The mining industry is facing immense pressure to fulfill the rising demand for minerals, especially those crucial for clean energy technologies such as lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements. However, there is uncertainty about whether sufficient reserves and production capacity will be available to meet the future mineral demands for a greener economy.
This supply crunch has caused concern for countries reliant on imports, prompting manufacturers like Tesla to consider investing in mining to secure their own supplies of battery minerals. While there is a need for a significant increase in lithium and rare earth metal supply, it may be more challenging to keep up with the already massive production of copper and nickel, which are essential for electricity-related technologies and stainless steel.
Ramping up the mining industry to meet societal demands.
Mining companies worldwide are aware of their crucial role in facilitating the green transition and are taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint while ensuring the availability of raw materials required for clean energy technologies such as lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements. However, despite the efforts, there is a looming shortfall in the supply of these critical minerals, and it’s uncertain whether there will be enough reserves and production capacity to meet future demands.
This supply crunch is causing anxiety for countries that rely on imports, and some manufacturers, including Tesla, are considering investing in mining to secure their supply of battery minerals. Although there is a need for a significant increase in the production of lithium and rare earth metals, the challenge lies in keeping up with the growing demand for copper and nickel, which are the foundation of electricity-related technologies and stainless steel and are already being produced on a massive scale.
Mining, like many industries, has suffered from a negative reputation due to its past crude and environmentally damaging practices. However, over the decades, the industry has undergone tremendous scrutiny, leading to a significant improvement in environmental, social, and governance performance compared to other sectors. Mining companies are investing in improving efficiency, transparency, and reducing their carbon footprint using technologies such as hydrogen-powered trucks, solar and wind installations, and carbon sequestration.
While sustainable mining is essential, there is still a need for continued exploration and development of critical mineral reserves, which requires collaboration between governments and the private sector. The advanced economies may have the financial capability to pay more to secure minerals, but to achieve net-zero and create a fairer and healthier world, clean, green technologies must be accessible to everyone.
As cities become more focused on pursuing greener technologies, they will increasingly consume minerals, and their extractive footprint will expand in size and range. Therefore, it is crucial to consider how cities consume minerals. Despite some metals being recycled, recycling of rare earth elements, which are used in small quantities, has been insufficient. Governments and local policies can help divert old electronics from landfills and establish infrastructure for recycling new waste streams such as spent EV batteries.
Planning decisions will also play a crucial role in the overall quantity of minerals required. For example, in the era of autonomous vehicles, a shift to shared mobility instead of individual car ownership could have significant consequences for resource use and congestion. In electric cities, designing energy-efficient buildings that use passive cooling could reduce the overall level of battery capacity required. It is essential to rethink life in cities to work within sustainable boundaries, rather than powering high-consumption lifestyles in a different way.
The choices that shape demand are becoming increasingly important in enabling broad adoption of green technologies. While the goal is to move towards a circular economy where needs are met through reusing and recycling, we are not there yet. Therefore, the mining industry will continue to play a crucial role in meeting our climate ambitions, as the supply of minerals is only half of the equation.