Mineral production set to grow as clean energy demand rises

Mineral production could grow by almost 500% by 2050 to meet growing demand for clean energy technologies, the World Bank Group has said.

In its report, Minerals for Climate Action, it estimated over 3bn tonnes of minerals and metals will be required to deploy the wind, solar, geothermal power and energy storage necessary to achieve a below 2°C future, and stressed the need to manage the subsequent material and climate footprints. While emissions from the production and operation of renewable energy and storage accounts for just 6% of fossil fuel technologies, they would reach 16 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) emissions by 2050 – without factoring in emissions from transporting minerals between processing and manufacturing facilities. The report called for policy and innovation to “meaningfully address” upstream and downstream emissions related challenges from clean energy technologies.

It also highlighted the role recycling and reuse will play in meeting demand and reducing emissions, warning that primary mineral demand from mining will still be needed. The report explained that scaling up recycling rates for minerals such as copper and aluminium by 100% would still not be enough to meet demand for renewable energy and storage. This is partly due to a lack of existing material to recycle and reuse, along with costs and technological barriers. Facilitating this, it said, will be a vital part of the low carbon transition and policy measures are needed to incentivise action in this area.

The report further explained that future increases in recycling rates can play an important role in mitigating increases in demand for raw materials, as can reuse of components for energy storage, and refurbishment of equipment, such as wind turbines.

However, even if challenges in the mineral recycling sector can be overcome, the remaining primary demand will still have to be met in the most effective, environmentally and socially responsible manner. The World Bank called for importers of key minerals with ambitious climate targets, especially those in developed countries, to work closely with mineral producers in developing countries to decarbonise and reduce the material impacts associated with increased extractive activities.

World Bank Group