André Månberger has a new article in Biophysical Economics and Sustainability, titled 'Reduced Use of Fossil Fuels can Reduce Supply of Critical Resources'.
Previous research has identified that climate change mitigation policies could increase demand for resources perceived as critical, because these are used in many renewable energy technologies. This study assesses how reducing the extraction and use of fossil fuels could affect the supply of (i) elements jointly produced with fossil fuels and (ii) elements jointly produced with a host that is currently mainly used in fossil fuel supply chains. Several critical resources are identified for which supply potential from current sources is likely to decline. Some of these, e.g. germanium and vanadium, have uses in low-carbon energy systems. Renewable energy transitions can thus simultaneously increase demand and reduce supply of critical elements. The problem is greatest for technology groups in which by-products are more difficult to recycle than the host. Photovoltaic cell technology stands out as one such group. Phasing out fossil fuels has the potential to reduce both the supply potential (i.e. primary flow) and recoverable resources (i.e. stock) of materials involved in such technology groups. Further studies could examine possibilities to increase recovery rates, extract jointly produced resources independently of hosts and how the geographical distribution of by-product supply sources might change if fossil fuel extraction is scaled back.