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The clean energy economy turns out to be the metals energy economy

The clean energy economy turns out to be the metals energy economy

A very observant longtime friend of mine opined recently that the clean energy economy is really just a metals energy economy where metals provide the basis for energy production and transmission. The idea that this emerging economy is going to be light on resources compared to our current fossil-fuel based economy is a fantasy.

And you don’t have to take his word for it. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has attempted to project the needs of this new economy. The IEA’s report entitled “The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions” contains some eye-popping statistics that drive home just how much in the way of metals might be needed in order to supply the builders of this clean energy infrastructure.

Using two scenarios the IEA estimated that growth in demand coming from clean energy industries just for battery-related minerals will explode by 2040 relative to 2020:

1. Lithium: Between 13 to 42 times.

2. Graphite: Between 8 and 25 times.

3. Cobalt: Between 6 to 21 times.

4. Nickel: Between 6 to 19 times.

5. Manganese: Between 3 to 8 times.

Demand related specifically to renewable energy and its infrastructure is projected to increase for the following minerals under two scenarios:

1. Rare earth elements (REEs): Between 3.4 and 7.3 times more. REEs are important for electric motors and generators.

2. Molybdenum: Between 2.2 to 2.9 times more. Molybdenum is used in solar and wind power because of its ability to transmit electricity well.

3. Copper – Between 1.7 to 2.7 times more. Copper, of course, has long been used in electrical motors and wires.

4. Silicon – Between 1.8 to 2.3. Silicon, of course, is a semiconductor widely used in solar panels. Silicon is the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust after oxygen, so it is widely available. However, it takes considerable energy and a multi-step process to produce silicon of sufficient purity for semiconductor and other applications.

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