Long relied on for their easily accessible and secure energy supply, Hydrocarbons are steadily losing their grip on the world as the energy transition takes shape.

In response to human-induced climate change, the Paris Agreement – signed by 196 parties to date – is a legally binding agreement set out to limit the effects of global warming. This plan will require a shift from traditional hydrocarbons like naturally occurring petroleum, natural gas, and coal to advanced clean energy technologies made from various rare elements, often called critical minerals.

The Paris Agreement’s goal is to halt the increase in average global temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and ‘pursue efforts’ to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. With targets in place, the pressure is now on countries around the world to reduce their reliance on traditional fossil fuels while developing an array of clean energy solutions using large quantities of critical minerals.

It’s no small task. Some experts say this energy transition could take up to 100 years to complete.

But progress is being made, and as wind and solar farms become more prevalent, Electric Vehicles (EVs) replace their fuel-burning ancestors, and power grids modernise, the clean energy transition is happening. At the heart of it all is an array of rare yet vital minerals, including lithium, graphite, cobalt, nickel, copper, and more, that must be mined and supplied in higher and higher quantities to keep up with the pace of change.

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

But where do these minerals fit into the picture, and what role will they each play in the world’s latest energy transition?

Focus: The Minerals with a Mission

One of the significant hurdles in the clean energy revolution is the sheer amount of critical minerals required to build a wind turbine, large-scale solar plant, or Electric Vehicle. For example, companies, including Tesla and the major auto-makers like VW, Toyota, and GM, need roughly six times the mineral input to make an EV Vs a regular internal combustion vehicle.

As a case study, let’s break down the minerals at the centre of the energy transition, including those used in wind, solar, hydro, and EV technology:


Making up almost half the mass of an EV battery, car makers need graphite in bulk, at around 7-10 times the volume of lithium. In other words, graphite should have received the naming rights. About 60% of the world’s graphite still goes towards the humble pencil and for industrial applications. Still, the balance is expected to shift as demand for spherical graphite increases for use in EVs. For reference, there is 66kg of graphite in every Electric Vehicle.


Copper is the backbone of global electrification efforts, with so much emphasis on the reliability and growth of the copper supply chain. Cu is a ductile metal and an excellent conductor of electricity, meaning more than half the world’s copper goes to electrical motors, wiring, and anything electrical in nature.

Offshore wind farms rely on copper as their primary mineral, requiring a whopping 8 tonnes of it per megawatt hour, while EVs need over 50kg of copper per vehicle. According to the International Energy Agency, demand for copper will increase from 23.9 million tonnes in 2020 to 28.6 million tonnes by 2030.


Translating to ‘Goblin’ in German and renowned for its striking blue pigment, Cobalt is high on the list of priority minerals needed for clean energy generation. One of the significant issues in sourcing cobalt is that most of it is mined ‘artisanally’ in Africa, where people – notably children – can be exploited for their labour and left with little of the rewards.

These problems must be faced on the fly as cobalt is a vital mineral used across the board in electrified equipment, and global demand is rising steadily.


A heavy-hitter in the energy transition, lithium remains a highly sought-after commodity for many clean energy technologies and is key to the lithium-ion battery-making process.

Demand for lithium has gone through the roof, benefitting the world’s largest producers like Australia, Chile, and China with high prices, although supply is now catching up with demand.

The world will need four times the current amount of lithium in the supply chain by 2035, making it one of the world’s most highly prospective mining sectors.


Nickel, the fifth most common element in the earth’s crust, is a popular mineral in alloys and also one of the main reasons our planet has a magnetic field. It’s used prodigiously to make stainless steel, coins, and many other critical items, and it is also crucial in electrification.

Nickel is a central cathode material in lithium-ion batteries, used in electric vehicles, energy storage, hydro power, wind power, and photovoltaics (solar power). “Our [Lithium-ion battery] cells should be called nickel-graphite because primarily the cathode is nickel and the anode side is graphite,” – Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Looking to the Future of Critical Minerals

Looking back over the breakdown, every critical mineral we’ve covered has recently experienced meteoric demand growth, mainly due to its role in clean energy technology.

And we’ve only covered a few.

Rare earths are another that are – true to their name – hard to come by yet vital for permanent magnets found in wind turbines and EV motors. Sourcing each of these minerals sustainably is a significant challenge facing the mining industry, which must embark on a clean energy revolution while providing the raw materials to complete a complex global energy transition.

In a nutshell, critical minerals play a critical role in the rise of new energy sources, transmission methods, and storage options, living up to their name to the fullest. But how we source and create value-added downstream products is equally important, ensuring that while we enable new technologies with rare mineral resources, we are not damaging our ecosystem.

Bringing all of this together in a way that works, is sustainable, and delivers benefits for all is bound to be one of the most monumental undertakings by human beings. But if we can get it right, the future for our children looks a lot rosier.


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