Smart Mining” initiative, confirms this notion, and estimates that production of metals and minerals like graphite, lithium and cobalt will have to increase by nearly 500 percent by 2050 to meet global demand for renewable energy technology. To achieve the transition to a below 2°C pathway as outlined by the Paris Agreement, the deployment of wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage will require more than three billion tons of minerals and metals.
Interestingly, the report finds that while shifting to clean energy technology will be mineral-intensive, the carbon footprint of their production “will account for only 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuel technologies.” While recycling and re-use of metals and minerals will play an important role in increasing mineral demand, even drastic increases in this category will not suffice to meet demand for renewable energy technology and energy storage.
Published against the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic, which, according to World Bank Global Director for Energy and Extractive Industries and Regional Director for Infrastructure in Africa, Riccardo Puliti, “could represent an additional risk to sustainable mining,” the report, and the Climate-Smart Initiative as a whole, seek to offer a “data-driven tool for understanding how this shift will impact future mineral demand.”
As economies — particularly in developing nations, many of which are home to the critical materials used in battery technology — start to reopen, the initiative seeks to help these nations “to mine those commodities in a sustainable manner to avert major ecological damage.”
The World Bank’s Climate Smart Mining initiative is one facet of approaches taken to sustainably green our future, but, as we recently outlined, it does not end here. In an effort to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development, mining companies have started to incorporate renewable power sources into their operations. Some recent examples include:
• Rio Tinto looking at incorporating renewables and battery storage into its main mining sites in Australia, for example as part of its $1 billion upgrade for its Pilbara ore project
• Fortescue Metals having partnered with a power utility to – with the backing of the Australian federal government – help power its Pilbara operations with solar energy and battery storage
• Gold Fields planning to predominantly operate its Agnew gold mine in Western Australia (WA) using renewable energy by partnering with a global energy group and investing in an energy micro grid combining wind, solar, gas and battery storage
• Antofagasta partnering with a utility company to turn its Zaldívar mine into the first 100% renewable energy-powered Chilean mine with a mix of hydro, solar and wind power
• Rio Tinto looking to reduce its carbon footprint at its Kennecott Utah copper mine by as much as 65% through the purchase of renewable energy certificates
As challenging as the global post-COVID-19 environment will be, it also holds opportunity. As Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute and Professor of Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines told committee members during testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) last fall:
“The future energy system will be far more mineral and metal-intensive than it is today. Many of these advanced technologies require minerals and metals with particular properties that have few to no current substitutes.
The opportunity for the mining industry is tremendous. An industry that has experienced enormous public pressure and critique, accompanied by offshoring production overseas, can now evolve into one fundamental to supporting a shift to a low-carbon and sustainable energy system based on domestic natural resources.”