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'Sustained' rise in battery metals prices without new mines, IEA warns

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'Sustained' rise in battery metals prices without new mines, IEA warns

The International Energy Agency has a warning for the warming world: Build more mines or the energy transition will slow down.

Projected supplies of key minerals, such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite, are inadequate to what the world will need for a major energy transition, befitting "a world of gradual and insufficient action on climate change, raising the risks of supply lagging behind project demand in climate-driven scenarios," the agency said Oct. 13 in its second-annual World Energy Outlook.

In 2021 some of the metals needed for producing clean energy technologies, like copper and lithium, have experienced bull runs in price. At the same time, manufacturers of solar panel systems and wind power equipment have reported significant price increases of their raw materials. Carmakers are investing in novel alternatives like battery recycling to secure their supply chains.

These price spikes are on pace to increase the costs of solar modules, wind turbines, electric car batteries and power lines from 5% to 15%, the agency said in its second-annual World Energy Outlook. If prices continue to rise, the clean energy sector will need to receive at least US$430 billion more in "cumulative investment" in order to keep the prices of products low, as well as "large reductions in other cost elements," the outlook said.

Under a scenario where the world aims to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, mineral demand increases by "well over" 50 times existing levels through that period, IEA said. Lithium demand would rise by more than 100 times existing levels, and the expansion of electricity networks required to reach net-zero emissions would double the demand for copper.

"The challenges are compounded by long lead times for the development of new projects, declining resource quality, growing scrutiny of environment and social performance, and a lack of geological diversity in extraction and processing operations," the agency said.