Hottest year: Metals demand soaring like the mercury

It’s official, 2023 was the hottest year recorded to date. 

According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, global temperatures were 1.48 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Last year had a global average temperature of 14.98C, some 0.17 degrees higher than the previous highest annual value in 2016.

Today (15 January 2024) CSIRO experts including National Environmental Science Program Climate Systems Hub Leader Simon Marsland announced 2023 coincided with the ‘highest’ levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the world’s atmosphere. 

“There is a very clear and explicable reason for 2023 being the hottest year on record – global warming, as a result of human-induced climate change.”

According to the World Bank, an estimated 3 billion tonnes of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy wind, solar, and geothermal power, along with energy storage, in order to achieving a below 2 degrees Celsius future. The World Bank notes the production of minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt could increase by nearly 500% by 2050 to meet the demand for clean energy technologies.

Mining executives agree, telling this news service the record high in 2023 reinforces the need for more mines in the aforesaid commodities space to come online, and expeditiously. They say rising temperatures pose added hurdles as extreme weather patterns that continue to hit the globe will continue to thwart some mine development.

ABx Group (ASX:ABX) Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Cooksey tells Mining.com.au that mining projects are at risk from physical climate change as are global populations.

From extreme heat, to wildfires, such as what took place in Canada, Southern Europe, and Hawaii, to rising sea levels and drastic weather events like Cyclone Jasper and Gabrielle in New Zealand, Australia, and Vanuatu, many miners were forced to suspend or reduce operations across the globe in 2023. 

As 2024 kicks off, some operations have or are looking to resume.

Speaking to this news service, Torque Metals (ASX:TOR) Managing Director Cristian Moreno says: “Decarbonisation is not merely a response to environmental challenges, it is a strategic move towards economic resilience and diversification, economic security.”

Metals needed to achieve global goals

The International Energy Agency says in addition to the minerals noted by the World Bank, nickel, cobalt, manganese, copper, rare earth elements (REEs), and platinum group elements (PGEs) projects are also needed to be developed.

Demand for these minerals will continue to soar, with ABx’s Cooksey saying rare earths is high on the list. 

“It almost certainly looks like it is going to increase a lot.”

Cooksey explains that there are 4 particular REEs — praseodymium, neodymium, dysprosium, and terbium (Pr-Nd-Dy-Tb) — needed to make up ‘powerful magnets’ used in technologies such as electric motors, wind turbines, and contribute to the global transition. 

“Unless the transition does not happen or we invent something new, we need a lot more wind turbines and electric motors”

“Unless the transition does not happen or we invent something new, we need a lot more wind turbines and electric motors. So it looks very likely that the demand for those rare earths will go up a lot — and by a lot I mean it could double or triple in 5 years, and then double or triple again another 5 years later.

But suddenly decarbonisation means we need an unbelievably big number of magnets. So it’s just a huge volume times a small amount.”

Viking Mines (ASX:VKA) Managing Director Julian Woodcock tells Mining.com.au that one metal often left off that list is vanadium.

He says the decarbonisation transition puts a increasing pressure on the lithium space as governments around the world seek to replace combustion engine vehicles with EVs. This has opened up demand and growing recognition for alternative metals, such as vanadium.

He adds: “Lithium batteries have the ability to provide power rapidly, like a short delivery. But then you want something that has more of a workhorse behind it — and that is where vanadium batteries are more applicable and appropriate.”

According to Woodcock, vanadium batteries have been around since the 1980s in Australia but there was never a suitable application or requirement for them. Yet, as technology has advanced in the past 40 years, vanadium batteries are being deployed to store energy and deliver it over longer periods of time. 

Woodcock saysvvanadium batteries can be used in solar farms or wind generators and store energy that has been charged during the day, which helps to use less fossil fuel and contributes to the global decarbonisation efforts. 

A vanadium battery should store 100% of the energy 20 years after it has been produced. It never drops off. So you get two and a half times the power just because of its longevity

“I use the analogy, when you buy an iPhone today, in 2 years’ time, it will only charge to 75% of the original amount and in 4 years’ time, you either need to change your battery or device. A vanadium battery should store 100% of the energy 20 years after it has been produced. It never drops off. So you get two and a half times the power just because of its longevity.”

While this growing demand provides economic opportunities for resource-rich countries such as Australia, there will be ‘significant’ challenges emerging if the climate-driven clean energy transition is not managed responsibly and sustainably, as per the World Bank Organisation. 

What is to come…

Torque’s Moreno agrees, adding that the shift towards decarbonisation is ‘important’ for economic growth by creating new industries and job opportunities, as well as ensuring the world doesn’t reach or surpass last year’s record high temperatures.

With 2023 being recorded as the hottest year yet, CSIRO experts say the world is reaching a critical juncture in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Greenhouse Gases Team Leader Zoe Loh adds: “It is both critical and urgent. Climate change is driven by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Until we cut anthropogenic emissions to zero, greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise, driving further warming. To avoid smashing heat records year on year, we must reduce emissions as a matter of priority.”

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au  

Images: CSIRO & Viking Mines
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Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.