Recent media coverage might have you believe critical mineral policy only revolves around the “battery criticals”lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt and manganese, and maybe the frequently referenced, though still somewhat obscure rare earths. However, as followers of ARPN well know, this is far from the truth.
The New South Wales Department of Planning and environment has taken a closer look at solar panels, which, just like EV batteries, are at the core of the green energy transition, and outlines the top four metals and minerals that make solar panels work:
Copper — a mainstay metal with perhaps unrivaled versatility, lending itself to a wide range of traditional and new applications, and yields access to other critical minerals as a “gateway metal,” an indispensable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs and wind turbines to the electric grid and solar panels.
For some of our most recent coverage of Copper, click here.
Silicon — the most abundant compound in the Earth’s crust, silicon takes the form of ordinary sand, quartz, rock crystal, amethyst, agate, flint, jasper, and opal. To produce pure silicon, the compound is hearted with carbon at extra high temperatures. The material is used extensively in electronics because of its semiconducting properties. It is used in the manufacture of next-gen 5-nanometer (5nm) semiconductor chips, and is a key component of solar panels and photovoltaic cells.
For ARPN’s recent coverage of Silicon, click here.
Silver — By definition a “precious” metal like gold, it may come as a surprise to those who see silver primarily as shiny adornment or a means to store value that the biggest end users of silver may actually be specialized industries. More recently, the metal has evolved from “money metal to techno metal,” as North of 60 Mining News’s Shane Lasley termed it, with its true value lying in “more industrious properties that make it invaluable to high-tech applications such as solar panels, electric vehicles, and 5G networks.”
For Shane Lasley’s Treatment of Silver in the 2021 issue of “Critical Mineral Alliances” click here.
Zinc — primarily used in metallurgical applications, zinc is also a Gateway metal, yielding access to “criticals” Indium and Germanium. Today, zinc is also seeing greater application in green energy technology.
These four may not make the top of the hour news at the moment, but silicon, for example, appears on the Australian and European Union’s critical minerals lists, while zinc, previously not on the U.S. Critical Minerals List, was afforded critical mineral status by the U.S. Government earlier this year, and is also deemed critical by the Canadian government.
As for copper – which Canada considers a critical mineral – followers of ARPN well know that there are good reasons to include Copper into the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List, and ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has consistently argued in favor of doing so via public comments during the draft process of both the initial 2018List and its 2022 iteration.
The bottom line is, while people appear to be laser focused on achieving the green energy transition via securing supply chains for the battery criticals and rare earths, the issue is bigger than this limited group of metals and minerals. With the materials science revolution continuing to yield research breakthroughs at neck-breaking speeds, demand scenarios for metals and minerals will be subject to change.
It is clear that in the words of Forbes contributor Wal van Lierop, “[w]ithout massive investments in base metals and key minerals, Europe and North America will fail to meet their carbon emission targets and face a new form of energy insecurity,” — but these investments have to be made in the context of a broad-based “all of the above” strategy.