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Resources 2019, 8(1), 29; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources8010029

Enough Metals? Resource Constraints to Supply a Fully Renewable Energy System

1
Laboratory of Environmental and Urban Economics, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Route Cantonale, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
2
Energy Center, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Route Cantonale, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 31 October 2018 / Revised: 21 January 2019 / Accepted: 23 January 2019 / Published: 31 January 2019
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Abstract

The transition from a fossil fuel base to a renewable energy system relies on materials and, in particular, metals to manufacture and maintain energy conversion technologies. Supply constraints shift from fossil fuels to mineral resources. We assess the availability of metal reserves and resources to build an energy system based exclusively on renewable energy technologies. A mass balance of 29 metals embodied in renewable energy technologies is compiled in order to satisfy global energy demand, based on five authoritative energy scenarios for 2050. We expand upon these scenarios by modeling the storage capacity needed to support high shares of intermittent renewables (wind and solar). The metal requirements are then compared with the current demand and proven reserves and ultimate mineable resources. This allows us to distinguish between constraints related to renewable energy sources from those linked to technology mixes. The results show that proven reserves and, in specific cases, resources of several metals are insufficient to build a renewable energy system at the predicted level of global energy demand by 2050. The comparison between reserves and resources shows that scarcity relates sometimes more to techno economic supply than to raw material availability. Our results also highlight the importance of substitution among technologies and metals as well as the limited impact of recycling on the depletion of scarce metals. View Full-Text
Keywords: global renewable energy system; metal reserves; supply side; storage; long-term scenarios global renewable energy system; metal reserves; supply side; storage; long-term scenarios
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Supplementary material

  • Externally hosted supplementary file 1
    Doi: 10.5281/zenodo.2553086
    Link: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2553086
    Description: Full calculation and data for the estimation of metal depletion horizons.
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Moreau, V.; Dos Reis, P.C.; Vuille, F. Enough Metals? Resource Constraints to Supply a Fully Renewable Energy System. Resources 2019, 8, 29.

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