The Institute for Energy and Transport of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission has conducted a study to assess whether there could be any potential bottlenecks to the deployment of low-carbon energy technologies in the EU due to the shortage of certain metals. The study examined the use of metals in the six low-carbon energy technologies of SET-Plan, namely: nuclear, solar, wind, bioenergy, carbon capture and storage and the electricity grid.
The study concluded that 5 metals, namely tellurium, indium,gallium, neodymium and dysprosium, are at a particularly high risk,with special relevance to the wind and photovoltaic energy generationtechnologies.
In recent years, there has been a rapid growth in demand for manymetals, with some compounded by the political risks associated with thegeographical concentration of their supply. This has led to muchconcern worldwide, but especially in the EU, where many hi-tech metalsrely almost one hundred percent on import. As a consequence, the JRCconducted a study in cooperation with Oakdene Hollins (UK) and TheHague Centre for Strategic Studies (NL), to assess whether there couldbe any potential bottlenecks to the deployment of low-carbon energytechnologies in the EU due to the shortage of certain metals.
In particular, the study examined the use of metals in the sixlow-carbon energy technologies of SET-Plan, namely: nuclear, solar,wind, bioenergy, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the electricitygrid. By analysing the average annual demand for metals up to 2020 and2030 and comparing to the respective global production volume in 2010,14 metals were identified that will require 1% or more (and in somecases, much more) of current world supply per annum. These 14 metals,in order of decreasing demand, are tellurium, indium, tin, hafnium,silver, dysprosium, gallium, neodymium, cadmium, nickel, molybdenum,vanadium, niobium and selenium.
The 14 metals were then scrutinised in more detail in terms of theirrisks of meeting the anticipated demand by analysing the likelihood ofrapid growth in future global demand, the limitations to expandingsupply in the short to medium term, and the concentration of supply andpolitical risks associated with key suppliers. In particular, theformer three are especially applicable to photovoltaics, where, ifthere is, as projected, a greater shift towards CdTe and CIGS thin filmtechnologies, then this could considerably increase the annualdemand-to-supply for tellurium (up to 48%), indium (up to 32%) andgallium (around 8%).
Furthermore, the latter two metals, i.e. neodymium and dysprosium(both rare earth metals), are applicable to wind energy and theprojected shift away from electromagnetic systems towards permanentmagnetic-based direct drive systems would be to increase their demandto around 4% of current world supply. The report also exploredpotential mitigation strategies, ranging from increasing Europeanprimary production and by-product separation, encouraging re-use,recycling and waste reduction, and examining their substitutionpotential.