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Visualizing All the Metals for Renewable Tech

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All the Metals for Renewable Tech


This graphic takes the data from the World Bank’s Climate Smart Report and outlines what metals each renewable technology will require and their overlapping uses.

Metals for Renewable Tech

Visualizing the Metals for Renewable Tech

The energy transition will be mineral intensive and create massive demand for all the metals in renewable tech. Electricity from renewable technology grew at the fastest rate in two decades in 2020, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Consequently, as the pace of the energy transition gains further momentum, the demand for metals will increase. But which ones?

As shown above, the graphic takes data from the World Bank’s Climate Smart Report outlines what metals each renewable technology will require and their overlapping uses.

All the Metals for Renewable Tech

According to the IEA, the number and amount metals used vary by technology. Lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite are important for battery performance, durability, and energy density. Rare earth elements are in the permanent magnets that help spin wind turbines and EV motors.

kg/vehicleCopperLithiumNickelManganeseCobaltGraphiteZincRare earthsOthers
Electric car53.28.939.924.513.366.30.10.50.31
Conventional car22.30011.2000.100.3
Source: IEA

In particular, a typical electric car requires six times the minerals of a conventional car, and an onshore wind farm requires nine times more minerals than a gas-fired power plant with a similar output. Electricity grids need massive amounts of copper and aluminum, with copper being a keystone for all electricity-related technologies.

kg/MWCopper Nickel Manganese Cobalt Chromium Molybdenum ZincRare earths
Offshore wind8,00024079005251095,500239
Onshore wind2,9004047800470995,50014
Solar PV2,8221.30000300
Nuclear1,473129714802,1907000.5
Coal1,1507214.632013086600
Natural gas1,1001601.848.34000
Source: IEA

Inevitably, more mining must happen to provide the minerals for a renewable energy transition. According to the IEA, reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement would quadruple mineral demand by 2040.

Limited Resources, High Prices

Eventually, a rapid increase in demand for minerals will create opportunities and challenges in meeting sustainability goals. There is a lack of investment in new mine supply which could substantially raise the costs of clean energy technologies.

In fact, the mining industry needs to invest $1.7 trillion over the next 15 years to supply enough metals for renewable tech, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

However, the mining industry is not ready to support an accelerated energy transition. While there are a host of projects at varying stages of development, there are many risks that could increase supply constraints and price volatility:

  • High geographical concentration of production
  • Long project development lead times
  • Declining resource quality
  • Growing scrutiny of environmental and social performance
  • Higher exposure to climate risks

In addition, some nations are in a better position than others to secure the metals they need for renewable technologies. Attaining these new sources will be vital and valuable for a clean energy future.

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Technology Metals

Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

Smartphones can contain ~80% of the stable elements on the periodic table. This graphic details the critical metals you carry in your pocket.

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A Breakdown of the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.

Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.

While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.

Smartphone PartCritical Metal
Touch Screen indium
Displaylanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium
Electronicsnickel, gallium, tantalum
Casingnickel, magnesium
Battery lithium, nickel, cobalt
Microphone, speakers, vibration unit nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium

What’s in Your Pocket?

This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.

1. Touch Screen

Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.

Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.

When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.

2. Display

Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.

Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.

3. Electronics

Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.

Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.

4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit

Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).

Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.

5. Casing

There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.

6. Battery

Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.

What’s Next?

Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.

As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.

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Electrification

The Biggest Mining Companies in the World in 2021

The graphic takes a look at the world’s largest mining companies by market capitalization and the metals they produce.

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The Biggest Mining Companies in the World in 2021

Ranked: The Top 20 Mining Companies

Mining companies have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in excellent financial and operational shape and the forecast is even brighter as the economy recovers.

The market is expected to reach a value of nearly $1.86 trillion by 2022, with the increasing demand for minerals for power generation and renewables technology.

In the graphic above, we show the world’s top companies by market capitalization as of June 22, 2021, and the metals they mine.

The Bottom Line: From Smartphones to Food

From roads, hospitals, automobiles, houses, computers, satellites, and even fertilizer for crops, mining provides many of the materials we interact with every day. Copper, iron, rare earth metals, aluminum, and phosphate are just a handful of the mined materials that make modern life and feed the bottom line for mining companies.

The two biggest by market capitalization, BHP ($179B) and Rio Tinto ($132B), both produce a range of commodities, mainly iron ore and copper. The next on the list is also the biggest company in Brazil, Vale ($112B). The miner is the world’s largest producer of iron ore and pellets (small balls of iron ore) used to manufacture steel.

CompanyMarket Cap (USD)Country Main Mining Activity
BHP$179B🇦🇺 Australia iron ore, copper, coal
Rio Tinto$132B🇦🇺 Australia iron ore, aluminum, copper
Vale$112B🇧🇷 Braziliron ore, nickel
Glencore$55B🇨🇭 Switzerlandcopper, cobalt, zinc, nickel
Norilsk Nickel$54B🇷🇺 Russiapalladium, nickel
Freeport-McMoRan$52B🇺🇸 United Statescopper
Anglo American$52B🇬🇧 United Kingdomdiamonds, copper, platinum, iron ore, coal
Fortescue Metals$51B🇦🇺 Australia iron ore
Newmont Goldcorp$50B🇺🇸 United Statesgold
Southern Copper$47B🇺🇸 United Statescopper
Zijin Mining Group$38B🇨🇳 Chinagold, copper
Barrick Gold$37B🇨🇦 Canadagold
Nutrien$34B🇨🇦 Canadapotash
Anglo American Platinum$28B🇿🇦 South Africaplatinum, palladium, rhodium
Franco-Nevada$28B🇨🇦 Canadagold
Polyus $27B🇷🇺 Russiagold
Ganfeng Lithium$24B🇨🇳 Chinalithium
Wheaton Precious Metals$20B🇨🇦 Canadagold, silver, palladium, cobalt
Antofagasta $19B🇬🇧 United Kingdomcopper
Ma’aden$18B🇸🇦 Saudi Arabiagold

A $57 billion gap separates the top 3 from the rest of the group. In fourth place comes Glencore ($55B) with its mixed operations of trading and mining metals, agricultural products, and oil and gas.

The automotive industry is a big consumer of metals, which explains Norilsk Nickel’s ($54B) fifth place. The company, owned by the wealthiest man in Russia, is the world’s biggest producer of palladium, used in vehicles’ catalytic converters.

Miners also serve the luxury market, with precious metals like gold, silver, and gemstones. Number six on the list, Anglo American ($52B) is one of the world’s leading diamond companies.

In terms of countries, Canada leads the ranking with 4 miners on the list. The United States and Australia come next with 3 companies each.

Charging and Changing the Future of Mining Companies

The United States, Europe, and Asia are making big investments in electrification and power generation. By 2024, almost 33% of the world’s electricity is forecast to come from renewables.

This shift from fossil fuels will require a lot of copper, cobalt, and lithium for batteries. Mining companies are in a position to capitalize as the market expands.

For example, no. 17 in the list, China’s Ganfeng Lithium, the world’s third-largest producer of lithium chemicals for batteries, saw its market capitalization grow more than 25% in 2021.

The energy transition is just beginning, and the materials used in building a more sustainable future will also build up the largest mining companies of tomorrow.

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