By 2050, Mineral Demand to Soar by 500% Pushed by Renewable Expansion: World Bank

Renewable technologies are more mineral-intensive than fossil-fuel-based electricity generation technologies


The World Bank Group (WBG) has released a report that said demand for key minerals used in clean energy technology could grow almost 500% by 2050 to meet growing demand. It added that over three billion tons of minerals and metals would be required to deploy wind, solar, and geothermal power, as well as in energy storage.

The report stated that a low-carbon future would be very mineral intensive because clean energy technologies need more materials than fossil-fuel-based electricity generation technologies. These technologies are crucial to keep climate change in check by mitigating the negative impact of global warming.

It added that despite demand from clean energy technologies, the overall carbon footprint from extraction to end use of these minerals would still only amount to 6% of the total greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel technology.

The report titled ‘Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition’ said that even if recycling rates for minerals like copper and aluminum by 100%, it would still not be sufficient to meet the demand for renewable energy technologies and energy storage.

The report also noted that the coronavirus pandemic had hit developing countries that rely on minerals and mining. It noted that these economies would need to strengthen their efforts to shift towards eco-friendly mining strategies.

“COVID-19 could represent an additional risk to sustainable mining, making the commitment of governments and companies to climate-smart practices more important than ever before,” said Riccardo Puliti, World Bank Global Director for Energy and Extractive Industries and Regional Director for Infrastructure in Africa.

The report said that generating 1 MW of solar power would require about 3,000 solar panels. Under the 2-degree scenario outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, the production of graphite, lithium, and cobalt would have to be ramped up by over 450% by 2050 (from 2018 levels) to meet the demand from clean energy technologies.

The 2-degree scenario of the Paris Climate Agreement outlines the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

The report explained that solar photovoltaics (PV) are one of the most attractive technologies for investors worldwide. They are highly mineral intensive technologies, and they rely heavily on aluminum, copper, and silver. It said that by 2050, most solar PV deployments are expected to take place in non-OECD countries, especially in China and India, and there will be a lot of demand for these minerals there.Share of Mineral Demand from Solar PV

According to the report, demand is expected to shoot up over 500% for certain minerals, especially those used in energy storage technologies like lithium, graphite, and cobalt.

Strategies must be tailored with the objective of addressing both the risks and opportunities presented by mineral demand in the renewable sector, it noted.

The report concluded stating that the mineral intensity of renewable energy technology must be acknowledged and assessed before making the transition into cleaner energy sectors.

Last year, the World Bank announced a multi-donor trust fund called the Climate-Smart Mining Facility. The goal of this facility is to promote the sustainable extraction of minerals used in renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar, and batteries for energy storage and electric vehicles.

Previously, the World Bank established a new Efficient, Clean Cooling Program to accelerate the uptake of sustainable cooling solutions, including air conditioning, refrigeration, and cold chain in developing countries.