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894 NATURE GEOSCIENCE | VOL 6 | NOVEMBER 2013 | www.nature.com/naturegeoscience
COMMENTARY | FOCUS
Despite centuries of production,
there is still good potential to nd more.
Current mining operations in Europe yield
signicant amounts of base and precious
metals, and regions such as Fennoscandia,
Spain, Ireland and even the UK have yielded
new discoveries and the re-evaluation of
known prospects with a view to mining12.
Innovative biology-based technologies
developed in Europe have unlocked low-
grade, previously uneconomic ore13. ese
initiatives have opened the possibility of
a new generation of sustainable mining
in our own back-yard — which could
address concerns about ethical sourcing,
and shi control of energy and water use
as well as environmental stewardship to
the regional scale.
Existing European operations could
also be modied to recover many metals
essential for new technologies. With the
latest technologies, nickel extraction
operations in Greece and the Balkans could
recover up to 30% of Europe’s demand for
cobalt from material currently discarded
as processing waste14. In another case,
phosphate wastes from the iron ore mines
in Sweden could be reprocessed for rare
Earth elements15, whose shortage caused
such a stir in 2010.
Urban mining — the retrieval of raw
materials from household waste — is also
a potential source of technology metals.
Discarded electronic equipment could be
recycled locally, instead of being shipped
to Asia for processing16. To achieve this,
the European Union and a number of
other countries have banned the export of
computer waste. Better component labelling
and less inbuilt obsolescence could prevent
valuable components from being lost in the
mountains of waste.
A role for geoscientists
e discovery and exploration of these
non-renewable mineral resources, as well
as their environmentally safe handling,
are key tasks for geoscientists. Reliable
assessments are needed of the global
distribution of resources, of the potential for
supply disruption, and of the environmental
consequences of their use. With both the
world’s population and its standard of
living on the rise, demand for minerals is
bound to soar.
We must acknowledge and control the
complexity of giant mining projects with
their demands on infrastructure and the
environment. We need to work hard to
understand any ethical issues with the
provenance of new resources. Better ways
of recycling valuable metals from discarded
electronic equipment are required. And
geoscientists need to undertake a thorough
audit of the natural occurrences of mineral
deposits that will feed our economies.
ere may well be high future demand
for elements that many people have
never even heard of.
Richard Herrington is at e Natural History
Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD, UK.
e-mail: r.herrington@nhm.ac.uk
References
1. Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. & Behrens, W.W.
e Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on
the Predicament of Mankind (Universe Books, 1972).
2. Cohen, D. New Scientist 2605, 34–41 (2007).
3. Kesler, S. & Wilkinson, B.H. Geology 36, 255–258 (2008)
4. http://reddogalaska.com
5. http://www.pebblepartnership.com
6. http://www.riotintosimandou.com/ENG/media/media_
releases_1536.asp
7. http://www.whitehouse.gov/mgi
8. http://in.reuters.com/article/2008/07/10/metals-rhenium-
idINL1037587920080710
9. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/apr/25/
samsung-tin-mines-indonesia-child-labour
10. http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/gold
11. Lynch, M. Mining in World History (Reaktion Books Ltd, 2002).
12. European Exploration: A record-breaking year (Mining Journal
Report, 23 March 2012).
13. Riekkola-Vanhanen, M. Nova Biotechnologica
10, 7–14 (2010).
14. Herrington, R. Geophys. Res. Abstr. 14, EGU2012–13888 (2012).
15. http://www.metal-supply.com/article/view/58422/waste_turns_
to_gold_at_lkab
16. http://sometimes-interesting.com/2011/07/17/electronic-waste-
dump-of-the-world
17. Korinek, J. & Kim, J. OECD Trade Policy Working Paper No. 95
(2010); http://www.oecd.org/trade
18. Merchant Research & Consulting Ltd; http://mcgroup.co.uk
Metals for a low-carbon society
Olivier Vidal, Bruno Goé and Nicholas Arndt
Renewable energy requires infrastructures built with metals whose extraction requires more and more
energy. More mining is unavoidable, but increased recycling, substitution and careful design of new
high-tech devices will help meet the growing demand.
Renewable energy forms the basis
for a low-carbon society. Numerous
wind turbines, solar power stations
and other facilities will need to be
constructed if a signicant proportion
of global electricity is to be produced
sustainably. Building these facilities
will require vast amounts of metals and
other raw materials, which will then be
sequestered for several decades and cannot
immediately be recycled. Easily mined
ore deposits are quickly declining and
although new resources will be found in
the deep subsurface or in remote locations,
mining these deposits will consume
large amounts of energy. Humankind
faces a vicious circle: a shi to renewable
energy will replace one non-renewable
resource (fossil fuel) with another (metals
and minerals).
