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    Minerals like copper, the key to clean energies

    November 16, 2021 - CE Noticias Financieras


      In the framework of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), hundreds of environmental organizations demand the implementation of renewable energy sources, to reduce CO² emissions and help the planet.

      But although the intentions to minimize the carbon footprint are positive, the planet is already 1.1 degree warmer and greenhouse gases in 2030 will double the limit set in the Paris Agreement (2 degrees), according to reports by Climate Action Tracker and the UN Environment Agency (UNEP) quoted by the newspaper El País.

      Everything points to the fact that the longed-for energy transition from fossil to clean sources will be achieved through greater use of metallic minerals such as copper. This is demonstrated by the study "Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition" by the World Bank (WB).

      Based on the WB report, low-carbon or clean technologies, in particular solar, wind and geothermal, require minerals as feedstock.

      According to the WB, for example, the industry needs 3,000 solar panels to generate 1 megawatt (MW); this means that a 200 MW PV project could be as large as 550 football fields (Mathis and Eckhouse 2020).

      In a 2-degree scenario, production of minerals such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt will have to increase significantly by more than 450% by 2050 from 2018 levels to meet the demand for energy storage technologies.

      From the same WB report it is extracted that although demand for some basic minerals, such as aluminium and copper, appears to be lower in percentage terms, their absolute production figures are significant: 103 million tonnes and 29 million tonnes by 2050, respectively. These projections do not include the associated infrastructure needed to support the deployment of these technologies (e.g., transmission lines) or physical parts (such as the chassis of new-build electric vehicles). Due to the materials intensity of low-carbon technologies, any potential shortages in mineral supply could affect the speed and scale at which certain technologies can reach the world.

      They estimate that industries will require more than 3 billion tonnes of minerals and metals for the deployment of wind, solar and geothermal energy, as well as energy storage, to achieve a temperature reduction below 2 degrees in the future.

      The publication notes that some minerals, such as copper and molybdenum, will be used in a variety of technologies, while others, such as graphite and lithium, may only be needed for a single technology: battery storage. This means that any change in the implementation of clean energy technologies could have significant consequences for the demand for certain minerals.

      The Economist, meanwhile, noted in a publication that companies, countries and even celebrities have begun setting "net zero" targets to combat climate change. In theory, the concept is simple: balance greenhouse gas removals with greenhouse gas emissions, so that overall net emissions are zero. However, with no real global consensus on who is responsible for emissions and with new carbon offset technologies in their infancy, achieving net zero will be a Herculean task.

      Panama's role

      Panama has a key role to play in the development of renewable energy sources.

      Cobre Panama, a subsidiary of Canada's First Quantum Minerals Ltd., is supporting an initial investment of $6.7 billion, representing the largest private investment in the country to date.

      By having an important deposit, Panama plays a leading role in the production of wind turbines or solar panels, a new energy model, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

      Although at a global level supply problems are underestimated, such as the shortage of metals that threaten to slow the green boom, wind and solar energy sources are consolidated options for power generation, with raw materials such as copper.

      Through the blog, El Confidencial the article "Without mining there will be no energy transition," Juan Ramon Rallo, economist and university professor, argues that the conversion of the entire electricity system in renewable power plants, or the conversion of the entire car fleet in electric vehicles, or more widespread use of batteries will require much more resource extraction. Not only because discarding what is there to build what is new absorbs new resources, but because each renewable power plant or each electric car needs many more of these resources than gas plants or traditional cars.

      Rallo cited the International Energy Agency, which indicates that a wind power plant requires 10 times more minerals (especially copper and zinc) than a gas or coal plant: in particular, for each MW of installed power, a wind plant needs between 10,000 and 15,000 kilograms of minerals, while a combined cycle plant uses 1,100 and a coal plant, 3,000. Also, the average electric car consumes six times more minerals than a car with a combustion engine (especially copper, nickel and graphite). Each electric vehicle uses more than 200 kilos of minerals compared to 33 for the combustion-engine car.

      "Such will be the extraordinary demand for minerals during the next two decades of energy transition that, according to the International Monetary Fund, we will consume three times more copper, eight times more nickel, 20 times more cobalt and 100 times more lithium than during the last 20 years (at least if we aim for zero net emissions). The expected revenues from these four minerals over the next two decades are more than $13 trillion. Therefore, the success of the energy transition will not only depend on the availability of better technology, but also on whether we can extract massive quantities of minerals at the lowest possible economic cost (the higher the cost of extraction, the higher the cost of producing power plants or vehicles and, therefore, the lower the efficiency of the transition)," he said.

      Meanwhile, El País interviewed Karen Smith Stegen, professor of international relations at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, a specialist in the transition to green energy, who said that "exporters who have not prepared with investments for the era of renewable energy will lose out.

      "Countries rich in copper and other metals [that play a role in the development of renewables] and that manage to develop their supply chains will win out," says Smith Stegen. "And, since economic and geopolitical power are interconnected, they will climb the ladder here as well," he added.

      Smith Stegen's mention of copper is imperative because of the process of manufacturing solar panels and windmills.

      Meanwhile, the production of metallic minerals such as copper will be necessary for the CO² footprint in the world to decrease to the targets set in both the Paris Agreement (2015) and COP26.


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