Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

We’ll Need Hundreds of New Critical Metals Mines to Decarbonize

| Aug. 24, 2022

Over the past few years, Nevada has become a battleground between mining companies and environmentalists over the development of the state’s lithium deposits, the largest known in the United States. The proposed mines would produce millions of tons of lithium for batteries that will benefit the climate in the long term by deploying more electric vehicles (EVs), but, according to opponents, would come at the expense of fragile local ecosystems, endangered species and sacred Indigenous lands. 

This same battleground is being replicated all over the world, as countries gear up to transition cars from gasoline to electricity. 
Lithium is one of the critical metals essential for clean energy technologies, along with cobalt and nickel for EV batteries, rare earth elements for wind turbines, and silicon and gallium for solar panels. According to projections by the International Energy Agency, reaching global net zero emissions by 2050 will require expanding the production of energy-relevant metals from 7 million tons per year to 42 million by 2040 — a whopping sixfold increase. In particular, demand for lithium is expected to grow by as much as 40 times over 2020 levels as EV sales in China and the United States take off in the post-2025 period. 
Surging demand and dizzying price hikes have raised concerns that inadequate metal and mineral supplies may impede the clean energy transition. Given the urgency of reducing fossil fuel use, the science and policy worlds must solve two main challenges: how to ensure the availability and affordability of critical metals in the quantities needed, and how to manage the environmental impacts related to mining and processing them. The latter issue is likely to be much trickier than the former. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Lee, Henry and Xin Sun.“We’ll Need Hundreds of New Critical Metals Mines to Decarbonize .” The Hill, August 24, 2022.

The Authors

Henry Lee