Critical minerals, rare earth minerals | Homeland Security Newswire

Critical materialsMeet the new “renewable superpowers”: nations that boss the materials used for wind and solar

By Andrew Barron

Published 20 February 2018

Imagine a world where every country has not only complied with the Paris climate agreement but has moved away from fossil fuels entirely. How would such a change affect global politics? The twentieth century was dominated by coal, oil and natural gas, but a shift to zero-emission energy generation and transport means a new set of elements will become key. Solar energy, for instance, still primarily uses silicon technology, for which the major raw material is the rock quartzite. Lithium represents the key limiting resource for most batteries – while rare earth metals, in particular “lanthanides” such as neodymium, are required for the magnets in wind turbine generators. Copper is the conductor of choice for wind power, being used in the generator windings, power cables, transformers and inverters. In considering this future it is necessary to understand who wins and loses by a switch from carbon to silicon, copper, lithium, and rare earth metals.

Imagine a world where every country has not only complied with the Paris climate agreement but has moved away from fossil fuels entirely. How would such a change affect global politics?

The twentieth century was dominated by coal, oil and natural gas, but a shift to zero-emission energy generation and transport means a new set of elements will become key. Solar energy, for instance, still primarily uses silicon technology, for which the major raw material is the rock quartzite. Lithium represents the key limiting resource for most batteries – while rare earth metals, in particular “lanthanides” such as neodymium, are required for the magnets in wind turbine generators. Copper is the conductor of choice for wind power, being used in the generator windings, power cables, transformers and inverters.

In considering this future it is necessary to understand who wins and loses by a switch from carbon to silicon, copper, lithium, and rare earth metals.

Fossil fuels: largest reserves by country
The countries which dominate the production of fossil fuels will mostly be familiar:

Oil (billion barrels)

— Venezueal – 301

— Saudi Arabia – 267

— Canada – 172

— Iran – 158

— Iraq — 153

Gas (trillion cubic meters)

— Iran – 34

— Russia – 32

— Qatar – 24

— Turkmenistan – 18

U.S.– 9

Coal (billion tons)

U.S.– 252

— China – 244

— Russia – 160

— Australia – 145

— India — 95

 Source: BP Statistical Review of W orld Energy, June 2017