Which metal will support Europe’s clean energy transformation? Lead
By Lisa Allen, Regulatory Affairs Manager
As concern grows about shortfalls in the supply of critical minerals for the clean energy transition, one essential metal is demonstrating both its sustainability and reliability.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) recent report, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, states that supply and investment plans for many critical minerals fall well short of what is needed to support an accelerated deployment of solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles.
As Europe accelerates to achieve the ambitious requirements set out by the Paris Agreement, the need to electrify and innovate is important now more than ever. Research, innovation, and investment have increased exponentially. A move away from fossil fuels necessitates the need for rapid electrification and alternative energy sources.
A broad range of metals and technologies will be needed to enable Europe’s low carbon future. Yet few recognise the essential role that lead plays enabling clean energy technologies. Lead can be recycled infinitely with no loss of quality or performance. Around 75% of lead used in Europe today comes from secondary sources – mainly recycled batteries and scrap – which means good domestic raw material security and less vulnerability to shortfalls seen with finite materials.
Lead itself plays a role in wind and solar energy, from increasing the reliability and longevity of solar panels to providing water protection, longevity, and corrosion resistance for offshore wind cables. The IEA report estimates that demand for the lead needed for perovskite solar cell technology – one of the key technologies needed for solar panels – will increase by 45% in 2040.
A recent European Commission report shows that renewables have overtaken fossil fuels as the number one power source in the EU for the first time in 2020, generating 38% of electricity, compared to 37% for fossil fuels. Renewable energy will be the dominant energy source in years to come. But this would not be possible without the battery technologies that support it. As wind and solar power are intermittent, energy storage is needed to balance grids and save surplus energy. Lead batteries are one of two technologies with the scale and capability to meet this need – and lead batteries are the only one operating in a closed loop in Europe. The average lead battery made in the EU today contains more than 80% recycled materials.
Ultimately lead has a key role to play in the successful clean energy transition in Europe and worldwide.
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