I know we keep saying this - but it's worth repeating. Because it's so important. If we want the sustainability transitions to actually happen, especially in energy and industry, then we have to accept that more mining (of some minerals) needs to happen. Full stop.
Yes, we could allow this mining to take place elsewhere. Some place where we can 'look the other way' when it comes to environmental and social impacts. But is that really the outcome we want?
Rob Karpati, from The Blended Capital Group has started writing on this topic for us. Given what we do, his blog has a decidedly sustainable slant to it. He writes about how we can both meet the growing demand, and make mining more sustainable. But it requires us to make some tough choices. If you want to understand the scale of the change needed, we have provided a couple of links in Rob's blog.
Delivering the energy transition requires significant mining growth
The rest of this blog is mostly from Rob, with a bit of light editing on our part.
Delivering the energy transition requires significant mining growth. With clean energy solutions requiring a variety of critical minerals, growth outlooks appear daunting.
The IEA estimates massive growth in demand:
● Copper - 2022 clean technologies demand was 5,736 KT. Estimated 2050 demand under their net zero scenario is 17,351 KT. 2050 demand is 3 times 2022
● Lithium - 2022 clean technologies demand was 130 KT. Estimated 2050 demand, again under the net zero scenario is 1,313 KT. 2050 demand is 10 times 2022
● Nickel - 2022 clean technologies demand was 457 KT. Estimated 2050 demand (net zero scenario) is 3,768 KT. 2050 demand is 8 times 2022
Demand growth estimates are similar for other critical minerals. These are massive increases, especially for an industry that is struggling with a combination of environmental and social opposition, and an investor base reluctant to fund 'too much' future capex - having been burnt before.
The pipeline for supporting this growth simply doesn't exist today. BHP recently estimated that we need 140 new copper, 60 new nickel and 50 new lithium mines by 2030 in order to meet projected demand. Active exploration projects that support growth at this scale are not in progress at present.
Editors note - If you want to learn more about the scale of the challenge, we recommend the recent blog series from Kathryn Porter at Watt Logic. There are a number of other reports that have been published, including a series from the IEA, of which the latest is Critical Minerals Market Review 2023. But, Kathryn's is way more readable !