This year the impact of climate change has been more visible than ever before. Temperatures in the UK reached an unheard-of 40+ degrees C; rivers in Germany and China have run dry, creating problems for transport and hydro-electric power creation; one-third of Pakistan is under flood-water. This feeling of crisis has been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent ever-rising gas prices. These factors have combined to focus international political and public attention on the urgency of the energy transition.
The success of the energy transition will depend on access to significantly increased quantities of rare earth metals and minerals, which are central to the production of permanent magnets used in electric vehicles (EVs) and wind turbines. According to the IEA, meeting current energy policies will require a doubling of current levels of mineral extraction and refining by 2040. Reaching the Paris target of 1.5 degrees C will require a quadrupling by 2040. Attaining Net Zero by 2050 requires a six-fold increase by 2040.
Can this be done?
Proven reserves of rare earth elements (REE) are assessed to be sufficient (just) to meet the needs of the energy transition. The question is therefore whether a solution can be found to the inefficiency of their extraction and use; and whether mining and processing activities across the value and supply chains can be expanded quickly enough to meet this projected growth.