Mineral Foundations of the Energy Transition

Implications of energy transition on increased demand for minerals and the impacts on markets, trade, security, communities, geopolitics, prices, and technology development

Implications of energy transition on increased demand for minerals and the impacts on markets, trade, security, communities, geopolitics, prices, and technology development

Dr. Morgan Bazilian – congressional testimony to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the United States Senate -September 17, 2019

The current energy transformations now occurring globally—towards increased electrification, and low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles, fuel cells, wind turbines and solar photovoltaics (PV) rely on significant quantities of minerals and metals. The implications of increasing mineral demand has broad ramifications that go well beyond the energy and extractives sector.

Background

Calls for a Green New Deal and energy transition are coming from many global stakeholders. Less understood are the significant quantities of minerals that will be needed to fuel that transition.  Examples include the rare earths neodymium and dysprosium for magnets in high-efficiency motors; lithium, cobalt, nickel and vanadium in energy storage; and platinum-group elements in catalysts and fuel cells. To supply the necessary minerals the mining industry is confronted with numerous challenges related to environment, innovation, investment, social license to operate among others.

Additionally, (or most) of the countries with the largest potentials (and existing markets) for these minerals are emerging and developing economies. This creates further concerns around governance and a changing geopolitical landscape. How this changing demand affects markets, trade, security, geopolitics, prices, and technology development are key questions to that require further exploration.

As one of the leading energy engineering universities in the world, Colorado School of Mines and the Payne Institute is facilitating an integrated approach to the technical and policy challenges related to the mineral foundations of the energy transition.  Through research and collaboration with industry, government and other stakeholders, Mines is providing research and data to support decision-making and further consideration of the topic.

NEWS

Rare earth element resource evaluation of coal byproducts: A case study from the Powder River Basin, Wyoming 1/22/2022

Rare earth element resource evaluation of coal byproducts: A case study from the Powder River Basin, Wyoming

D.A. Bagdonasa, A.J. Enriquez, Payne Fellow K.A. Coddington, D.C. Finnoff, J.F. McLaughlin, Payne Director M.D. Bazilian, E.H. Phillips, and T.L.McLing write about domestic Rare Earth Element sources and production are limited in the United States and currently rely on final processing overseas. Increasing demand and resource security domestically has led to significant investigation into rare earth element domestic resources. Much of this work focuses on unconventional potential ore stocks, including coal and coal byproducts. This investigation focuses on coal byproducts generated as ash from coal burning power stations. January 22, 2022.

Critical Minerals: America’s Achilles Heel? 1/19/2022

Critical Minerals: America’s Achilles Heel?

Payne Institute Director Morgan Bazilian contributes to this article about how the U.S. lacks minerals and metals and is import-dependent.  The Biden administration has made securing rare earth minerals a priority in its effort to decarbonize the U.S. economy. Texas-based USA Rare Earth LLC is planning to produce half of the rare earth elements crucial to the administration’s projects at this Texas Round Top mining operation. The U.S. Geological Survey is proposing to expand the current list of minerals crucial to the economy and to national defense from 30 to 50.  January 19, 2022.

Ex-post analysis of energy subsidy removal through integrated energy systems modelling 1/15/2022

Ex-post analysis of energy subsidy removal through integrated energy systems modelling

V. Aryanpur, M. Ghahremani, S. Mamipour, M. Fattahi, B. ´O Gallach´oir, Payne Director Morgan D. Bazilian, and J. Glynn write about how energy subsidies can incentivise the overconsumption of energy resources and contribute to other economic or social distortions. In this paper, an ex-post analysis is presented that explores the extent to which electricity subsidy reform could have reduced Iran’s energy demand during the period 1984–2017. It also quantifies the techno-economic and environmental benefits that could have been achieved through such reforms.  January 15, 2022.

Payne Institute Welcomes New Research Associate 1/11/2022

Payne Institute Welcomes New Research Associate

The Payne Institute welcomes our new Research Associate, Baba Freeman. Baba will initially be embedded within the COMET (the Coalition on Materials Emissions Transparency) partnership to help improve the transparency and quality of environmental, social, and governance disclosures along the mineral and metals value chain. Baba comes to the Payne Institute with years of experience in management consulting and finance in the oil and gas and electric power industries, in which he worked on a diverse range of projects and gained expertise in strategic analysis and business performance improvement. His academic background is in petroleum geoscience, mineral and energy economics, and policy.   January 11, 2022.  

Nebraska project finds key minerals, but can it mine them? 12/22/2021

Nebraska project finds key minerals, but can it mine them?

