Energy transition will require many times more metals than are currently mined

3rd June 2022 By: Darren Parker - Senior Online Writer

Given the rate of population growth, a 10% penetration of electric vehicles (EVs) into the automotive market by 2030 would require the mining industry to produce about ten times more metals than what it currently produces, Rainbow Rare Earths CEO George Bennett has said.

“Most people don't realise that the production of EVs requires two to three times more metal than a normal petrol and diesel car,” he explained, adding that the meeting of 2050 emissions targets and COP26 plans to transition away from petroleum-based transport would require as much as 40 to 50 times more critical metals and minerals than are currently mined.

These key metals include lithium, cobalt, copper, nickel, aluminium, gold and silver, besides others.

Bennett was speaking at the Junior Indaba, in Johannesburg, on June 2, where he was part of a panel discussing the energy transition opportunities that lay in wait for fast-moving junior miners.

Currently, EV market penetration only sits at about 4%, vanadium producer Bushveld Minerals CEO Fortune Mojapelo added.

He noted that, while EV production was a hot topic, stationary energy storage applications – where vanadium is needed – were also on the brink of a boom.

Mojapelo noted that, in the 1980s, about 10% of global energy consumption was in the form of electricity – a figure that has risen to 20% since then, and which is expected to rise as high as 45% by 2050.

“It's happening at a time where we've seen a greater push towards green energy generation, which means greater penetration for renewable energy. Within that, stationary energy storage is going to be huge,” he said.

Mojapelo said the deployment of stationary energy storage solutions would grow 122-fold by 2040, compared with 2018.

He said vanadium would become of critical importance because it was central to long-duration use in stationary energy storage systems.

“If vanadium redox flow batteries capture just 10% of the stationary battery market, by 2030, we will need to increase global production of vanadium by as much as 50%,” Mojapelo remarked.

He added that studies published by the World Bank Group and the International Environmental Agency predicted that vanadium production would need to double, or even triple, by 2040 to meet demand.

“There’s a massive upside in terms of demand for vanadium,” he said.

The energy transition will also mean that copper is on track to undergo a massive upswing in demand.

“Our research suggests that over the next 23 years, if we want to stay at a global gross domestic product growth rate of 3%, humankind will consume the exact same amount of copper that was consumed throughout the entire history of mankind,” Ivanhoe Mines president Marna Cloete said.

With timelines for new mine development ranging anywhere from 5 to 15 years on average – depending on various factors – Cloete said it would be nearly impossible to get enough new copper mines up and running in time to meet the forecast growth in demand.