A wide range of metals and minerals are currently used in battery and energy technology, meaning that an increasing number of these commodities are being considered as potentially viable primary products by the minerals industry. A select group of these minerals and elements that are vital for energy and battery technologies, including Al, Cr, Co, Cu, graphite, In, Li, Mn, Mo, the rare earth elements (REEs; primarily Dy and Nd), Ni, Ag, Ti, and V, are also likely to undergo rapid increases in demand as a result of the move toward low- and zero-CO2 energy and transportation technology (often termed the energy transition) driven by climate change mitigation and consumer and investor concerns and demands. Increased levels of mineral exploration, discovery, and production will be needed to meet this rising demand. However, several of these key metals and minerals are produced as co- and by-products of other elements. This means that their production is inherently linked to the production of main product elements that may not undergo similar increases in demand, creating issues related to security of supply. It is also not simple to just produce more metal and minerals given the environmental, social, and governmental challenges the global mining industry currently faces. Finally, there are uncertainties over exactly what technologies will dominate the energy transition, meaning that robust demand predictions are still relatively problematic.
Quantifying these and other uncertainties and addressing issues over by-and coproduct supply will help ensure that mineral deposits are used sustainably. In addition, understanding the deportment and processing behavior of key critical metals and minerals that are produced as by- or coproducts of main metals such as copper will allow these to actually be extracted from mineral deposits being mined now and into the future rather than be lost to waste. Both of these are vital steps in terms of ensuring that future increases in metal and mineral demand can be met. The impact of these changes on metal and mineral demand and pricing also needs to be examined to ensure the economics of these changes relating to the energy transition are fully understood. All of this means that the mineral industry must act and plan for this transition accordingly in coordination with governments and other organizations. This is especially true given the long lead-in times related to the vast majority of mineral exploration and mining projects compared to the potentially rapid increase in demand for certain battery and energy metals and minerals. This is somewhat analogous to the technology sector, where software (analogous to battery and energy technology) can advance rapidly, creating significant demand that puts pressure on associated hardware (in this case, the development of new mines or changes in mineral processing) that advances more slowly. Failing to ensure mineral and metal supply meets increasing (and potentially rapidly varying) demand may lead to situations where demand far exceeds supply, causing preventable issues related to supply chain continuity and further delaying climate change mitigation, with potential global consequences.