Potential future scarcity is not limited
to the scarce high-tech metals that have
received much attention. e demand
for base metals such as iron, copper and
aluminium, as well as industrial minerals,
is also set to soar. Here we argue that
energy production and the recovery
of metals and minerals are inseparable
issues that need to be addressed in one
comprehensive framework.
A low-carbon future
Dependence on fossil fuels, such as oil,
gas and coal, has caused pollution and
environmental damage. We now look
forward to a low-carbon society where
renewable resources of energy replace fossil
fuels. Renewable power resources coming
from the sun (175,000TW), geothermal
ux (40–50TW) and gravity (for example,
tidal energy, 3–4TW)1 could supply a
thousand times our current and future
(2050) global energy needs, estimated
at 140×103TWh (16TW) (ref.2)
and 280×103TWh (32TW) (ref.3),
respectively. However, most renewable
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
NATURE GEOSCIENCE | VOL 6 | NOVEMBER 2013 | www.nature.com/naturegeoscience 895
FOCUS | COMMENTARY
energy sources are diuse and intermittent.
Harnessing this energy requires complex
infrastructure distributed over large areas,
both on land and at sea.
e construction and operation of
technologies that harness renewable
sources of energy will consume large
quantities of raw materials. e growing
demand for rare metals, including
selenium and neodymium in photovoltaic
panels and wind turbines, risks derailing
the shi to renewable energy4. However,
wind turbines (Fig.1) and photovoltaic
panels also require enormous amounts of
common metals such as iron, copper and
aluminium, as well as sand and industrial
minerals to make concrete and glass, and
hydrocarbon derivatives to create resins
and plastics.
e beginning of the twenty-rst
century was marked by an explosion in
demand for metals. is demand was
driven by rapid development in large and
highly populated countries, notably China,
which currently consumes 50% of global
iron production, 30% of global copper and
aluminium, and similar proportions of
many other metals5,6. e introduction of
new technologies, such as cell phones or
hybrid vehicles, requires a diverse set of
previously little-used metals. e demand
for base metals is currently increasing by
5% annually, and if this trend continues,
the quantity of metal productionfor the
next 15years will need to match that
from the start of humanity to 2013. Even
though, in the past, such demand for metals
have been met thanks to improvements
in technology and the discovery of new
resources, as mines become more remote
and metal grades decline, the increasing
cost of mining, and, above all, increasing
energy demands, will limit further
expansion and may slow the transition
to a low-carbon society.
The metal–energy dependence
Initially, the energy needed for metal
extraction will come from fossil fuels.
Eventually, renewable energy is likely to
come to the fore, with benets in terms
of reduced greenhousegas emissions and
radioactive waste production. However, this
transition will also cause much additional
global demand for raw materials: for an
equivalent installed capacity, solar and
wind facilities require up to 15 times
more concrete, 90times more aluminium,
and 50 times more iron, copper and
glass than fossil fuels or nuclear energy
(SupplementaryFig.1). Yet, current
production of wind and solar energy meets
only about 1% of global demand, and
hydroelectricity meets about 7% (ref.2).
If the contribution from wind
turbines and solar energy to global energy
production is to rise from the current
400TWh (ref.2) to 12,000TWh in 2035
and 25,000TWh in 2050, as projected
by the World Wide Fund for Nature
(WWF)7, about 3,200million tonnes of
steel, 310million tonnes of aluminium
and 40milliontonnes of copper will be
required to build the latest generations
of wind and solar facilities (Fig.2). is
corresponds to a 5 to 18% annual increase
in the global production of these metals for
the next 40years. is rise in production
will be added to the accelerating global
demand for ferrous, base and minor metals,
from both developing and developed
countries, which inates currently by about
5% per year5,6.
Currently, 10% of world energy
consumption is used for extraction and
processing of mineral resources8. Without
extraordinary advances in mining and
rening technology, this fraction is set to
rise as poorer and more remote deposits are
tapped. Moreover, some of the commonly
used metals and minerals are rare, at
least at the level of purity that is required
for ecient production of energy. For
example, the silica used in the protective
glass of photovoltaic panels must contain
less than 90ppm of iron, to ensure high
transmission of light.
Criticality
In many ways, mineral resources carry the
same geopolitical and environmental issues
as fossil fuels. Soaring prices of all metals,
and supply problems for some, have led
to the notion of critical metals—those
that are essential for modern industry but
whose future supply may be interrupted.
