Future Metal Demand from Photovoltaic Cells and Wind Turbines - Investigating the Potential Risk of Disabling a Shift to Renewable Energy Systems

15-12-2011

Our climate is rapidly changing, and to lower the risk of crossing a tipping point where dangerous climate change will be irreversible, greenhouse gas emissions must decrease rapidly within the coming decade and eventually be eliminated in a few decades ahead. To accomplish this, we will inevitably have to abandon fossil fuels and shift towards renewable energy systems, such as photovoltaic cells and wind turbines. Recent events have however indicated that the supply of raw materials used in advanced and emerging technologies may not be able to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand. Since the world cannot afford any further delay in climate change mitigation, this study investigates whether the supply of raw materials may hinder the successful transition to a renewable energy supply by looking at the future metal demand from photovoltaic cells and wind turbines. The findings show that major deployment of photovoltaic cells and wind turbines may have a serious impact on the future demand of 8 significant elements ‐ gallium, indium, selenium, tellurium, dysprosium, neodymium, praseodymium and terbium. The current recycling rate of these metals is less than one percent, and material substitution possibilities are found to be very limited. Due to the long lifespan of these technologies, increased demand will have to be met almost exclusively by virgin raw material extraction, which in turn will have major consequences for society and the environment, including large emissions of greenhouse gases. To tackle these issues and to avoid that the demand for certain raw materials will outstrip supply and cause a delay to any major deployment of photovoltaic cells and wind turbines, technological alternatives will have to be sought and implemented, as well as the concept of raw materials criticality will have to be reassessed and integrated into energy roadmaps and targets. If this is not done, bottlenecks in the future supply of these elements entail a risk of disabli

Our climate is rapidly changing, and to lower the risk of crossing a tipping point where dangerous climate change will be irreversible, greenhouse gas emissions must decrease rapidly within the coming decade and eventually be eliminated in a few decades ahead. To accomplish this, we will inevitably have to abandon fossil fuels and shift towards renewable energy systems, such as photovoltaic cells and wind turbines. Recent events have however indicated that the supply of raw materials used in advanced and emerging technologies may not be able to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand. Since the world cannot afford any further delay in climate change mitigation, this study investigates whether the supply of raw materials may hinder the successful transition to a renewable energy supply by looking at the future metal demand from photovoltaic cells and wind turbines. The findings show that major deployment of photovoltaic cells and wind turbines may have a serious impact on the future demand of 8 significant elements ‐ gallium, indium, selenium, tellurium, dysprosium, neodymium, praseodymium and terbium. The current recycling rate of these metals is less than one percent, and material substitution possibilities are found to be very limited. Due to the long lifespan of these technologies, increased demand will have to be met almost exclusively by virgin raw material extraction, which in turn will have major consequences for society and the environment, including large emissions of greenhouse gases. To tackle these issues and to avoid that the demand for certain raw materials will outstrip supply and cause a delay to any major deployment of photovoltaic cells and wind turbines, technological alternatives will have to be sought and implemented, as well as the concept of raw materials criticality will have to be reassessed and integrated into energy roadmaps and targets. If this is not done, bottlenecks in the future supply of these elements entail a risk of disabli