IEA (2023), Energy Technology Perspectives 2023, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/energy-technology-perspectives-2023, Licence: CC BY 4.0
Clean energy transitions require substantial material inputs. Critical minerals (notably lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and neodymium) and bulk materials (steel, cement, plastics and aluminium) are required for a range of technologies and infrastructure, from wind turbines and EV batteries to electricity grids. Demand for each of the five key critical minerals increases 1.5 to 7 times by 2030 in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario as clean technology deployment soars. Greater material efficiency across all demand segments can more than offset increased steel and cement demand for clean energy technologies and infrastructure.
Mining capacity for critical minerals needs to expand swiftly to get on track with net zero goals. While current anticipated investments will lead to substantial gains, capacity would still fall well short of global NZE Scenario needs in 2030. The largest gap is for lithium, with anticipated expansions covering just two-thirds of 2030 requirements. Lead times for new mines are long and uncertain, meaning that investment of around USD 360-450 billion would be needed mostly over the next three years to bridge this gap.
Capacity to process these minerals into useable materials must also expand considerably. Currently anticipated projects point to large supply gaps for some critical materials unless new plans are announced soon, regardless of whether mining capacity is sufficient. The current announcements imply shortfalls of 60% for nickel sulphate and 35% for lithium, relative to what is needed in the NZE Scenario by 2030. Geographic diversification could reduce the risk of supply disruptions, but current expansion plans point to continued dominance by China.
Conventional bulk material production capacity is emissions-intensive and very difficult to decarbonise. Most near zero emission production routes are not yet commercially available, but must expand from minimal quantities of output today to around 130 megatonnes (Mt) of primary steel and 370 Mt of cement production by 2030 in the NZE Scenario. Among announced projects, those we assess as likely to achieve near zero emission production immediately yield just 10% of NZE Scenario needs for primary steel in 2030 and 3% for cement. These projects are mainly in Europe and North America, but demand grows most in emerging markets and developing economies, pointing to the need for increased international co-operation.