Battery Revolution, Renewable Energy Drives Critical Minerals Demand

As the United States and other developed countries embrace the prospect of transitioning to renewable energy, the need for critical minerals is skyrocketing.

Solar plants, wind farms and electric vehicles require more minerals to build than their fossil fuel-based counterparts. For example, a typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Since 2010, the average amount of minerals needed for a new unit of power generation capacity has increased by 50 percent as the share of renewables in new investment has risen,” the agency reported in May. “In climate-driven scenarios, mineral demand for use in EVs and battery storage is a major force, growing at least 30 times to 2040.”

Lithium is seeing the fastest growth, increasing by more than 40 times by 2040, followed by graphite, cobalt and nickel (around 20-25 times). The IEA reports that the expansion of electricity networks will more than double the demand for copper for grid lines over the same period.

Addressing the exploding need for critical minerals and how petroleum geoscientists can lead such efforts, members of AAPG’s Energy Minerals Division came together to discuss the future of critical minerals at the International Meeting for Applied Geoscience and Energy conference in Denver.

“As oil and gas geologists, we can add a lot to what’s going to be coming in the future,” said Ashley Douds, chair of the EMD’s Critical Minerals Committee.

Historically, hard rocks have been explored and mined for critical minerals, but opportunities also exist in sedimentary basins, said Douds, president and principal geologist at Core2Core Geologic Consulting.

“We know that the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense are looking at coal-based resources. We know sedimentary rocks have hosted accumulations like Mississippi Valley-type deposits and clastic-dominated lead-zinc deposits. And, we also see a lot more interest going into oil and its migration because it does have the ability to transport metals,” she said.

Image Caption

Annual electric car sales in the sustainable development scenario 2020-2040.

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As the United States and other developed countries embrace the prospect of transitioning to renewable energy, the need for critical minerals is skyrocketing.

Solar plants, wind farms and electric vehicles require more minerals to build than their fossil fuel-based counterparts. For example, a typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Since 2010, the average amount of minerals needed for a new unit of power generation capacity has increased by 50 percent as the share of renewables in new investment has risen,” the agency reported in May. “In climate-driven scenarios, mineral demand for use in EVs and battery storage is a major force, growing at least 30 times to 2040.”

Lithium is seeing the fastest growth, increasing by more than 40 times by 2040, followed by graphite, cobalt and nickel (around 20-25 times). The IEA reports that the expansion of electricity networks will more than double the demand for copper for grid lines over the same period.

Addressing the exploding need for critical minerals and how petroleum geoscientists can lead such efforts, members of AAPG’s Energy Minerals Division came together to discuss the future of critical minerals at the International Meeting for Applied Geoscience and Energy conference in Denver.

“As oil and gas geologists, we can add a lot to what’s going to be coming in the future,” said Ashley Douds, chair of the EMD’s Critical Minerals Committee.

Historically, hard rocks have been explored and mined for critical minerals, but opportunities also exist in sedimentary basins, said Douds, president and principal geologist at Core2Core Geologic Consulting.

“We know that the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense are looking at coal-based resources. We know sedimentary rocks have hosted accumulations like Mississippi Valley-type deposits and clastic-dominated lead-zinc deposits. And, we also see a lot more interest going into oil and its migration because it does have the ability to transport metals,” she said.

After attending a recent meeting with the Society of Economic Geologists, Douds shared a piece of advice that was given: “Make friends with petroleum geologists.”

“We really do have that background in basin analysis, thermal maturity, migration and all those things that are important to finding the next critical mineral deposits,” she said. “The mining industry right now is understaffed. Sounds familiar to what we dealt with in shales, right? They are looking for experienced geologists.”

Era of Demand

As the battery revolution takes off – powering a growing number of smartphones and electric vehicles and storing excess energy produced by renewables – critical minerals are key. Some geologists who have transitioned their knowledge and skills into geothermal energy are now finding ways to extract critical minerals, particularly lithium, from brines.

“This is one of the areas where we are seeing some pivots of some petroleum geologists,” said Jeff Aldrich, co-chair of the EMD Helium Subcommittee and senior geoscientist at Sproule.

“We understand the subsurface, and we understand fluids. You have to understand a lot of chemistry and partial pressures and really get into the rock chemistry and fluid chemistry,” he said. “We are trying to see what we can do with these brines and pull out some of these heavy metals, heavy minerals and exotic minerals because they really are going to be powering the future. Brine technology and brine extraction are going to be one of the exploding areas in the future.”

While some might already be experiencing the shortages in critical minerals with longer wait-times for appliances and laptops, for example, Mike Bingle-Davis, president-elect of the EMD, said the public’s dependency on critical minerals is not a well-known fact as of yet.

