Infotech

The operator of the French electricity network vigilant on the supply of metals



Posted on Jan 5, 2022, 6:30 PM

In XXe century, we wondered above all about the size of gas and oil reserves or dependence on producing countries. “The energy transition of the XXIe century shifts these supply issues ”to mineral resources, warns Electricity Transmission Network (RTE), the French operator of the electricity network. Because even in a world without oil, the needs for natural resources remain colossal.

In a wide-ranging report on the various ways to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050, RTE devotes wide sections to the possible energy mix in France, the more or less significant share of renewable energies, the future of nuclear power and even the sobriety. The semi-public body is also interested in the raw materials necessary for the realization of such scenarios.

Front-line network and storage

Wind turbines, solar panels, networks, or batteries, “all the technologies envisaged induce more or less significant resource requirements that should be anticipated in the planning of the system”. According to forecasts from the International Energy Agency, recalled by RTE, world demand for metals – copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, etc. – will be multiplied by 6 by 2040.

RTE is on the front line because “the increase in these needs is mainly due to the development of battery storage [pour les voitures ou pour le réseau, NDLR], to the development of electricity networks ”and“ to a lesser extent to wind turbines and photovoltaic panels ”.

Rare earths, a low stake

For copper, the most important risk is geological with a “lack of discovery of new deposits”. Regarding cobalt, essential for batteries, RTE is worried not only about limited reserves but also about the low number of producing countries: 60% of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On lithium, the manager underlines the difficulties of substituting this metal without technological advance. He also warns about “geostrategic dependence on China”. With Tianqi Lithium and Ganfeng Lithium, Beijing has become the largest producer of processed lithium.

RTE would like to point out that rare earths “do not constitute a major issue […] the technologies deployed for the transformation of the electricity system are in practice little consuming ”. They are only essential for certain wind turbines, especially at sea, and only 6% contain them for the moment. The most consuming scenario requires between 2,000 and 17,000 tonnes of rare earths by 2050. However, the world reserves of neodymium, the main rare metal used, are estimated at 10 million tonnes.

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