Michael Wurmser



Low-carbon future: Mining is the solution


The rising demands of creating a decarbonised world means we will simply run out of certain key ingredients needed for things like renewable energy storage, electric vehicle parts and batteries.

I have read, with huge interest, a recent report by the University of Sussex, that states that the “sustainable supply of minerals and metals {are} key to a low-carbon energy future”. There is little doubt of this. What I don’t agree with though, is the report’s accusation that mining is ‘dirty’. Its awful reputation in certain parts of the world is just. However, a new era of responsible mining is gathering pace.

I want to take this opportunity to address some elements of the report, created by a team of international team of researchers, and explain in more detail why ‘modern mining’ is the only way we can reduce our historic dependency on fossil fuels.

  1. ‘The amount of cobalt, copper, lithium, cadmium, and rare earth elements needed for solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicle (EV) motors, wind turbines, fuel cells, and nuclear reactors will likely grow at a rapid pace in the upcoming years.’

This may be true, but there is no mention of the metal vanadium. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, I believe vanadium is potentially a ‘green’ gamechanger. The vanadium redox flow battery market size is rising – reaching $1.11 billion by 2025, according to a forecast I’ve just read. That’s because they have a long life span, making them highly valuable for large grid-scale applications and renewable energy storage.

There are many hidden ironies in our green revolution, and lithium is one: while electric vehicles may reduce your carbon footprint, ‘manufacturers are, by and large, making lithium-ion batteries in places with some of the most polluting grids in the world’. And yet, global demand for lithium – a ‘strategic mineral’ – will skyrocket to 965% by 2050, according to the World Bank. If scientists can reduce their size – and some already have – vanadium batteries may provide a more environmentally-friendly alternative in years to come.

  1. With global supplies often heavily monopolised by a single country, confronted by social and environmental conflict, or concentrated in poorly functioning markets, there is a real possibility that a shortage of minerals could hold back the urgent need for a rapid upscaling of low-carbon technologies.

If we take the valuable materials vanadium and phosphorus – needed for environmentally-friendly fertilisers to feed the world – as an example, they are currently on the European Union’s ‘Critical Raw Materials’ list. At the moment, Russia accounts for the majority of the EU’s supply of vanadium (60%), while Kazakhstan is providing the largest share of phosphorus (77%). The ‘heavy monopoly’ that the report mentions is true. Finding new materials and sources of supplies for low-carbon technologies, therefore, is needed. Norway, for example, is sitting on large untapped deposits of vanadium and phosphorus. This means that future European and global supply will be plentiful, not critical.

  1. According to Benjamin K. Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex Business School: “Mining, metals, and materials extraction is the hidden foundation of the low-carbon transition. But it is far too dirty, dangerous, and damaging to continue on its current trajectory.”

To clump all mining into one category is, in my view, a huge generalisation. It is possible to mine in a way that is not ‘dirty, dangerous or damaging’. The so-called ‘current trajectory’ is not applicable to all. Historically, mining has garnered a bad reputation. But the responsible mining of the future will be a different breed. What’s more, it may be paradoxical to some, but we need to mine more raw materials than we ever have done in the past to create low carbon technologies. Valuable minerals and metals create renewable energy storage, wind turbines, cars – our mobile phones! And they have to come from the ground. We therefore need mining to tackle climate change.

Modern mining for strategic raw materials that will save our planet – not conversely destroy it – is the way forward. Norge Mining will source responsibly in Norway. We will be held to account by government every step of the way – and quite rightly so. Our workers will be paid fairly, local communities are already heavily involved and we will be working in tandem with environmental groups. They understand how the minerals and metals we are investigating will safeguard European supplies – and make a decarbonised future a possibility.