Metals for the energy transition
Why we should address a raw materials transition together with the energy transition
The paper investigates the role of metals in the energy transition, the impact of various sectors on metal demand, and the need for sector-specific reduction targets to ensure the sustainable supply of metals for renewable energy production.
Key findings related to metal demand, CO2 emissions, and sector reduction targets include:
1. The metal intensity of renewable energy production is not higher compared to energy production with fossil fuels. The report examined the metal consumption of energy production, including iron, aluminium and copper. Compared to the metal needs in g per MWh the metal intensity is not higher compared to e.g. coal power plants. While some renewable technologies do require critical metals, their overall environmental impact is significantly lower compared to fossil fuel-based energy production.
2. Not surprisingly, the study emphasizes that fossil energy production emits much more CO2 than renewables, contributing to climate change and environmental degradation. Transitioning to renewable energy sources is a vital step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
3. The automobile industry and the shift away from combustion engines to battery vehicles has a higher impact on metal demand. The study highlights that a large share of common metal demand projections is on account of the automobile industry. The growing shift towards electric vehicles and the assumption of a 1:1 replacement of combustion engines with electric cars, instead of considering a transformation to alternative mobility systems, significantly increase the need for critical raw materials like lithium and cobalt which only play a minor role in wind, solar and hydro power.
4. The report argues that to secure the metal supply for renewable energy production, there is a need for reduction targets in other sectors with alternative models that are less resource-intensive, such as the mobility and construction sectors. Implementing reduction targets can help manage the demand for critical raw materials, promote the adoption of alternative materials, and support a sustainable energy transition. The energy transition therefore does not contradict the need for reducing primary raw material consumption, but rather supports it.
This publication is a translation of the German-language study “Metalle für die Energiewende”, which was published in November 2022 with financial support from the European Climate Foundation and Engagement Global / Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
This study has been supported by the European Climate Foundation. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this study lie with the authors. The European Climate Foundation cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained or expressed therein.