Tecnical article

Critical minerals: a broad and strategic vision is needed

12 jul 2022
Mariano Marzo Emeritus Professor of the University of Barcelona Repsol Foundation Energy Transition Education and Research Programme University of Barcelona

Critical minerals for the energy transition: a broad and strategic vision is needed, at a political and social level, compatible with nature conservation, linked to the circular economy and the social responsibility of developed countries.

Main conclusions of the event Critical minerals for energy transition

  • Minerals are essential components of the new technologies needed to decarbonize our economy and their demand will grow rapidly as energy transitions and the digital revolution progress.
  • A low-carbon society is a high-mineral society. In fact, we could say that we are facing an Energy Transition, if not an Extractive Transition: from coal to copper, from oil to lithium, from gas to nickel....
  • The expected huge demand for these raw materials will put great pressure on the planet's mineral resources. And as the richest mines are depleted, the extraction energy will increase, and with it the emissions from the process.
  • Mines may become the "planet's hospitals" for a society trapped by the challenges of growth.
  • Part of the solution lies in the development of climate mining, which encompasses green mining ("clean" energy in mining) and urban mining (based on the circular economy), as well as regenerative mining of ecosystems, to capture and store the carbon emitted over the last 2,000 years.
  • The circular economy must go hand in hand with the energy transition, but today's manufacturing technologies are not yet designed to source recycled materials.
  • It is also necessary to move towards the diversification of materials, and this is where research and technological innovation have a great field of action ahead, looking for more sustainable and abundant materials.
  • Historically, Spain has an enormous wealth of subsoil, but either its extraction is prohibited by law, or any mining development is de facto prohibited in our territory. The solution is not not to prohibit, but to face the problem from a rigorous and coherent point of view.
  • And finally, a more complex challenge if possible, our society must evolve from a pattern of consumption based on "buy, use and throw away" to an economy that prioritizes the reuse of resources and shared use. We must learn to distinguish what is important and what is accessory.
  • If we do not do this as well, any efforts to diversify materials or recycle critical minerals will be overtaken by increased demand.