Visualizing China’s Dominance in Clean Energy Metals
Connect with us

Energy

Visualizing China’s Dominance in Clean Energy Metals

Published

on

Subscribe to the Elements free mailing list for more like this

Visualizing China’s Dominance in Clean Energy Metals

Visualizing China’s Dominance in Clean Energy Metals

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Renewable sources of energy are expected to replace fossil fuels over the coming decades, and this large-scale transition will have a downstream effect on the demand of raw materials. More green energy means more wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries needed, and more clean energy metals necessary to build these technologies.

This visualization, based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), illustrates where the extraction and processing of key metals for the green revolution take place.

It shows that despite being the world’s biggest carbon polluter, China is also the largest producer of most of the world’s critical minerals for the green revolution.

Where Clean Energy Metals are Produced

China produces 60% of all rare earth elements used as components in high technology devices, including smartphones and computers.

The country also has a 13% share of the lithium production market, which is still dominated by Australia (52%) and Chile (22%). The highly reactive element is key to producing rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, and electric vehicles.

China's ShareExtractionProcessing
Copper 8%40%
Nickel 5%35%
Cobalt 1.5%65%
Rare Earths 60%87%
Lithium13%58%

But even more than extraction, China is the dominant economy when it comes to processing operations. The country’s share of refining is around 35% for nickel, 58% for lithium, 65% for cobalt, and 87% for rare earth elements.

Despite being the largest economy in the world, the U.S. does not appear among the largest producers of any of the metals listed. To shorten the gap, the Biden administration recently launched an executive order to review the American strategy for critical and strategic materials.

It’s also worth noting that Russia also does not appear among the top producers when it comes to clean energy metals, despite being one of the world’s leading producers of minerals like copper, iron, and palladium.

Low Regulation in the Clean Metal Supply Chain

While China leads all countries in terms of cobalt processing, the metal itself is primarily extracted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Still, Chinese interests own 15 of the 17 industrial cobalt operations in the DRC, according to a data analysis by The New York Times and Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

Unfortunately, the DRC’s cobalt production has been criticized due to reports of corruption and lack of regulation.

Part of the Congolese cobalt comes from artisanal mines with low regulation. Of the 255,000 Congolese artisanal miners, an estimated 40,000 are children, some as young as six years old.

The Rise of Clean Energy Metals

The necessary shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy opens up interesting questions about how geopolitics, and these supply chains, will be affected.

In the race to secure raw materials needed for the green revolution, new world powers could emerge as demand for clean energy metals grows.

For now, China has the lead.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

Energy

Visualizing the New Era of Energy

This infographic explores the exponential growth of the technologies that are shaping the new era of energy.

Published

on

The following content is sponsored by Surge Battery Metals
new era of energy

The New Era of Energy

Energy is the pulse of our daily lives, powering everything from our homes to our cars and electronic gadgets. 

Over the last two decades, there’s been an ongoing shift in how we produce and consume energy, largely due to rising climate awareness among both governments and consumers.

The above infographic from Surge Battery Metals highlights the increasing uptake of clean energy technologies and explains the need for the raw materials that power them. This is part two of three infographics in the Energy Independence Series.

The Growth of Clean Energy

Government policies, falling production costs, and climate consciousness have all contributed to the exponential adoption of green energy technologies. 

For example, only a few countries were actively encouraging EV adoption a decade ago, but today, millions of consumers can take advantage of EV tax concessions and purchase subsidies with governments committed to phasing out internal combustion engines. Partly as a result, electric vehicles (EVs) are well on their way to mainstream adoption. 

Here’s a look at how the number of electric cars on the road has grown since 2011, including both battery EVs and plug-in hybrids:

Country/Region2011 Electric Car Stock2021 Electric Car Stock
China10,0007,800,000
Europe20,0005,500,000
U.S.20,0002,000,000
Other20,0001,100,000
Total70,00016,400,000

In 2021, the global electric car stock stood at around 16.4 million cars, up by around 60% from 2020. EV sales also more than doubled to reach 6.8 million units.

Alongside electric cars, renewable energy technologies are also on the road to dominating the global energy mix. In 2021, renewables accounted for 16% of global energy consumption—up from just 8% in 2000. This growth is largely down to solar and wind energy, which made up the majority of new renewable capacity additions:

YearNet Renewable Capacity Additions
(gigawatts)
Solar PV
% Share
Wind
% Share
2011109.428%36%
2012116.425%40%
2013122.930%27%
2014135.130%37%
2015159.731%42%
2016171.344%30%
2017174.855%27%
2018179.354%28%
2019193.856%31%
2020280.248%40%
2021288.954%31%

Every year since 2018, solar and wind have accounted for more than 80% of new renewable capacity additions, contributing to the record-breaking growth of clean energy. 

