Overcoming critical mineral concerns in the green hydrogen era 

Some concerns have arisen about the availability of critical minerals needed for the production of electrolysers

The transition to a sustainable and low-carbon energy future hinges on technologies like green hydrogen, which has gained significant attention as a clean energy carrier with the potential to decarbonize various sectors. Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through a process called electrolysis.

However, some concerns have arisen about the availability of critical minerals needed for the production of electrolysers, which are essential components of the green hydrogen value chain. Despite these concerns, there are compelling reasons to believe that the green hydrogen revolution will not be derailed by critical mineral shortages. 

Renewable energy systems require more critical minerals than their fossil fuel-based counterparts, according to a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development. A typical electric car, for example, requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant.

critical mineral

Batteries, electric vehicles (EV), solar panels, windfarms, and transmission lines will all require vast volumes of critical minerals—cobalt, lithium, graphite, nickel, manganese, and rare earths. Similar to global dependence on “petrostates,” the control of these essential minerals by a handful of “electrostates” means that the green energy transition could lead to new dependencies and energy geopolitics.

As International Energy Agency Director Fatih Birol says, “Today it is about [reducing dependency on] Russian natural gas, tomorrow it might be around sourcing lithium for the production of batteries.” While clean energy investments have been driven, in part, by efforts to meet Paris Agreement commitments, the emergence of clean energy sources have also brought with them a false sense of energy independence.

With renewable energy installations that used locally abundant wind and sun as feedstock— as opposed to imported hydrocarbons—it was thought economies could shield themselves from geopolitical upheavals, as seen with the need to rapidly disengage from Russian supply of fossil fuels in the wake of the war in Ukraine or, more generally, to reduce dependence on OPEC mandated oil price fluctuations.

In conclusion, while the availability of critical minerals is a concern for the green hydrogen revolution and the broader transition to clean energy, it doesn’t necessarily have to hamper progress. Strategic planning, innovation, and international cooperation can mitigate these challenges. The transition to green hydrogen should be approached holistically, considering both the environmental benefits and the responsible sourcing of critical minerals to ensure a sustainable and equitable energy future. 

From Energy Monitor

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