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The energy transition needs minerals. Is deep sea mining the best way to get them? | Podcast

Low-carbon technologies rely on critical metals, from copper to cobalt. What are the options for finding them?

The International Energy Agency last month held its first ever summit to discuss Critical Minerals and Clean Energy. It was attended by more than 50 countries, which came together to discuss ways to secure the critical minerals that are needed to make the transition to low-carbon energy.

Whether it’s copper wiring in electricity systems, steel in a wind turbine, or lithium in an EV battery, metals are vital for low-carbon technologies, and demand is only going to increase over the next decade. New mines for these metals can take a long time to bring into production, raising fears about whether supplies can keep up. One solution to this problem that’s been getting a lot of attention recently is sea-bed mining.

It is a potentially significant new source of supply for some of these critical metals, but it’s also highly controversial because of the damage it could do to deep water ocean ecosystems.

On the Energy Gang this week, Ed Crooks is back in the host’s chair, and joined by regular Amy Harder, Executive Editor of Cipher, a news outlet supported by Breakthrough Energy.

Amy recently interviewed the Prime Minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre, in New York, and she details the main takeaways from that conversation on the show today. Some Norwegian lawmakers have called for a 10-year delay to the country’s plans to allow deep sea mining so that the environmental impacts can be studied.

Dr Melissa Lott, Director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, is also on the show and she outlines some of those environmental impacts.

The demand for critical minerals could necessitate offshore mining, but it is not the only possible option.

Recycling can be another source of increased supply. A study from the International Council on Clean Transportation said that at the end of last year, US plants had the capacity to produce about 100,000 tons a year of recycled battery materials. Total capacity for proposed new plants that have been announced is about 650,000 tons a year.

Even that is still only enough for about 1.3 million EVs a year, which might be roughly the number that will be sold in the US this year. So as the market grows, we are going to need more.

Plus, the IEA published a report last week called the ‘Net Zero Roadmap’, which said the road was still open to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But is it really feasible? Is it time to call it, admit that that goal is out of reach, and concentrate on a more achievable target? Could carbon capture now be our only hope of reaching that goal?

Subscribe to the show so you don’t miss an episode, out every second Friday, and follow the conversation on X – we’re @theenergygang.