How to secure a sustainable lithium supply chain for electric vehicles?

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Minerals and metals are essential components of our modern lives, powering devices such as mobile phones and batteries to basic kitchen appliances in your home that many of us use daily.   

Minerals are also at the heart of the energy transition as renewable technologies such as battery storage systems, solar panels, and wind turbines rely on minerals and metals. As a result, demand for certain minerals and metals is expected to grow nearly five-fold by 2050.

Extracting, producing, and transporting minerals requires significant energy, water, and land across global supply chains. Minerals travel worldwide and generate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; mining alone accounts for 4 to 7 percent of total global emissions. 

Ensuring a steady supply of minerals while minimizing the carbon footprint associated with their production and trade is critical to boosting decarbonization and building a sustainable future. 

Decarbonizing lithium supply chains

The World Bank’s Climate-Smart Mining Initiative just launched an interactive digital platform, the Climate Mineral Explorer (CME), that measures the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of critical minerals across supply chains, from extraction to end-use.

In its initial phase, the CME focuses on lithium, a silvery-white metal key to producing lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles (EVs). Estimates show that 70% of new vehicles will be EVs by 2040, boosting demand for lithium. While countries with lithium resources can benefit, they need to ensure that production is done sustainably and responsibly, in line with goals to decarbonize the transport sector and accelerate the clean energy transition.

By comparing global lithium supply chain routes for electric vehicles, the CME helps determine options for reducing GHG emissions and energy use. 

The platform maps out all stages in the lithium supply chain, from extraction and processing to battery manufacturing and vehicle processing—all the way to the end consumer market—and estimates the carbon footprint generated.

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Climate Mineral Explorer Dashboard

The platform allows users to test different scenarios, such as changing electricity and heat inputs from natural gas or coal to low-carbon hydrogen or biofuels, to quantify the emissions saved.

Let’s look at a case example that starts with lithium extraction in Australia, then goes on to China for downstream production, including processing, battery manufacturing, and vehicle assembly. Using low-carbon hydrogen or biofuels as the source of heat energy to process lithium and manufacture li-ion batteries—in line with the electricity mix in line with the IEA’s 2050 Sustainable Development Scenario–would cut carbon emissions by half. 

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Climate Mineral Explorer Dashboard

The platform also highlights policies and instruments governments have implemented to help decarbonize the lithium supply chain and accelerate EV take-up.  

While comparing supply chain configurations and their associated environmental footprint, the platform supports data transparency around lithium production. More data on the footprint of lithium supply chains will help increase accountability in the industry and make it easier for stakeholders to cut emissions and boost sustainability. 

Trends indicate that the lithium industry is moving in a more sustainable direction.

"We believe that the increased use of renewable energy to power the complete value chain, from mining to EV manufacturing, is an important lever of change that has started. An example of remote mine sites gradually converting their fuel-based power generators to solar and wind power is a step in the right direction. And early-stage technological innovations in the processing and refining segment show a positive trend toward decarbonization. Lithium facilitates the transition towards e-mobility and energy storage solutions, and the savings far outweigh that from mining or in processing of lithium."
Anand Sheth
Co-founder and Founding Chairman of the International Lithium Association

The new CME platform aligns with the World Bank Climate Action Plan 2021 – 2025, which supports decarbonizing the transport sector and accelerating the clean energy transition.

We invite governments, the private sector, and decision-makers to use the platform and identify solutions to support sustainable mining, promoting a more prosperous and greener future. Check out the launch event here

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Authors

Susana Moreira

Senior gas specialist, The World Bank

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