Critical minerals supply could come close to meeting demand if planned projects move forward
Responding to rapid growth in the critical minerals market, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its first annual Critical Minerals Market Review in July. The agency noted that a surge of investment in critical minerals could help the world met the surging demand but only if the planned projects move ahead as planned.
According to the report, the market for minerals that help power electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, national defense applications and other technologies key to the clean energy transition has doubled in size over the past five years.
From 2017 to 2022, the energy sector was the main factor behind a tripling in overall demand for lithium, a 70 percent jump in demand for cobalt, and a 40 percent rise in demand for nickel. The market for energy transition minerals reached US$320 billion in 2022 and is set for continued rapid growth, moving it increasingly to center stage for the global mining industry.
“In response, investment in critical mineral development rose 30 percent last year, following a 20 percent increase in 2021. Among the different minerals, lithium saw the sharpest increase in investment, a jump of 50 percent, followed by copper and nickel,” IEA wrote in a statement. “The strong growth in spending by companies on developing mineral supplies supports the affordability and speed of clean energy transitions, which will be heavily influenced by the availability of critical minerals.”
“At a pivotal moment for clean energy transitions worldwide, we are encouraged by the rapid growth in the market for critical minerals, which are crucial for the world to achieve its energy and climate goals,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Even so, major challenges remain. Much more needs to be done to ensure supply chains for critical minerals are secure and sustainable. The IEA will continue its early leadership in this space with cutting-edge research and analysis – and by bringing together governments, companies and other stakeholders to drive progress, notably at our Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Summit on 28 September.”
Permitting or proposed mines remains a critical challenge to meeting demand. If all planned critical mineral projects worldwide are realized, supply could be sufficient to support the national climate pledges announced by governments, according to the IEA’s analysis. However, the risk of project delays and technology-specific shortfalls leave little room for complacency about the adequacy of supply. And more projects would in any case be needed by 2030 in a scenario that limits global warming to 1.5 °C.
IEA reported that the diversity of supply also remains a concern, with many new project announcements coming from already dominant countries. Compared with three years ago, the share of the top three critical mineral producers in 2022 either remained unchanged or increased further, especially for nickel and cobalt. Additionally, environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices are making mixed progress. Companies are making headway in community investment, worker safety and gender balance. However, greenhouse gas emissions remain high, with roughly the same amount emitted per tonne of mineral output every year. Water withdrawals almost doubled from 2018 to 2021.
Accompanying the Critical Minerals Market Review 2023 is the new IEA Critical Minerals Data Explorer, an interactive online tool that allows users to easily access and navigate the IEA's data and projections for critical minerals. In its initial version, the tool provides users with access to the IEA's demand projections under various scenarios and technology trends. Supply-side information will be added in future updates.