Since the Industrial Revolution, economic progress has relied on the extraction, processing and combustion of fossil fuels.
As the world transitions to cleaner forms of energy there will be a parallel shift in resource consumption. Demand for oil, coal and gas will decline, while demand for metal intensive technologies such as solar PV, offshore wind and energy storage will accelerate.
If the Industrial Revolution was built on fossil fuels, the economy which replaces them will be built on lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, copper, neodymium, praseodymium, indium and gallium, among other metals.
The deployment of clean energy technologies will supercharge demand for critical metals, but it’s not the only driver. The urban population is forecast to grow by as much as 2.5 billion by 2050, putting significant additional stress on metal resources.
There is no consensus on the best way to meet this anticipated increase in demand, though there is universal agreement that the extraction and processing of metals comes at a cost to the environment and to society.
The debates around mineral supply hinge on the following:
- The viability of existing terrestrial resources in terms of physical abundance and access based on environmental and social conditions
- The extent to which we can be resource efficient with product development, through dematerialization, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling
- The development potential for new frontier sources of minerals in the oceans, on the moon or in outer space to address demand challenges and supply resilience
There are numerous other factors that industry, government and civil society will need to consider.
Whilst there is no agreement about how best to proceed, views are seldom held lightly. The debate about mineral resources is always controversial since their extraction invariably disturbs ecosystems, displaces communities and is highly energy intensive.
The objective of Mineral Choices is not to propose a particular course of action. Rather, it is an educational resource designed to reflect the diversity of opinion and the spectrum of evidence surrounding the issues at hand.
Further, Mineral Choices has a mandate to examine assertions that are made in the light of the available evidence, to acknowledge gaps in our understanding and to explore the role for future research.
Mineral Choices is governed by an academic panel drawn from fields including energy, environmental management, earth sciences, ecology, marine biology, oceanography, and economics.
The website is currently funded by a grant from GSR, the deep-sea exploration business of DEME Group. The Mineral Choices panel operates independently under its Chair, Saleem Ali, Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware.