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The Raw Materials That Fuel the Green Revolution

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The Raw Materials That Fuel the Green Revolution

The Raw Materials That Fuel the Green Revolution

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Records for renewable energy consumption were smashed around the world in 2017.

Looking at national and state grids, progress has been extremely impressive. In Costa Rica, for example, renewable energy supplied five million people with all of their electricity needs for a stretch of 300 consecutive days. Meanwhile, the U.K. broke 13 green energy records in 2017 alone, and California’s largest grid operator announced it got 67.2% of its energy from renewables (excluding hydro) on May 13, 2017.

The corporate front is also looking promising, and Google has led the way by buying 536 MW of wind power to offset 100% of the company’s electricity usage. This makes the tech giant the biggest corporate purchaser of renewable energy on the planet.

But while these examples are plentiful, this progress is only the tip of the iceberg – and green energy still represents a small but rapidly growing segment. For a full green shift to occur, we’ll need to 10x what we’re currently sourcing from renewables.

To do this, we will need to procure massive amounts of natural resources – they just won’t be the fossil fuels that we’re used to.

Green Metals Required

Today’s infographic comes from Cambridge House as a part of the lead-up to their flagship conference, the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference 2018.

A major theme of the conference is sustainable energy – and the math indeed makes it clear that to fully transition to a green economy, we’ll need vast amounts of metals like copper, silicon, aluminum, lithium, cobalt, rare earths, and silver.

These metals and minerals are needed to generate, store, and distribute green energy. Without them, the reality is that technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries, nuclear reactors, and electric vehicles are simply not possible.

First Principles

How do you get a Tesla to drive over 300 miles (480 km) on just one charge?

Here’s what you need: a lightweight body, a powerful electric motor, a cutting-edge battery that can store energy efficiently, and a lot of engineering prowess.

Putting the engineering aside, all of these things need special metals to work. For the lightweight body, aluminum is being substituted in for steel. For the electric motor, Tesla is using AC induction motors (Model S and X) that require large amounts of copper and aluminum. Meanwhile, Chevy Bolts and soon Tesla will use permanent magnet motors (in the Model 3) that use rare earths like neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium.

The batteries, as we’ve shown in our five-part Battery Series, are a whole other supply chain challenge. The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs need lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and many other metals or minerals to function. Each Tesla battery, by the way, weighs about 1,200 lbs (540 kg) and makes up 25% the total mass of the car.

While EVs are a topic we’ve studied in depth, the same principles apply for solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, grid-scale energy storage solutions, or anything else we need to secure a sustainable future. Solar panels need silicon and silver, while wind turbines need rare earths, steel, and aluminum.

Even nuclear, which is the safest energy type by deaths per TWh and generates barely any emissions, needs uranium in order to generate power.

The Pace of Progress

The green revolution is happening at a breakneck speed – and new records will continue to be set each year.

Over $200 billion was invested into renewables in 2016, and more net renewable capacity was added than coal and gas put together:

Power TypeNet Global Capacity Added (2016)
Renewable (excl. large hydro)138 GW
Coal54 GW
Gas37 GW
Large hydro15 GW
Nuclear10 GW
Other flexible capacity5 GW

The numbers suggest that this is the only start of the green revolution.

However, to fully work our way off of fossil fuels, we will need to procure large amounts of the metals that make sustainable energy possible.

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Energy Shift

Which Countries Produce the Most Natural Gas?

Natural gas consumption reached a new all-time high in 2021, despite global efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

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The Largest Producers of Natural Gas

Which Countries Produce the Most Natural Gas?

Natural gas prices have risen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, exacerbating an already tight supply situation.

Making matters worse, Moscow has since cut gas exports to Europe to multi-year lows, sending Europe’s gas price to almost 10 times its pre-war average.

Using data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, the above infographic provides further context on the gas market by visualizing the world’s largest gas producers in 2021.

Natural Gas Consumption at All-Time High in 2021

Natural gas is part of nearly every aspect of our daily lives. It is used for heating, cooking, electricity generation, as fuel for motor vehicles, in fertilizers, and in the manufacture of plastics.

The fuel is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas and non-renewable fossil fuel that forms below the Earth’s surface. Although the Earth has enormous quantities of natural gas, much of it is in areas far from where the fuel is needed. To facilitate transport and reduce volume, natural gas is frequently converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG), in a process called liquefaction.

Despite global efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, natural gas consumption reached a new all-time high in 2021, surpassing the previous record set in 2019 by 3.3%.