Despite this growth, the IEA projects that both EVs and renewables need to expand their reach significantly if the world is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Electric car sales need to hit 56 million units by 2030—more than eight times the 6.6 million cars sold in 2021. Similarly, solar PV and wind additions need to quadruple by 2030 from 2021 levels. 

This new era of clean energy will require an increase in the supply of EVs, solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, which translates into more demand for the unnoticed raw materials behind these technologies.

The Metals Behind Clean Energy

From copper in cables to lithium in batteries, some metals are key to building and growing clean energy capacity. 

In fact, for every megawatt of capacity, solar photovoltaic farms use more than 2,800 kg of copper according to the IEA. Offshore wind farms, which are connected to land by massive undersea cables, use even more copper at 8,000 kg per megawatt. Similarly, electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, which are composed of a variety of minerals, including graphite, copper, nickel, and lithium.

While the demand for these clean energy minerals is skyrocketing, their supply remains a concern, with China dominating the supply chains. In the new era of energy, domestic supplies of these materials will be key to ensuring energy independence and lower reliance on foreign imports.

In the next part of the Energy Independence Series sponsored by Surge Battery Metals, we will explore how the U.S. can build an Energy-Independent Future by developing domestic raw material and battery supply chains.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

You may also like

Subscribe

Continue Reading

Energy

Visualizing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

The U.S. emits about 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases a year. Here’s how these emissions rank by sector.

Published

on

The following content is sponsored by National Public Utilities Council.


Visualizing U.S. Emissions by Sector

Decarbonization efforts in the U.S. are ramping up, and in 2020, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were lower than at any point during the previous 30 years.

However there’s still work to be done before various organizations, states, and nationwide targets are met. And when looking at GHG emissions by sector, the data suggests that some groups have more work cut out for them than others.

This graphic from the National Public Utilities Council provides the key data and trends on the total emissions by U.S. sector since 1990.

The Highest Emitting Sectors

Collectively, the U.S. emitted 5,981 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2020, which rose 6.1% in 2021.

Here’s how the various sectors in the U.S. compare.

Sector2020 GHG emissions, MMT CO2ePercentage of Total
Transportation1,627.627%
Electricity generation1,482.625%
Industry1,426.224%
Agriculture635.111%
Commercial425.37%
Residential362.06%
U.S. territories23.0<1%

The transportation sector ranks highest by emissions and has been notably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still affecting travel and supply chains. This has led to whipsawing figures during the last two years.

For instance, in 2020, the transportation sector’s emissions fell 15%, the steepest fall of any sector. But the largest increase in emissions in 2021 also came from transportation, which is largely credited to the economic and tourism recovery last year.

Following transportation, electricity generation accounted for a quarter of U.S. GHG emissions in 2020, with fossil fuel combustion making up nearly 99% of the sector’s emissions. The other 1% includes waste incineration and other power generation technologies like renewables and nuclear power, which produce emissions during the initial stages of raw material extraction and construction.

Decarbonizing the Power Sector

The Biden Administration has set a goal to make the U.S. power grid run on 100% clean energy by 2035—a key factor in achieving the country’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Industrial factories, commercial buildings, and homes all consume electricity to power their machinery and appliances. Therefore, the power sector can help reduce their carbon footprint by supplying more clean electricity, although this largely depends on the availability of infrastructure for transmission.

Here’s how sectors would look if their respective electricity end-use is taken into account

SectorEmissions by Sector % of Total
Agriculture11%
Transportation27%
Industry30%
Residential & Commercial30%

Percentages may not add up to 100% due to independent rounding

With these adjustments, the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors experience a notable jump, and lead ahead of other categories

Today, the bulk of electricity generation, 60%, comes from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, with nuclear, renewables, and other sources making up 40% of the total.

Energy Source2020 Electric generation, billion kWhShare of total
Natural Gas1,57538.3%
Coal89921.8%
Nuclear77818.9%
Wind3809.2%
Hydropower2606.3%

However, progress and notable strides have been made towards sustainable energy. In 2021, renewables accounted for one-fifth of U.S. electricity generation, roughly doubling their share since 2010.

Coal’s share as a source of electric power has dropped dramatically in recent years. And partially as a result, electricity generation has seen its portion of emissions successfully decrease by 21% , with overall emissions falling from 1,880 million metric tons of CO2 to 1,482 million metric tons.

How Utilities Can Lead the Way

Should these trends persist, the electricity generation sector has a chance to play a pivotal role in the broader decarbonization initiative. And with the bulk of electricity generation in the U.S. coming from investor-owned utilities (IOUs), this is a unique opportunity for IOUs to lead the transition toward cleaner energy.

The National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource to learn how utilities can lead in the path towards decarbonization.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

You may also like

Subscribe

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Popular