Environmental impacts and demand-supply balance of minerals for the transition to a low-carbon energy system

Author(s): Takuma Wataria,b, Benjamin McLellana, Damien Giurcob, Elsa Dominishb and Tetsuo Tezukaa
Graduate School of Energy Science, Kyoto University, Yoshida Honmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan
b Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, 235 Jones St, Ultimo, NSW 2007, Australia
International Journal of Smart Grid and Clean Energy, vol. 9, no. 1, January 2020: pp. 189-197
ISSN: 2315-4462 (Print)
ISSN: 2373-3594 (Online)
Digital Object Identifier: 10.12720/sgce.9.1.189-197

Abstract: Comprehensive perspectives are essential to address environmental problems that have become more challenging in recent years. Energy problems are one of the most fundamental challenges that humankind faces. Therefore, it is necessary to examine whether long-term energy scenarios are sustainable from a wide range of viewpoints, including their use of mineral resources. This paper focused on the energy-mineral nexus as a one of the examples of complex interconnection and investigated the availability of minerals in the transition to a low-carbon energy system. Moreover, in order to give more comprehensive perspectives to policy makers and industries, the environmental impacts associated with mining under low-carbon energy scenarios were evaluated. Results indicate that the introduction of low-carbon technologies affects future mineral demand significantly and supply may not keep up with increased demand without recycling. Furthermore, the environmental impacts (for example, CO2 emissions, water pollution and land uses) caused by increase in mineral production could be concentrated in specific countries such as China, Australia and South Africa, and the energy demand for mining could be also increased massively in Congo and Chile. A circular economy promoting recycling, remanufacturing plus strategies which reduce and reuse should be considered in parallel to introducing low-carbon technologies to boost mineral supply and reduce the environmental impacts.

Keywords: Low-carbon energy system, critical mineral, environmental impact, life cycle analysis, sustainability
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