Demand is expected to decline slightly in 2022 and remain subdued up to 2025, according to the International Energy Agency.

Region2021 Demand in Billion Cubic Meters (bcm)2022P (bcm)2025P (bcm)
Africa169172188
Asia Pacific895907990
Central and South America153147153
Eurasia634619632
Europe 604549536
Middle East564582627
North America1,0841,1081,116
World 4,1034,0834,243

The Asia Pacific region and the industrial sector are expected to be the main drivers of global gas consumption in the coming years

Natural Gas Production, by Country

The world’s top 10 producers of natural gas account for about 73% of total production.

RankCountry2021 Production (bcm)Share %
#1🇺🇸 United States934.223.1%
#2🇷🇺 Russia701.717.4%
#3🇮🇷 Iran 256.76.4%
#4🇨🇳 China209.25.2%
#5🇶🇦 Qatar 177.04.4%
#6🇨🇦 Canada172.34.3%
#7🇦🇺 Australia 147.23.6%
#8🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 117.32.9%
#9🇳🇴 Norway114.32.8%
#10🇩🇿 Algeria100.82.5%
#12🇹🇲 Turkmenistan79.32.0%
#13🇲🇾 Malaysia 74.21.8%
#14🇪🇬 Egypt 67.81.7%
#15🇮🇩 Indonesia 59.31.5%
#16🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates57.01.4%
#17🇺🇿 Uzbekistan50.91.3%
#18🇳🇬 Nigeria 45.91.1%
🌐 Rest of the World671.816.6%
🌐 Global Total4,036.9100.0%

Natural gas accounts for 32% of primary energy consumption in the United States, the world’s largest producer. Russia is the second biggest producer, and also has at least 37 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, the most in the world.

China’s natural gas production grew by 7.8% in 2021, and it has nearly doubled since 2011. This sustained growth in production is partly down to government policies incentivizing coal-to-gas switching.

Europe’s Natural Gas Crisis

Russia has significantly reduced flows of natural gas to Europe since Western nations imposed sanctions on the Kremlin following the invasion of Ukraine. Before the war, the European Union (EU) imported about 40% of its natural gas from Russia.

The gas is transported by the Nord Stream system, a pair of offshore natural gas pipeline networks in Europe that run under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

Russian energy giant Gazprom recently halved the amount of natural gas flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of capacity, blaming Western sanctions for a delay in the delivery in a necessary turbine. EU officials say Russia is “weaponizing” its gas supply.

Amid tensions, the EU bloc outlined a plan to phase out dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Lithuania ceased Russian gas imports at the beginning of April. Estonia’s and Latvia’s imports also dropped to zero at the start of that month. Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Poland all announced that they do not intend to renew long-term contracts with Gazprom.

Despite these efforts, Europe remains dependent on Russia for its supply of natural gas, at least in the short and medium term.

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Energy Shift

Visualizing the World’s Largest Oil Producers

Global oil production averaged 89.8 million barrels of oil per day in 2021. Here are the world’s largest oil producers.

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The World’s Largest Oil Producers

The world is in the middle of the first energy crisis of the 21st century.

High energy prices, especially for oil, gas, and coal, are driving decades-high inflation in various countries, some of which are also experiencing energy shortages. Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the crisis, given that the country is both a major producer and exporter of oil and natural gas.

Using data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, the above infographic provides further context on the crisis by visualizing the world’s largest oil producers in 2021.

Oil Production: OPEC Countries vs. Rest of the World

Before looking at country-level data, it’s worth seeing the amount of oil the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) produces compared to other organizations and regions.

Region/Organization2021 Oil Production (barrels per day)% of Total
OPEC31.7M35%
North America23.9M27%
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)13.8M15%
Rest of the World20.5M23%
Total89.9M100%

The OPEC countries are the largest oil producers collectively, with Saudi Arabia alone making up one-third of OPEC production. It’s also important to note that OPEC production remains below pre-pandemic levels after the organization reduced its output by an unprecedented 10 million barrels per day (B/D) in 2020.

Following the OPEC countries, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico accounted for just over a quarter of global oil production in 2021. Nearly 70% of North American oil production came from the U.S., the world’s largest oil producer.

Similarly, within the CIS—an organization of post-Soviet Union countries—Russia was by far the largest producer, accounting for 80% of total CIS production.

The Largest Oil Producers in 2021

Roughly 43% of the world’s oil production came from just three countries in 2021—the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Together, these three countries produced more oil than the rest of the top 10 combined.

