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The Energy Transition and Energy Equity: A Compatible Combination?

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  • Matheus L. C. M. Henckens

    (Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Princetonlaan 8A, 3584 CB Utrecht, The Netherlands)

Abstract

Much attention is being paid to the short-term supply security of raw materials for the energy transition. However, little attention is being paid to the impact of the energy transition on the long-term availability of a number of specific mineral resources that are needed for the realization of a fossil-free energy infrastructure. The aim of this paper is to examine whether the quantity of raw materials required for the energy transition could encounter limits of geological availability of mineral resources, especially in the case that energy supply and consumption are equitably distributed over all countries of the world in the long term . This study is an ex ante evaluation. The result of the evaluation is that four metals are relatively problematic: cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel. The in-use stocks of these four metals in energy transition-related technologies may take up between 20% and 30% of the ultimately available resources of these metals in the continental Earth’s crust. Even with an 80% end-of-life recycling rate, the increase in the annual use of primary resources is estimated to be 9% for copper, 29% for nickel, 52% for cobalt, and 86% for lithium, compared to the estimated annual use of these metals without an energy transition. The conclusion of the study is that the question of whether energy equity and the energy transition are a compatible combination cannot be answered unambiguously. After all, it will depend on the extent and the speed with which cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel can be substituted with other, geologically less scarce metals, and on the achieved end-of-life recycling rates of these metals, not only from energy transition-related products, but also from all other products in which these metals are applied. The novelty of the study is that the availability of raw materials for the energy transition is analyzed from a perspective of global equity at the expected level of the European Union in 2050.

Suggested Citation

  • Matheus L. C. M. Henckens, 2022. "The Energy Transition and Energy Equity: A Compatible Combination?," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(8), pages 1-22, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:14:y:2022:i:8:p:4781-:d:795253
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