New research by the UK Energy Research Centreand the Energy Research Partnership looking at materials availability for green technologies finds critical metals used to manufacture low-carbon energy technologies “is rising rapidly and requires serious attention from industry and policymakers.”
However says the report “scaremongering about scarcity is misguided” as there is “little evidence to suggest that resource availability or depletion is affecting production growth now and/or in the short term.”
This chart shows rising production of 10 of these raw materials used in electric vehicle batteries, photovoltaics for solar polar, hydrogen fuel cells and wind turbines among others in response to rising demand:
The study zoned in on lithium and rare earth element neodymium, critical components of electric vehicles, which are also not easily substituted. The report notes there is currently no efficient substitute for lithium-based EV batteries “given the unparalleled energy density delivered by this chemistry” and no other chemistry provides magnets of the power achievable with neodymium magnets used in permanent magnet motors.
There is no doubt that demand for lithium and neodymium will increase. The International Energy Agency forecasts over 40 million battery electric vehicle sales per year by 2050, from current annual battery electric vehicle sales of only around 150,000 today.
The question is whether future production can meet this demand.
From this chart it’s clear for neodymium the picture is not all that rosy (although the first chart shows REE production is already falling to reflect future demand):
Lithium on the other hand, even at the lower end of demand forecasts, will need significant investment in production to meet future needs.
The authors do caution that the wide supply-demand ranges is a reflection of “the wide range of assumptions in the literature and the uncertainty in estimates of critical metals futures.”
This chart presents a cumulative availability curve for lithium, highlighting the very large quantities of resource available if consumers are willing to pay the
high cost of extracting lithium from sea water.
This indicates the physical challenges associated with extracting metals from geological sources with ever-decreasing metal concentrations, and the ever-increasing costs associated with recovering these metals, says the report.
Click here to download the full report.