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Net Zero risks global instability & loss of key technologies, researchers warn

Dr David Whitehouse, Science Editor

The rush towards Net Zero risks global geopolitical instability, along with the loss of vital technological capabilities, according to a new analysis of the future requirements for rare metals.

Researchers from the State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes at the China University of Geosciences, the Department of Earth Science at Adelaide University and the Faculty of Science at Kochi University in Japan, say that the lack of vital components means it may not be possible to build enough electric vehicles in the future, and the supply of rare metals to some countries for computers may also be disrupted.

They argue that future projections suggest that the critical metals required for low carbon solar and wind technologies and electric vehicles and their chargers indicates that many of those metals, particularly Co, Ni, Cu, Se, Ag, Cd, In, Te, and Pt, may be severely to terminally depleted by 2060 if current Net Zero plans are followed, making further low carbon technology production impossible.

They point out that because many of the uses of these rare metals are non-renewable to ensure their supply would require increased exploration with an emphasis on unmined deposits not so far exploited because of their high risk factors and mining difficulties. Such exploration would mean excavating lower grade ores in more inaccessible or deeper mines. This would lead to even further increases in conventional energy use for mining and metallurgy that would be added to the costs of future low carbon technology.

They warn that there is no current indication that recycling can replace the critical metal stocks that are slowly being used. In addition, the uneven spread of mineral deposits containing the critical metals and production points could become a geopolitical issue if global security declines. China dominates the world supply of many of these resources and is responsible for 80% of global mineral refining.

The researchers suggest a pause to reconsider global Net Zero ambitions stressing the need for discussion among companies involved in mineral exploration, mining, metallurgy, manufacturing, renewable energy, recycling, and waste management.

Before proceeding to the endgame for Net Zero 2060 and beyond, there should be certainty that remediation of a perceived climate issue does not cause irreparable damage to irreplaceable global metal resources,” they say.