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Opinion

Our top 5 takeaways from the LME forum 2023

We recently had the pleasure of hosting the Wood Mackenzie LME Forum 2023, where experts, analysts and guest speakers from the metals and mining industry gathered to discuss key market trends

4 minute read

Lindsay Grant

Vice President, Head of M&M Markets Research

Lindsay has deep expertise in Upstream Oil & Gas and has covered the sector since joining us in 2008.

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The energy transition is central to the increase in global demand for metals and mined commodities, but with supply challenges escalating as ESG criteria come under stricter scrutiny by governments and investors, our experts presented the potential solutions in relation to policy changes, recycling and the constraint of materials supply in the race to achieve zero carbon.

To download a more detailed report of our commodity outlooks, fill out the form on the right. Or, read on for a short summary of our top five takeaways from this meeting of minds:

1. Battery Raw Materials (BRMs) remain critical to growth

BRMs are vital to the energy transition. Our experts say we will see a continuation of soaring demand for cobalt, with batteries accounting for 70% of overall demand, and by 2035 the lithium market will have increased more than ten times that of its current size. So, as countries get underway honing their minerals policies, government incentives will be key to diversifying value chains.

It will be challenging to meet demand due to heightened supply risks. The supply of BRMs depends on a handful of countries and regions, with China in a dominant position.

The pressure to deliver is immense and new investment is needed, but even with it, increased production costs and ESG issues will affect supply with lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite all have structural shortfalls on a 10 to 15 year timeframe.

Ying Lu speaking at LME 2023

2. Magnet materials are leading the way for rare earth products

As key enablers to the energy transition, our researchers showed that rare earths will experience a significant increase in demand as they support the continued growth of renewable technologies, with magnet materials at the forefront for both renewables and rare earth products.  

Transport electrification and offshore wind energy generation will account for almost 50% of magnet demand by 2035.

Suzanne Shaw

Head of Energy Transition & Battery Raw Materials

Suzanne specialises in commodities including cathode and precursor, lithium, cobalt, graphite, rare earths and lead.

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We learnt that in order to meet demand growth, the market needs several new projects in addition to expansions by existing producers and recycling. Significant capital investment is also pivotal to the essential build-out of new capacity to avoid price fluctuations and supply deficits, as well as the inevitable increase in the substitution of rare earth technologies.  

3. Are emissions really up in the air for the metals and mining industry?

The metals and mining industry is responsible for approximately 15% of annual global emissions, but there’s good news from mining majors and mid-tier companies as they make important progress towards near-term targets. Carbon intensive commodities in portfolios that are hard to abate throw up challenges, but we are seeing that tangible reductions are underway across the board.

Collaboration and alignment, together with technology and policy are core to supporting mining companies in their challenge to reduce emissions. Access to green electricity, the availability of low-to-zero carbon equipment powertrains, and favourable changes to carbon policy will compound the successful decarbonisation of this industry. 

4. Slow and steady growth predicted for zinc and lead

Zinc mine production has proved resilient in the face of recent low prices and we’re set to see further steady growth that will push the concentrate market to surplus. Meanwhile surpluses in lead concentrate will take longer to emerge.

“Over the next few years we expect steady growth in zinc mine production -approximately 1.5Mt of new mine production is planned from 2023 to 2026.” – Andrew Thomas, Research Director.

Zinc smelter production will recover, however, high energy prices, carbon taxes and carbon abatement costs will affect long-term margins. The outlook for lead smelting is that we will see an increase in domination by secondary plants, as the number of primary smelters dwindles. .

In the refined market, a bounce back in zinc demand is expected in 2024. This recovery, along with more positive sentiment will see higher near-term zinc prices. However, in the medium term there will be price pressure from rising stocks. In the lead market, demand and prices are expected to remain stable.

Over the next few years we expect steady growth in zinc mine production -approximately 1.5Mt of new mine production is planned from 2023 to 2026.

Andrew Thomas

Head of Lead and Zinc

An experienced analyst with in-depth knowledge of the zinc market, Andrew has followed metal markets for over 20 years.

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Zinc smelter production will recover, however, high energy prices, carbon taxes and carbon abatement costs will affect long-term margins. The outlook for lead smelting is that we will see an increase in domination by secondary plants, as the number of primary smelters dwindles. .

In the refined market, a bounce back in zinc demand is expected in 2024. This recovery, along with more positive sentiment will see higher near-term zinc prices. However, in the medium term there will be price pressure from rising stocks. In the lead market, demand and prices are expected to remain stable.

Andrew Thomas speaking at LME 2023

5. Copper will underpin demand as the energy transition evolves

The energy transition and green sectors are driving demand for copper as an electrical conductor. Our experts estimate that in ten years, total copper end-use demand from green end-uses, such as energy storage and EVs, will more than treble to reach 6.7 Mt.

Base case mine supply is expected to grow by 2.6% before peaking in 2026, however, new projects are required to meet future demand for copper and must be sanctioned at a rate of 700 ktpa if the copper market is to avoid an implied supply gap of 6.2 Mt by 2033. The potential shortfall has made scrap increasingly important and government policy will create the change that will support higher collection and recycling rates.

Learn more

To learn more about the trends affecting the metals and mining industry, fill out the form at the top of the page to download your complimentary copy of our more detailed event summary piece.