The Challenges Facing 21st Century Critical Metals: From Mantle to Mine to Magnet

I presented a talk to the St Andrews Centre for Climate, Energy, Environment and Sustainability (StACEES) on Wednesday 24th November. The talk was on-line and recorded for others to watch.

In this talk, I consider the commitments made by many countries to decarbonise their economies. The route chosen usually involves the use of ‘renewable’ energies such as wind turbines and electric vehicles, and one repeatedly sees phrases such as ‘zero-emission’ or ‘carbon-free’ associated with these technologies. I looked more critically at two consequences of these commitments and challenged some of the assumptions behind them. First, each wind turbine contains about half a tonne of the metal neodymium (Nd), of which more than 90 per cent of global demand is mined in China. Of the ore, Nd constitutes 0.1 per cent, which means that for the 500 kg in each magnet, more than 500 tonnes of rock were mined, crushed and processed using diesel-driven vehicles and coal-fired power.
Second, the sudden increases in demand for critical metal resources that the world’s economies would require to fulfil their pledges is unattainable unless many more critical metal mines are opened. I reviewed the geological resources available to Europe, plus the solutions that will need to be implemented to ensure Europe is successful as a producer of critical resources.

The talk is available as a webcast.

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