the next explosion in demand for metals

Take 5 kg of lithium and 50 kg of a mixture of nickel, manganese and cobalt. Bring also copper, about 25 kg. These are the quantities of the main materials needed to make a battery for the Renault Zoe, one of the best-selling electric vehicles in Europe. And the famous car is far from the most metal-intensive. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the manufacture of an electric vehicle requires on average more than 200 kg of metals, against 35 to 40 kg for a combustion engine.

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Enough to make the energy transition an accelerator of world metal consumption. The IEA estimates that demand could be multiplied by at least 4 times by 2040. “We are at the dawn of the metals century, and we are faced with an impressive potential to increase the prices of these materials”, warns Emmanuel Hache, a researcher at the IFP Energies Nouvelles Institute (Ifpen).

One of these metals in particular raises concerns: copper, used in the manufacture of electrical networks, buildings and consumer goods, will play an increasingly important role in the transport sector. “In an electric car, there are 80 kg of copper against 20 kg in a thermal one. For some high-end Tesla models, we can reach 200 kg, breathes Emmanuel Hache. All this will mean that by 2050 we may have consumed 89% of the available resource, if we do not change our lifestyle and mobility habits. 🇧🇷

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The supply of cobalt also stirs experts: if we follow ambitious decarbonization scenarios without changing our habits, up to 83% of the amount of this blue metal could be consumed in thirty years. In addition, its production, 70% of which comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is mostly carried out in dangerous working conditions, sometimes in clandestine mines that employ children – more than 40,000 in total in the country. , according to the UN.

Some metals will experience less stress, such as lithium. “Reservations are well distributed across the globe. and the big most of the lithium extracted – about 75% – is used to manufacture batteries and is not mobilized for other uses”, explains Emmanuel Hache. According to Ifpen, global lithium consumption by 2050 should not exceed one third of the available resource.


Still, the battery manufacturing industry is growing at a phenomenal rate and mining production is struggling to keep up. “It takes five to twenty years to open a new mine. Lithium, copper, nickel and cobalt will clearly become stress materials,” he said. warns Fabien Perdu, engineer at the innovation laboratory for new energy and nanomaterial technologies (Liten-CEA). While lithium is now mainly produced in Australia, China and South America, France has some deposits on its territory. A study carried out in 2019 by the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research (BRGM) allowed to list 41 sites, mainly along a diagonal that connects the Armorican Massif to the Central Massif. The French government does not close the door on its possible exploitation. In late 2021, Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili believed that France should not “nothing forbidden” in extraction.

This entry into the age of metals also shuffles the cards at the geopolitical level: “Nearly 70% of the metals used in the manufacture of electric vehicles are refined in China, observes Emmanuel Hache. The more the US and Europe enter the energy transition, the more dependent they will become, because China is a major exporter of low-carbon technologies. 🇧🇷 Europe is already worried about its future needs: on 14 September, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, assured that the EU would build up strategic reserves of lithium, to face possible interruptions in supply. Which can also force us to really change our behavior… A turn that might be against the wall.

89% of the available copper resource could have been consumed by 2050, with no change in mobility.




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