Metals are usually deemed critical when
they are considered to be vital by industry,
sourced from a restricted number of
regions that are potentially unstable, and
cannot be substituted by other metals9.
Many of the metals used in the high-
technology industry, including those that
generate renewable energy, have high levels
of criticality.
Minor metals, such as the rare earth
elements (REE) or cobalt and tantalum,
have been classed as critical because they
come from a limited number of politically
sensitive regions. ey have received
particular attention because of their use in
cell phones, computers and other modern
electronic devices. However, we argue that
much of the current focus on minor metals
is misplaced, because they have a high
potential for substitution. For example, the
latest generations of wind turbines contain
large amounts of REE, but it is possible to
build less-ecient wind turbines without
REE, or solar panels free of indium, galium
A shift to renewable energy
will replace one non-
renewable resource (fossil
fuel) with another (metals
and minerals).
Figure 1 | A row of wind turbines.
© B CHRISTOPHER/ALAMY
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
896 NATURE GEOSCIENCE | VOL 6 | NOVEMBER 2013 | www.nature.com/naturegeoscience
COMMENTARY | FOCUS
and selenium. Moreover, when China— the
main supplier of REE globally— began to
drastically restrict export of REE between
2009 and 2012, industry was able to react
quickly, to assure new supplies in the
USA, Australia and South Africa, and
nd substitutes.
In contrast, most of the base metals
and other raw materials needed for the
transition to low-carbon energy, with the
exception of copper, have low levels of
criticality. is is because they are relatively
abundant, their supply is assured because
they are mined in many relatively stable
regions, and they are technically recyclable.
However, base metals cannot be substituted,
and the generation of infrastructure for
renewable energy will sequester huge
amounts of steel, aluminium and copper
over its 20–30-year lifespan, during which
recycling will not be possible.
Dependence on the foreign import
of metals should also be considered when
assessing the criticality of a resource.
For example, mineral supply to Europe
and many other developed nations comes
mainly from foreign sources. European
industries consume more than 20% of
the metals that are mined globally, yet
European mines produce only 1.5% of
iron and aluminium, and 6%of copper10.
is situation is highly unsatisfactory for
security, economic and ethical reasons,
and makes European industry vulnerable
to short- or long-term supply restrictions.
Finally, estimates of criticality should
acknowledge that the energy needed for
extraction may become a limiting factor.
Mine locally
Humanity faces a tremendous challenge
to make more rational use of the Earths
non-renewable raw materials. e energy
transition to renewables can only work if all
resources are managed simultaneously, as
part of a global, integral whole. Designs of
new products need to take into account the
realities of mineral supply, with recycling
of raw materials integrated at both the
creation stage and at the end of a product’s
life cycle. Research is crucially needed to
anticipate the total material requirements
and environmental impacts of any
new technologies.
A case can be made for more metal
production near centres of demand,
similarly to the locavore movement that
proposes looking closer to home for our
food. It seems unreasonable to shun green
beans grown in Kenya while using copper
from the Congo. Greentechnologies should
incorporate domestic mining, which
reduces the nancial and environmental
costs of transporting metals from far-
ung sources and decreases the carbon
footprint, while providing jobs and
wealth to the local community. Currently,
much of the pollution associated with
mining is outsourced to regions where the
environmental impact is oen uncontrolled.
In Europe, things can be done better.
For example, while adhering to the
stringent environmental and societal norms
outlined in the Green Mining program of
Finland11, Boliden’s Aitik mine, located
in the harsh climate of northern Sweden,
protably exploits ore containing less than
0.3% copper12, far lower than the global
average of about 0.6% (ref.13), thanks to
ecient modern technology and highly
mechanized mining. Such projects require
a coordinated eort involving scientists
from various academic disciplines and
industries, as well as decision makers.
Programmes such as ERA-MIN (Network
on the Industrial Handling of Raw Materials
for European Industries)14 provide scientists
with the opportunity to contribute to
the huge challenges involved with raw
materials, including resource management
and preservation.
Earth’s resources are rich and manifold,
but they are nite. As the demand grows,
we must fully acknowledge the inherent
trade-o between the production of metals
and energy, and optimize procedures and
technologies to use both as eciently as
possible. Europe is a good place to start on
this project.
