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Metal supply constraints for a low-carbon economy?

Author: Koning, A. de · Kleijn, R. · Huppes, G. · Sprecher, B. · Engelen, G. van · Tukker, A.
Source:Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 129, 202-208
Identifier: 781925
doi: doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2017.10.040
Keywords: Economics · Constraints · Energy · Metals · Resources · Transition · Environment & Sustainability · Urbanisation · 2015 Urban Mobility & Environment · SBA - Strategic Business Analysis · ELSS - Earth, Life and Social Sciences


Low-carbon energy systems are more metal-intensive than traditional energy systems. Concerns have been expressed that this may hamper the transition to a low-carbon economy. We estimate the required extraction of Fe, Al, Cu, Ni, Cr, In, Nd, Dy, Li, Zn, and Pb until 2050 under several technology-specific low-carbon scenarios. Annual metal demand for the electricity and road transportation systems may rise dramatically for indium, neodymium, dysprosium, and lithium, by factors of more than three orders of magnitude. However, in the base year 2000 the dominant uses were often in other sectors. Since growth in these other, previously dominant sectors has been less pronounced, the overall growth in society's metal needs is much less dramatic than in the electricity and transportation sectors. Total annual demand for the researched metals would rise by a factor of 3–4.5, corresponding to compound growth rates of between 2% and 3%. Such growth rates are similar or lower compared with historical growth rate levels over the last few decades. Prolonged higher levels have existed for copper, for example, with production rising by 8% per year from 1992 to 2006. Yet this state of affairs does not give cause for complacency. The richest resources may have been used, production is showing a tendency towards becoming very large-scale, and development times have increased, all leading to greater risks of disruption. It is therefore crucial, when developing specific technologies, that the resource-specific constraints are analyzed and options for substitution are developed where risks are high. © 2017 The Authors