Full Title: Minerals and Materials for Energy: We Need to Change Thinking
Author(s): Michelle Michot Foss
Publisher(s): Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy
Publication Date: January 22, 2021
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As a nation, we need to immediately focus on the availability of advanced materials that can drive the performance of both legacy and alternative energy fuels and systems and ensure sustainable footprints. This brief lays out why it is vital to do so.
While considering the energy transition and the future energy mix, the dominant paradigm is to pick technology “winners” and to kick the can down the road when it comes to materials inputs and their footprints. As a nation, we need to shift this paradigm to encompass a real and immediate focus on the availability of advanced materials that can drive the performance of both legacy and alternative energy fuels and systems and ensure sustainable footprints. All materials requirements are rooted in access to minerals. Access to minerals, in turn, puts pressure on extractives industries and processing worldwide. Even the most conservative energy transition scenarios represent a “call” on minerals and materials. Between 1984 and 2018, total worldwide tonnage output of nonfuel minerals increased more than 2.5 times.1 One estimate is that the demand for battery metals alone to support various models of electric vehicle (EV) could increase nearly 20 times by 2040.2 In the most assertive views, minerals and materials requirements could exceed anything in human experience. It is vital that we step back for a big picture view. A key concern is to make materials supply chains more diverse and robust. At heart is a proper definition and focus on minerals critical to existing energy fuels and systems as well as to new technologies. Federal-level initiatives on critical minerals thus far provide a starting point.3 We propose that the Biden administration preserve and expand these efforts and incorporate the recommendations in this brief.