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Metals for a low-carbon society: replacing one nonrenewable with another

Renewable energy forms the basis for a low-carbon society. Numerous wind turbines, solar power stations and other facilities will need to be constructed if a significant proportion of global electricity is to be produced sustainably. Building these facilities will require vast amounts of metals and other raw materials, which will then be sequestered for several decades and cannot immediately be recycled. Easily mined ore deposits are quickly declining and although new resources will be found in the deep subsurface or in remote locations, mining these deposits will consume large amounts of energy. Humankind faces a vicious circle: a shift to renewable energy will replace one non-renewable resource (fossil fuel) with another (metals and minerals).

Potential future scarcity is not limited to the scarce high-tech metals that have received much attention. The demand for base metals such as iron, copper and aluminium, as well as industrial minerals, is also set to soar. Here we argue that energy production and the recovery of metals and minerals are inseparable issues that need to be addressed in one comprehensive framework.

NATURE GEOSCIENCE | VOL 6 | NOVEMBER 2013

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