“Many may not know the significance of critical minerals,” said Bingle-Davis, a senior geologist at Kirkwood Oil and Gas. “We are discussing minerals that are powering everything we have – that’s the transition we are going into. Every one of us is carrying a smartphone and has a smart TV. They are disposable. You throw it away and it’s gone. How long can that be sustained?”

Noting that the world’s current population hovers around 8 billion people, he said that number is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Many of those people will be striving for a higher quality of life, and that includes owning devices powered by critical minerals.

“It’s going to be geologists and engineers that are going to have to sustain and maintain that level of accessibility to critical minerals,” he said.

Sourcing Domestically

As it stands, the United States is dependent on other countries for 35 critical minerals, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. These include lithium and cobalt, which in addition to nickel, are needed to produce lithium-ion batteries.

“We recognize this is an issue going forward,” Douds said, noting that the nation’s dependence on other countries for 13 critical minerals and all rare earth minerals is 100 percent.

“Like we witnessed with oil and gas, when we start to have to pay more for particular reserves and resources, we look to other countries around the world to produce for us so that we can sustain our current level of lifestyle,” Bingle-Davis said. “We just asked OPEC to produce more while cutting our own production. One can expect that something similar would probably occur when it comes to energy minerals.”

Furthermore, current supplies of energy minerals and energy mineral production come from South America, Central America and Africa – “places that do not have the critical or robust regulatory framework that we see in the United States,” Bingle-Davis said. “So, as we move forward with this transition, I think the United States is best set up to do it responsibly and in a manner that would actually serve the planet better than if we were to outsource.”

The IEA reports that an unprecedented rapid rise in demand for critical minerals poses huge questions about the availability and reliability of supply. In the past, strains on the supply-demand balance for minerals have prompted additional investments and measures to moderate or substitute demand, yet those responses have often come with time lags and considerable price volatility. Similar episodes in the future could delay clean energy transitions and push up their cost, according to the IEA.

As the United States adopts more renewable energy, relying on natural gas instead of critical minerals as a main bridge fuel would facilitate a smoother transition, given its current reliance on other countries for critical minerals, said Bingle-Davis.

In April, the U.S. Department of Energy stated that, “Facing persistent shortages in domestic supply, the U.S. has been forced to rely on imported materials, leaving clean energy technology production at greater risk of disruption.” Two months later, it awarded $19 million for 13 projects in traditionally fossil fuel-producing communities across the country to support production of rare earth elements and critical minerals vital to the manufacturing of batteries, magnets and other components needed for cleaner energy.

In June, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it would “immediately” launch a 100-day review and strategy development process to address vulnerabilities in the supply chains, including strategic and critical materials.

“A lot of money is now going into critical mineral research – a lot around extraction technology development,” Douds said. “If you have an idea, now is the time to get it funded.”

Answers in Oil and Gas

There are challenges to exploring for and mining minerals on domestic soil. Although it is known that critical minerals occur in many types of rocks, including sedimentary rocks, an extensive library does not exist for how the minerals occur in oil and gas reservoirs, Douds said, stressing the need to know the location of these resources.

Major challenges to moving forward include understanding the large amount of mining and extraction that will be needed to meet projections on the renewables side. Despite the efforts being made to improve extraction technologies, elements that are physically trapped within glasses or other minerals from coal ash could be too costly to extract. “Maybe at some point we will reach an economic hurdle that will make it worthwhile, but extraction technology and the volumes we will need are big hurdles,” Douds said.

Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey announced a partnership with Geoscience Australia and the Geological Survey of Canada for purposes of “coordinating critical mineral mapping and research efforts to create a shared foundation of mineral information to help ensure a safe and secure supply of the materials needed for each country’s economy and security.”

According to Douds, the partnership will focus on sedimentary basins in addition to traditional sources of critical minerals and share its data to interested parties.

“A lot of people believe that oil and gas is going to be around for a long time, and if you think about being able to extract critical minerals – especially battery metals – from these shale wells that we are drilling, and from the brines … you essentially have three sources of energy from one location,” she said. “So that’s a pretty interesting way to look at it going forward.”

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From: Fantasyland Fiction Batteries Will Never Solve Wind & Solar’s Hopeless Intermittency, May 17, 2021 by stopthesethings. For wind and solar acolytes, physics and economics are boring impediments. However, the colossal cost of giant lithium batteries means that – between now and kingdom come – their contribution to our electrical supply will remain laughably trivial. Sky news host Chris Kenny. “Energy storage is the problem with renewable energy, it’s the only issue really, the big one,” Mr. Kenny said. “But these politicians and commentators think there’s already some king of big battery nirvana. “Now there are plenty of people barracking for renewable energy, good on them, it’s a free world and renewables of course have lots of obvious attractions. “But it is no good pretending that batteries are the solution. You can’t run an electricity grid on make-believe.”
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11/10/2021 5:49:42 PM