A US-Chinese research team has studied the flow of iron, copper, aluminum and other precious metals from source to final use in the value chain of renewable energy infrastructure. It found significant imbalances resulting from the continued outsourcing of demand for renewable energy metals to developing economies.
The study found growing inequality in metal footprints, which the paper defines as the total amount of metal ores in renewable energy value chains. The authors said that such uneven action could “harm the very transition to net-zero and climate change mitigation” and that there is an urgent need to “create a metal-efficient and green supply chain for upstream suppliers (metal source countries) and downstream installers of renewable energy that are just making the transition in the electricity sector around the world.” “
Noting that the amount of metal used in renewable energy infrastructure has increased by 97% in the ten years from 2005 to 2015, the paper’s authors examine the flow of metals across seven value chains, including solar, solar thermal, marine, wind, hydro, bioenergy and geothermal.
They developed a multi-regional input-output model and a value chain decomposition model, which are said to enable the analysis of operations globally for regions and individual countries. They obtained the data from Exiobase, a dataset evaluating industrial emissions and resource utilization, developed by a consortium of research institutions in projects funded by European research framework programs.
The scientists found imbalances in the studied global value chains and attributed them to the continued outsourcing of demand for renewable energy metals to developing economies. “Advanced economies dominate the top segments of the renewable energy value chain, while exhibiting metal-intensive (but low-value-added) manufacturing activities to developing economies,” they also noted, noting that some economies produce significant amounts of the metal. to meet foreign demand, but they are of little economic benefit.
The academics presented their findings in the article Tracing Metal Footprints via global renewable power value chains published in 2008. nature communication. The research group includes researchers from China’s Shandong University, Fudan University, Guangxi University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), as well as the University of Maryland in the United States.
“Our results show that trade structure can be modified to reduce metal supply risk and consumption inequality in global renewable energy value chains (RPVC) across economies,” they concluded. “Advanced economies dependent on imports can adjust the distribution of merchandise towards metal-efficient sources.”