To mitigate climate change, it is important we reduce our mobility emissions. At the moment, electric cars seem to be the best solution for this, but how many critical metals do we need for these electric cars? And is there enough of these metals to meet that demand? Working with Metabolic and the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University, we have come to the conclusion that in order to achieve the electric transport objectives in the Netherlands, we will need significant amounts of critical metals.
Needed: new mobility concepts
In order to meet our current mobility needs with fewer vehicles, we need new mobility concepts. This is because the current global production of certain critical metals appears to be insufficient for the large-scale switch to electric transport. Starting with the assumption that we use no more than our ‘fair share’ of the annual global production of important critical metals, calculations for the Netherlands suggest that we will be able to produce a maximum of 1,000,000 electric cars in 2030.
Complex value chains
Critical metals have long and complex value chains. Scaling up takes a lot of time and requires large investments, and not all theoretical reserves are technically or economically recoverable. If the scaling up of production is not started in time, these critical metals will become scarce. This scarcity leads to increasing competition – between uses as well as countries. Shortages or interruptions in the supply of critical metals could delay the development of electric vehicles, and in today’s climate challenge, this would not be helpful.
To achieve our climate goals, it is important to phase out vehicles that use fossil fuels. With electric cars as the technological starting point, there are three solutions for limiting the demand for critical metals, each of which has been worked out in a scenario in the report:
- Battery innovation, through the substitution of critical metals;
- Smaller car batteries, through choosing vehicles with a shorter range;
- Fewer vehicles, through the more effective use of our current fleet.
The next piece of the puzzle
The role critical metals will play in our new, sustainable economy is a puzzle, and this research is a piece of that puzzle. Another piece is the study Metal Demand for renewable electricity generation in the Netherlands, which was published last year, with a focus on wind turbines and solar panels.