Olivier Vidal1*, Bruno Goé2 and
NicholasArndt1 areat the 1CNRS, Université
Grenoble Alpes, 1381 Rue de la Piscine BP53,
38041 Grenoble, Cedex 09, Franceand 2CNRS,
CEREGE, Aix-Marseille Université, Technopole
Environnement Arbois, Mediterranee BP80,
13545 Aix en Provence, Cedex 04, France.
*e-mail: olivier.vidal@ujf-grenoble.fr
References
1. Masson-Delmotte, V., Le Treut, H. & Paillard, D. in
L’énergie à découvert (eds Mosseri, R. & Jeandel, C.) 22–25
(CNRS Editions, 2013).
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(International Energy Agency 2012);
http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/publications/weo-2012
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(European Parliament, 2011); http://go.nature.com/VUOs7V
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10. Brown, T. J. et al. European mineral statistics 2007–11
(British Geological Survey, 2013).
11. http://go.nature.com/ojNdPr
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http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/mineralProles.html
14. http://www.era-min-eu.org
2010 2020 2030 2040 2050
Year
2010 world production
2010 world production
Billion tonnes
50
100
25
150
2010 world
production
Million tonnes
Copper
Concrete
Steel
2010
200
600
400
800
1,000
2020 2030 2040 2050
Year
2010 world
production
Million tonnes
Glass
5
0
10
15
20
25
30
35
2010 2020 2030 2040 2050
200
0
0
0
400
Million tonnes
Aluminum
2010 world
production
2010 2020 2030 2040 2050
Figure 2 | Increasing global consumption of raw materials. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
predicts that the contribution from wind and solar energy to global energy production will rise to
25,000TWh in 20507. To meet this demand, the global production of raw materials such as concrete,
steel, aluminium, copper and glass will need to significantly increase. Open and filled symbols correspond
to dierent volumes of raw material required to construct dierent types of photovoltaic panels (PV1 and
PV2, respectively, in Supplementary Table1).
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
... As a tentative response, 196 countries gathered during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference of Paris and agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Such a target requires deep transformations of our society including, but not limited to, a shift away from fossil fuels to low-carbon energies, which calls for important quantities of energy and materials [7,8,9,10,11,12]. While the transport and electricity sectors have been thoroughly analyzed, the hydrocarbons have not received the same attention, to the best of the authors' knowledge 1 . ...
... The transition requires vast amounts of minerals and metals [9,26,27] due to a significantly higher material intensities of renewables [28,29,8] and new technologies [30]. Vidal et al. [8] state that "a shift to renewable energy will replace one non-renewable resource (fossil fuels) with another (metals and minerals)", while Li et al. [31] point out the trend toward a "more metal-intensive energy future" as renewable energy are increasingly being developed. ...
... The transition requires vast amounts of minerals and metals [9,26,27] due to a significantly higher material intensities of renewables [28,29,8] and new technologies [30]. Vidal et al. [8] state that "a shift to renewable energy will replace one non-renewable resource (fossil fuels) with another (metals and minerals)", while Li et al. [31] point out the trend toward a "more metal-intensive energy future" as renewable energy are increasingly being developed. Recent dynamic MFA or simple flow analysis 4 focus on quantifying the prospective demand in non-energetic materials for a low-carbon energy system in various institutional scenarios (e.g. ...
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... The mining, as an extractive industry, with potential for negative effects is one of the most controversial development industries as a result of its ecological and social implications (Taabazuing et al., 2012;Mejía Acosta, 2013;Syahrir et al., 2020). It has a great potential to aid in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) because metals and minerals are required for the development of technology toward sustainable economies (Vidal et al., 2013) and for the enhancement of national economies and human development (Elshkaki et al., 2016). Mining also has the potential to either negatively or positively affect socio-economic activities of rural communities in ecosystems which they operate (Cole and Broadhurst, 2020). ...
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Global energy transitions entangled with a paradigm shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy consumption elevates the demand for clean energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaics (PV), wind turbines, electric vehicles (EV) and power storage systems etc., which require significant volumes of minerals as raw materials. We measure the import-demand function of minerals by incorporating the role of renewable energy production capacity for selected OECD countries. We apply the cross-sectional autoregressive distributed lag (CS-ARDL) approach to analyse the panel time-series data due to common correlation, country heterogeneity, non-stationarity and potential endogeneity over the period 1990–2020. Our findings confirm that the overall renewable energy production, including installed solar and wind capacities, fosters the import demands for both the aggregate and disaggregate minerals (copper and nickel) in the long run. We also observe that the copper price elasticity of demand holds the Marshallian demand hypothesis, while the nickel price violates it in the long run. Besides, we find a heterogeneous effect of the income factor on the mineral import demand. Therefore, our findings recommend optimizing mineral resources to reinforce the global agenda of energy transitions toward a decarbonized or a net-zero emissions trajectory by the 21st century.
