Global metal flows in the renewable energy transition: Exploring the effects of substitutes, technological mix and development

Mistra Geopolitics researcher, André Månberger

A new publication co-authored by Mistra Geopolitics researcher, André Månberger has been published in the Energy policy journal and is now available online.

The study analysed demand for 12 metals in global climate mitigation scenarios up to 2060 and quantified the impacts on demand of different assumptions on improvements and technological mix. Annual and cumulative demands were compared with reserves and current mining rates. The study results showed that reserves are sufficient to support the total level of solar power, wind power and electric motors. Insufficient reserves may very well constrain certain sub-technologies, but substitutes that take the role of ‘back-stop’ technologies can be used instead. The exception is batteries, since lithium battery chemistries and reserves were incompatible with the scenarios analysed. Batteries of moderate size, lithium-free chemistry or reserve expansion would make the transition feasible.

Choice of sub-technology (e.g. type of solar PV) had a decisive impact on demand for certain metals. Perceptions that many metals are critical and scarce for renewable energy transitions appear exaggerated if a dynamic view on technological development is adopted. Policy-relevant conclusions can be drawn from this, regarding e.g. the benefits of technological diversity, increasing metal intensity, recycling and integrating infrastructure and energy policies (e.g. fast chargers).

“This article quantifies how climate change mitigation affects demand for 12 critical metals. Many of the metals are geographically concentrated, thus new dependencies arise if fossil energy is replaced by renewable energy. We analyze options to mitigate dependencies including technological development, diversity and improved recycling,”  says André Månberger, associate senior lecturer with Environmental and Energy Systems Studies at Lund University.

Read and download the full publication here >