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

A Data-Driven Approach to Evaluation of Sustainability Reporting Practices in Extractive Industries 8/4/2021

A Data-Driven Approach to Evaluation of Sustainability Reporting Practices in Extractive Industries

Cansu Perdeli Demirkan, Payne Institute Faculty Fellows Nicole Smith and Sebnem Duzgun, and Aurora Waclawski write about how sustainability reporting is one of the tools that contribute to incorporating sustainable development in the design of extractive operations (i.e., “Design for Sustainability”), and the demand for sustainability reports is increasing due to the increased focus on sustainable development and sustainable financing efforts. The extractive industries are believed to have unique strengths to
contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. August 4, 2021.  

Olympics medals made of mashed up smartphones 7/27/2021

Olympics medals made of mashed up smartphones

Payne Institute Director Morgan Bazilian contributed to this article about recycled goods being used at the 2020 Olympics.  The Olympic torch, a sacred flame that dates back to ancient Greece, has now become an icon of the future, made up of aluminum waste from temporary housing built after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Meanwhile, 79,000 tons of metal salvaged from donated smartphones and electronics are now the key ingredients in 5,000 Olympic and Paralympic medals, according to the International Olympic Committee.  July 27, 2021. 

Rare Earths Explained 7/26/2021

Rare Earths Explained

Payne Institute Program Manager Jordy Lee writes about how you may not know what “rare earths” are, but you probably know they’re important. Indeed, over the last year, rare earths — which are elements, as in carbon or iron — have been the focus of presidential executive orders, Defense Department intervention and geopolitical tension with China. With a moniker that sounds like something engineered to kill Superman, it’s easy to imagine that rare earths are both exotic and important, which in many ways they are.   July 26, 2021.  

Innovators and the Development of Mini-Mills for Steel Recycling: Lessons for the Development of a Circular Economy from the Steel Industry 7/23/2021

Innovators and the Development of Mini-Mills for Steel Recycling: Lessons for the Development of a Circular Economy from the Steel Industry

Payne Institute Student Researcher McKenzie Jones and Fellow Sara Hastings-Simon write about how as the global population grows and societies become increasingly industrialized, the demand for resources is outpacing the capacity for sustainable production. Meeting this growing demand will require a change to the current linear approach to resource use – from one where resources are used and then discarded as waste to a more “circular economy” model. A circular economy combines an environmental and economic outlook on resources with the goal to dramatically reduce the new resources needed. Systems would be redesigned to reduce overall material needs, starting from design that enables items to be repaired and reused, requiring new value chains and business models.  July 23, 2021.

Third-party auditing won’t solve US solar industry’s Xinjiang problem 6/25/2021

Third-party auditing won’t solve US solar industry’s Xinjiang problem

Payne Institute Fellow Cullen Hendrix writes about how the US solar industry is justifiably concerned about the US government’s hardening stance on China’s human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (henceforth Xinjiang), a key supplier of polysilicon used for making the photovoltaic cells used in solar panels. In response, the industry is looking to third-party auditing and verification as a way of ensuring its supply chains aren’t tainted by forced labor. Unfortunately, this approach is unlikely to be effective in China’s repressive media and information environment.  June 25, 2021.  

As US aims to boost clean energy supply chain, critical minerals gap largely human-caused, analysts say 6/17/2021

As US aims to boost clean energy supply chain, critical minerals gap largely human-caused, analysts say

Payne Institute Program Manager Jordy Lee contributes to this article about supply chain issues. There is no shortage of rare earth minerals needed to transition to a clean energy economy, however, the problem is getting them out of the ground — and out of China.  June 17, 2021.  

Mining is the Next Global Energy Security Threat 6/15/2021

Mining is the Next Global Energy Security Threat

Payne Institute Director Morgan Bazilian writes about how humanity is at an inflection point in the fight against climate change. The next decade will be a critical test for whether we can marshal both the technologies and the policies required to fundamentally change the global economy and its energy and transport systems.  The energy systems of the future, which will rely more heavily on renewables than fossil fuels, will be much more mineral and metal intensive than those of the past. June 15, 2021.

Critical Minerals Forum – Committee on Natural Resources Republican Office 5/18/2021

Critical Minerals Forum – Committee on Natural Resources Republican Office

Payne Institute Faculty Fellow Ian Lange participated in the Critical Minerals Forum for the Republican House Committee on Natural Resources.  The forum participants discussed the role critical minerals play in American energy, manufacturing, renewable resource development, health care, geopolitics and more.  May 18, 2021.  

Keywan Riahi appointed to ten-member group of the UN Secretary General 5/17/2021

Keywan Riahi appointed to ten-member group of the UN Secretary General

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has appointed a new group of ten renowned experts including IIASA Energy, Climate, and Environment Program Director, and Payne Institute Fellow, Keywan Riahi, to support the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism to bring science into the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  May 17, 2021. 

Biden’s conundrum: Expand EVs without harming the Earth 4/30/2021

Biden’s conundrum: Expand EVs without harming the Earth

Payne Institute Director Morgan Bazilian contributed to this article about President Biden’s plan to rapidly shift to electric vehicles and renewable energy could find itself in conflict with another, less prominent commitment: improving the sustainability of the mineral and metals sector.  April 30, 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.