Shortage of raw materials and decarbonization

Shortage of raw materials and decarbonization

Decarbonization is currently presenting many countries with the problem of raw material shortages in many sectors. In some cases, climate-neutral energy systems require considerable quantities of rare raw materials for plants and storage systems. 

In 2022, photovoltaic additions worldwide will exceed 200 GW for the first time. Total investment is estimated at at least $170 billion. This includes rising production costs for photovoltaic systems, which were approximately four percent higher in 2021 than in 2019. Nevertheless, forecasts point to continued expansion in the photovoltaic sector. Estimates are that price increases will normalize in 2023. (pv-magazine)

Between 2013 and 2020, the cost of photovoltaic installations had fallen by more than 50 percent on average globally. At the same time, globally installed photovoltaic capacity increased by 275 percent. (pv-magazine)

Pandemic-related problems with investment, supply chains and logistics, however, have exacerbated the situation of increased energy prices. European photovoltaic system developers recently reported that solar modules, most of which are made in China, are more expensive and harder to find on the market than they were a few years ago. 

"The prices of a number of materials have increased significantly in recent months, but of course so have the prices of oil and natural gas," Rolf Gielen, director of the IRENA Innovation and Technology Centre, told DW

The energy expert added that the higher demand for raw materials from e-mobility was huge, with many new battery manufacturing plants currently being built. The question of the future material composition of batteries is currently still open. "A few years ago, cobalt was on everyone's lips, but now it looks like the quantities of cobalt needed are much lower than previously thought. The future material mix for cathodes is still uncertain," Gielen said. (DW)

Lithium, which is most in demand especially for battery production, is available in several regions around the world. So mining itself is not such a big strategic factor, but processing is: "China is taking a dominant position in processing battery-grade lithium, and Chinese companies are buying up a lot of new lithium supply capacity." (DW)

Nickel is another important raw material for batteries. The raw material is currently mined mainly in the Philippines and Indonesia. However, processing is again mainly taking place in China. Overall, demand for nickel is expected to double in the next 10 years. 

Rare earths, which are also needed for magnets, are another important component in the energy transition. China controlled more than 90 percent of the mining of this raw material in 2010. Possible export restrictions, even if they are legally inadmissible, thus pose a threat to  other industrialized countries. The problem of raw material deposits therefore makes good intergovernmental relations a prerequisite for continued prosperity and technological progress.


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