Critical materials are the resources needed to produce numerous key technologies for the energy transition, including wind turbines, solar panels, batteries for EVs and electrolysers. Deep decarbonisation of energy systems requires significant amounts of critical minerals including e.g. lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper and rare earth elements (REEs) for renewable energy installations and storage solutions. It is crucial to ensure their availability and affordability for a successful transition.
To ensure an orderly energy transition, governments have become focusing on safeguarding critical materials and fostering long-term solutions. The use of critical materials should be considered early on, and governments should plan ahead to avoid potential delays to energy transition due to critical materials shortfalls, avoid emerging geopolitical challenges related to critical materials supply as well as price increases caused by scarcity.
Several strategies can be deployed to avoid major supply challenges in the period leading up to 2050, but particularly in this decade. These strategies include increased mining, product design to avoid or minimise critical materials use, and reuse and recycling of products to recover scarce materials. Recent trends suggest that, for example, battery producers are already reducing their exposure to critical materials supply risks.
IRENA supports countries in defining strategies for effective management of critical materials supply at the global level. To do so, in March 2022, IRENA established the Collaborative Framework on Critical Materials for the Energy Transition for countries to exchange best practices in this field.
As a contribution to technical discussions and to disseminate new findings on critical materials, a series of Technical papers on the topic has been published and is accessible here.