As nations worldwide accelerate efforts to combat climate change and achieve net-zero emissions, the demand for clean energy technologies and the materials they rely on is surging. However, this growing demand poses potential supply risks for certain critical materials, which could hinder the global transition to clean energy within the desired timeframe, warns a new report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
The report, titled “Critical Materials Assessment 2023,” is an updated analysis of previous Critical Materials Strategy reports published by the DOE in 2010, 2011, and 2019. It identifies the materials critical to the continued deployment of clean energy technologies and evaluates potential supply risks associated with them.
Key Findings from the 2023 Critical Materials Assessment:
Critical Materials for Clean Energy: The report identifies several materials crucial for clean energy technologies, including rare earth materials (neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium) used in EV motors and wind turbine generators, materials used in batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and stationary storage, platinum group metals used in hydrogen electrolyzers, gallium used in LEDs, major materials like aluminum, copper, nickel, and silicon, and electrical steel used in transformers and EV motors.Short-term and Medium-term Criticality: In the short term (2020-2025), seven materials were identified as critical, and these include dysprosium, neodymium, gallium, graphite, cobalt, terbium, and iridium. Over the medium term (2025-2035), materials like nickel, platinum, magnesium, SiC, and praseodymium become critical due to their roles in batteries and vehicle lightweighting.Market Evolution since 2019: The global surge in electric vehicle adoption has led to increased demand for materials like lithium-ion batteries, rare earth magnets, electrical steel, and power electronics. Offshore wind capacity has doubled, increasing the demand for rare earth magnets. Grid stationary storage is growing rapidly but is bottlenecked by supplies of lithium, nickel, and graphite.Importance of Domestic Manufacturing: To mitigate supply risks, the report suggests the U.S. must strengthen its domestic manufacturing sector and leverage the latest scientific advancements in material extraction, substitution, and recycling.Need for Ongoing Assessment: The report calls for continuous updates to the assessment every few years to reflect changing market conditions, technological advancements, and global policies.The report highlights the critical role materials play in the clean energy transition and emphasises the need for strategic planning and actions to secure a sustainable and resilient supply chain. By understanding the importance of individual materials and addressing supply risks, nations can make informed decisions to ensure a smooth transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.