There Are Bottlenecks in Raw Materials Supply Chain – A Glimpse of the Systemic Overview Is Here, Discussion and the Development of the Solutions Have Started

The transition to low-carbon world? – is a very topical global concern. In order to improve the conditions for the transition to low carbon energy system The Geological Survey of Finland GTK has been exploring the link between materials and energy systems. First findings were released in a report by Associate Research Professor Simon P. Michaux in the fall of 2021. It brings up preliminary calculations and systemic interdependencies of this broad entity. Discussion and cooperation with actors in different fields and the refining of observations into scientific publications is continuing. Report arose a great deal of discussion and comments. Here are answers to the most common questions asked, which will be explained in more detail in the accompanying video.

The research report “Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels” is a picture of the situation in 2018, which was the most recent year during the report that had not been affected by the coronavirus exemption period. The report provides scenarios for how a fossil energy based system would be transposed as such to low carbon without, for example, reduction in consumption. Report does not propose that energy system should be replaced as such, because our energy future is a much larger issue than renewable energy production capacity.

The scales of the calculation outcomes are greatly influenced by the assumptions used in the calculations, as well as adoption of technology options, the share of nuclear power, the development of synthetic fuels, among many other factors.

“In building the overall picture, how the material system and the energy system are intertwined remains to be worked out, particularly when approaching the concrete of supply issues of raw materials, which would cover the entire arc of manufacturing, from excavation, enrichment, through processing, intermediates or the manufacture of intermediate and finished products to recycling.” says Saku Vuori, Director of Science and Innovation.

“For example, only less than half of Finland’s known cobalt resources are recoverable since cobalt is bound to the wrong minerals, so to say. Recycling of complex compounds speaks of similar challenges and therefore emphasises the importance to pursue recyclability in product design. In natural minerals, this option does not exist,” he continues.

Do we have enough raw materials? Yes and No

The Earth´s crust contains great abundancy of various elements. As such, we are not running out minerals and metals from the geological point of view. The problem is their exploitability and availability. The development of circular economy is important, but in some cases, there is still not enough materials to recycle. With the current operations, production cannot meet fast enough to the evolving and growing raw material needs. This concern is shared by e.g. European Commission, World Bank and International Energy Agency IEA.

“However, there is no ambiguity about the connection between energy transition and growing material needs (including various minerals extracted from bedrock and other raw materials and secondary raw materials), and addressing challenges requires a systemic global perspective. These needs to be solved, ther is no other alternative,” says Associate Research Professor Simon P. Michaux.

Is there one replacement for fossil fuels?

There are several options for solutions — and they need to be sought from a variety of sources. There is reason to assume that no single technology solves the whole challenge; many different ones are needed. Technology is constantly evolving and thus new solutions can be found.

What would be the solution for storing wind and solar energy and why is a buffer needed?

In the video Answers to Hot Topics Around Simon P. Michaux’s Report Simon P. Michaux explains the need for buffer and storage and opens up some background assumptions for the Net-Zero America report.

There are uncertainties, but based on the calculation, batteries are not the solution for long-term energy storage. Computationally, material needs, not to mention cost, would exceed any conceivable possibilities. A good example of other solutions needed is the Power to X (P2X) thinking and technologies.

Work to outline the energy and materials system of the future continues — and will be further refined based on feedback. We are constantly working to identify preconditions. We will continue to engage in dialogue with the various actors working together.

The Key Findings of Simon P. Michaux Research Report

In the video, Simon P. Michaux shows the key findings of his research report “Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels”. He will also shed light on the bottlenecks in the supply chain and why we need a new plan.

Answers to hot topics around Simon P. Michaux’s report

In this video Simon P. Michaux answers the following questions:

  • Is there one technology solution to replace fossil fuels?
  • What battery chemistries were used?
  • How does this work compare to other studies done?
  • How big should the power buffer for wind & solar be?
  • What is the role of ERoEI in calculations?

Comment and discussion Peter Handley, Jukka Leskelä, Simon Michaux and Saku Vuori

At the webinar comments were given by

  • Peter Handley, Head of the Energy-Intensive Industries and Raw Materials Unit, DG GROW at European Commission
  • Jukka Leskelä, Managing Director, Finnish Energy.

This video features their commentary on the subject and a discussion between them and Saku Vuoren and Simon P. Michaux, as well as answers to questions posed by the audience. In the beginning there is a presentation by Research Professor Tommi Kauppila on how GTK currently contributes to the green transition.