Country2021 Oil Production (barrels per day)% of Total
U.S. 🇺🇸16.6M18.5%
Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦11M12.2%
Russian Federation 🇷🇺10.9M12.2%
Canada 🇨🇦5.4M6.0%
Iraq 🇮🇶4.1M4.6%
China 🇨🇳4.0M4.4%
United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪3.7M4.1%
Iran 🇮🇷3.6M4.0%
Brazil 🇧🇷3.0M3.3%
Kuwait 🇰🇼2.7M3.0%
Norway 🇳🇴2.0M2.3%
Mexico 🇲🇽1.9M2.1%
Kazakhstan 🇰🇿1.8M2.0%
Qatar 🇶🇦1.7M1.9%
Nigeria 🇳🇬1.6M1.8%
Algeria 🇩🇿1.4M1.5%
Libya 🇱🇾1.3M1.4%
Angola 🇦🇴1.2M1.3%
Oman 🇴🇲0.97M1.1%
United Kingdom 🇬🇧0.87M1.0%
India 🇮🇳0.75M0.8%
Colombia 🇨🇴0.74M0.8%
Azerbaijan 🇦🇿0.72M0.8%
Indonesia 🇮🇩0.69M0.8%
Venezuela 🇻🇪0.65M0.7%
Argentina 🇦🇷0.63M0.7%
Egypt 🇪🇬0.60M0.7%
Malaysia 🇲🇾0.57M0.6%
Ecuador 🇪🇨0.47M0.5%
Australia 🇦🇺0.44M0.5%
Thailand 🇹🇭0.39M0.4%
Republic of Congo 🇨🇬0.27M0.3%
Turkmenistan 🇹🇲0.25M0.3%
Vietnam 🇻🇳0.19M0.2%
Gabon 🇬🇦0.18M0.2%
South Sudan 🇸🇩0.15M0.2%
Equatorial Guinea 🇬🇳0.14M0.2%
Peru 🇵🇪0.13M0.1%
Chad 🇹🇩0.12M0.1%
Brunei 🇧🇳0.10M0.1%
Italy 🇮🇹0.10M0.1%
Syria 🇸🇾0.10M0.1%
Trinidad & Tobago 🇹🇹0.08M0.1%
Romania 🇷🇴0.07M0.1%
Yemen 🇾🇪0.07M0.1%
Denmark 🇩🇰0.07M0.1%
Sudan 🇸🇩0.06M0.1%
Uzbekistan 🇺🇿0.06M0.1%
Tunisia 🇹🇳0.05M0.1%
Rest of the World 🌍1.2M1.4%
Total89.9M100.0%

Over the last few decades, U.S. oil production has been on a rollercoaster of troughs and peaks. After falling from its 1970 peak of 11.3 million B/D, it reached a historic low of 6.8 million B/D in 2008. However, following a turnaround in the 2010s, the country has since surpassed Saudi Arabia as the largest oil producer. As of 2021, though, the U.S. remained a net importer of crude oil while exporting refined petroleum products.

Saudi Arabia and Russia each produced roughly 11 million B/D in 2021 and were the two largest oil exporters globally. In both countries, state-owned oil firms (Saudi Aramco and Gazprom, respectively) were the most valuable oil and gas producing companies.

From Europe (excluding Russia), only Norway made the top 15 oil producers, accounting for 2.3% of global production. The lack of regional output partly explains the European Union’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, worsening the region’s energy crisis.

How the Energy Crisis is Affecting Oil Production

After a deep dive in 2020, oil demand is resurfacing and is now above pre-pandemic levels. Furthermore, supply constraints due to sanctions on Russian oil and gas tighten the market and support high oil prices.

While the impact has been felt globally, European countries have been hit hard due to their reliance on Russia’s fossil fuel exports, with some getting almost all of their energy fuels from Russia.

To combat the oil crunch, the rest of the world is ramping up oil supply through increased production or releasing strategic petroleum reserves (SPRs). U.S. oil production is expected to rise by 1 million B/D in 2022 to a record-high. Simultaneously, Western nations are calling on OPEC members to increase their output to ease prices. However, OPEC nations are sticking to their planned production hikes, with output still below early 2020 levels.

“We had a good discussion on ensuring global energy security and adequate oil supplies to support global economic growth. And that will begin shortly.”– U.S. President Joe Biden on his recent visit to Saudi Arabia

The U.S. is releasing 180 million barrels of oil from its SPR, of which 60 million barrels will contribute to the IEA’s collective release of 120 million barrels. But with oil demand expected to reach a new all-time high in 2023, it remains to be seen whether these efforts to increase supply will be enough to curb the crunch.

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