Payne Institute Faculty Fellow Rod Eggert is featured in this article about how the challenges start with the massive amount of money needed to build a mine but also include fickle customers, the nation’s tougher environmental regulations, volatile markets and intense international competition. As a result, despite years of efforts, the mine in Nebraska might never be built. Even if NioCorp can come up with the money for its mine, its profitability could hinge on whether its minerals will be cheaper than foreign competitors’ supplies. Simply knowing the existence of a mineral deposit that’s attractive geologically does not guarantee commercial viability.  December 22, 2021.

F1000 Research Energy Gateway 12/15/2021

F1000 Research Energy Gateway

Payne Institute Director Morgan Bazilian is proud to serve as a advisor for the F1000Research Energy Gateway.  The Energy gateway aims to provide stakeholders across academia, industry and policy with a space to disseminate work related to all areas of energy research. By providing fast, open publication alongside access to underlying data the gateway looks to facilitate the rapid and transparent sharing of energy research. This research includes a broad range of topics and interdisciplinary areas such as renewable energy, energy storage materials, energy efficiency and conservation, and energy justice, economics and policy, to name just a few.  December 15, 2021. 

Proposed Nebraska mine might produce more rare elements 12/14/2021

Proposed Nebraska mine might produce more rare elements

Payne Institute Faculty Fellow Rod Eggert is featured in this article about how the NioCorp Developments released a new report Tuesday that shows those rare earth elements are present throughout the deposit it plans to mine if it can raise roughly $1 billion to build the project about 80 miles (128.75 kilometers) south of Omaha near the town of Elk Creek.  Being able to produce those sought-after elements along with the niobium, scandium and titanium NioCorp plans to mine would make the project more attractive to investors, but the company won’t know for sure whether it can economically produce those rare earth elements until it does some additional analysis of the latest data. It will take several months to complete that review.  December 14, 2021.

Big Data and AI in Advancing Geothermal Energy 12/13/2021

Big Data and AI in Advancing Geothermal Energy

Payne Institute Faculty Fellow H. Sebnem Düzgün looks at geothermal resources are subsurface and require costly discovery, exploration, development and operation processes. But mining engineers @ Colorado School of Mines are finding answers in Big Data and AI. Energy Resources Intelligence (ERI) is an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based prediction system that supports investment decisions in geothermal. The ERI system produces accurate footprints of potential subsurface geothermal resources using deep-learning algorithms, multimodal big data analytics and statistical- and machine-learning (SML) methods, which lead to cost reductions in geothermal discovery and exploration.  December 13, 2021.  

A coal renaissance is not coming to Africa 12/13/2021

A coal renaissance is not coming to Africa

Jacob Kincer, Payne Institute Fellow Todd Moss, and Mark Thurber write about how as the US and much of Europe pursue aggressive plans to decarbonize, in part by replacing coal-fired power stations with cleaner sources, the global focus has shifted to coal in emerging economies, like Africa. Several studies have projected a boom in new coal power generation in Africa, more than 30 GW (GW) of new capacity operational by 2030. Such a scenario has been used to justify proposed prohibitions on all new fossil fuel projects, including gas for cooking, power, fertilizer, or industry. We examined two of the most influential studies projecting steep increases in African coal and we independently collected and analyzed government and media reports on each of the 22 potential projects listed in a widely-used public database. December 13, 2021.

Critical Minerals and the Legacy Mine Environment: A Proposed Data Collection Program to Help Address the U.S. Critical Minerals Gap 12/9/2021

Critical Minerals and the Legacy Mine Environment: A Proposed Data Collection Program to Help Address the U.S. Critical Minerals Gap

Payne Institute Faculty Fellow Elizabeth Holley, Robin Bullock, Priscilla Nelson, Erik Spiller, and Fellow Sara Hastings-Simon write about how the United States is in the midst of a robust national debate regarding supply chains for the critical minerals needed to facilitate, support and drive the clean energy economy, and to anchor national security. The issue is well-categorized in the recent White House 100-Day Task Force Report under EO 14017. As with most energy and resource topics, opinions vary widely – buy from trusted allies and foreign sources, source via recycling, accelerate U.S. mineral exploration, process from unconventional feedstocks (coal and coal ash), and search for more readily available alternatives. Ultimately, we will likely need all of these options, operating simultaneously, to provide the minerals and materials necessary to ensure national and economic security, generate jobs, and stimulate economic growth.  We propose a rapid assessment of an additional, often overlooked resource category: mining waste from approximately 500,000 legacy and abandoned sites scattered throughout the country.  December 9, 2021.

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For more information about the Mineral Foundations of the Energy Transition Research Area at the Payne Institute for Public Policy, please contact our Deputy Director, Greg Clough, at gclough@mines.edu.