... To ensure planetary health and SDGs, transformation is needed in "(1) education, gender and inequality; (2) health, well-being and demography; (3) energy decarbonization and sustainable industry; (4) sustainable food, land, water and oceans; (5) sustainable cities and communities; and (6) digital revolution" [200, p., 805]. Existing frameworks, such as green growth [189], low-carbon society [190], climate-smart agriculture [191], agroecology [192], ecosystem-based adaptation [193], circular economy [194], doughnut economics [195], regenerative economics [196] and so forth, can be tools for this transformation to flattening the curve, managing zoonotic diseases and achieving SDGs. ...
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COVID-19 can be characterized as an outcome of degraded planetary health drivers in complex systems and has wide-reaching implications in social, economic and environmental realms. To understand the drivers of planetary health that have influences of emergence and spread of COVID-19 and their implications for sustainability systems thinking and narrative literature review is deployed. In particular, sixteen planetary health drivers are identified, i.e., population growth, climate change, agricultural intensification, urbanization, land use and land cover change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, globalization, wildlife trade, wet markets, non-planetary health diet, antimicrobial resistance, air pollution, water stress, poverty and weak governance. The implications of COVID-19 for planetary health are grouped in six categories: social, economic, environmental, technological, political, and public health. The implications for planetary health are then judged to see the impacts with respect to sustainable development goals (SDGs). The paper indicates that sustainable development goals are being hampered due to the planetary health implications of COVID-19.
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Carbon peaking and neutralization in the next 20 to 40 years are significant to limit the temperature increase to well below 2 °C and avoid the negative impacts of climate change caused by the sharp increase in carbon dioxide emissions [...]
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There is a significant role for the mining and minerals industry to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a global level, through supplying the raw materials needed for technological progress, human development and cleaner economic growth, and at a local level, through socio-economic development and support, environmental protection, and good governance. While mining companies support the SDGs at the corporate level, there is a lack of evidence to show whether they are being implemented at the mine site level. There is also a lack of clarity on who the mine host communities are and what happens to the SDGs commitments after mine closure. The aim of this study was to identify all the host communities in the West Wits goldfield in South Africa and measure a comprehensive set of local SDG indicators, to explore the local variations that are hidden at national and municipal level, and the implications for communities achieving the SDGs in the context of mine closure. The West Wits is home to over 300,000 people living in 47 diverse communities—towns, mine villages, townships, informal settlements, industrial areas and rural areas. While 23 local SDG indicators were selected, only 13 indicators across 8 SDGs could be measured using census data. The findings show significant inequality between communities and deprivation in many communities, particularly the informal settlements. There are low levels of education, internet access and employment across the communities, indicating high vulnerability to mine closure. Without major intervention the SDGs will not be met by 2030 and thousands of people in these communities will be left behind. This is even more concerning given the majority of mines are expected to close in the next 10–20 years and the local economy in the West Wits is largely reliant on mining. Achieving the SDGs will require collaboration between multiple mining companies, local government authorities, civil society and communities, and significant urgent interventions on education and skills development, internet access and employment creation beyond the mining industry.
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A new comminution technology that can reduce energy consumption when compared to traditional grinding of rock is presented. The process is based on pulverization driven by transcritical CO2 cycles, resulting in tensile fracture inside the particle rather than compression from outside. Tensile strength of many rocks is approximately 10 times lower compared to compressive strength offering significant potential for saving energy. In this apparatus, comminution can occur over multiple cycles to enhance rock breakage without extracting and refeeding rock between cycles. The test rig depicts test condition that allow to capture and to recycle the CO2. Limestone is utilized as an example material in a lab-scale experimental apparatus. Within the apparatus, the temperature and pressure are raised to supercritical conditions. A rapid release of the CO2 into a decompression chamber results in an expansion of supercritical CO2 inside the pores and fractures rock from tension instead of compression. Results show a significant fraction of the limestone is comminuted in three consecutive CO2 pressure cycles. A majority of the resulting particles exhibit larger fragments from 5 mm to 13.2 mm. 6.2% of the feed material was directly transferred to fine material <300 μm without many intermediate progeny particles. Initial results indicate a larger ratio of the pressure before and after burst, and longer soak times aid pulverization. A single rock is also analyzed, where it is noted that breakage occurs along visible fractures, and this behavior is noted over consecutive cycles.
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