Role of critical metals in the future markets of clean energy technologies


Silver most critical element causing market bottlenecks.

Further critical elements: In, Te, PGM, REE.

Need for developing substitutions for the critical metals.

Need for new renewable energy technologies not dependent on critical elements.


The global energy sector is expected to experience a gradual shift towards renewable energy sources in the coming decades. Climate change as well as energy security issues are the driving factors. In this process electricity is expected to gain importance to the cost of fuels. However, these new technologies are in many cases dependent on various metals. This analysis evaluates the need for special metals and compares it with known resources in order to find possible bottlenecks in the market. The time perspective of the analysis reaches to the year 2050.

Following technologies have been selected for evaluation: solar electricity, wind power, fuel cells, batteries, electrolysis, hydrogen storages, electric cars and energy efficient lighting. The metals investigated belong either to the semiconductors, platinum group metals, rare earth metals or are other critical metals like silver and cobalt.

The global transition of the energy sector is modelled with TIMES. According to the results the most critical market situation will be found in silver. Other elements, for which bottlenecks in the market seem possible, include tellurium, indium, dysprosium, lanthanum, cobalt, platinum and ruthenium. Renewable energy scenarios presented by the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report seem partly unrealistic from the perspective of critical metals.


  • Critical metals;
  • Clean energy technologies;
  • TIMES model;
  • Resources;
  • Reserves


  • Ag, silver;
  • a-Si, amorphous silicon;
  • AZO, aluminium doped zinc oxid;
  • BGS, British Geological Survey;
  • CAT, calcium tungstate;
  • Ce, cerium;
  • CFL, compact fluorescent lamp;
  • CIGS, copper-indium-gallium-selenide solar cell;
  • CIS, copper-indium-selenide solar cell;
  • Co, cobalt;
  • c-Si, crystalline silicon solar cells;
  • CSP, concentrated solar power;
  • DSSC, dye sensitized solar cells;
  • Dy, dysprosium;
  • EDLC, electric double-layer capacitor;
  • EOL-RR, end of life recycling rate;
  • EPIA, European Photovoltaics Industry Association;
  • Eu, europium;
  • EV, electric vehicle;
  • FCEV, fuel cell electric vehicle;
  • FTO, fluorine doped tin oxide;
  • GHG, greenhouse gases;
  • HEV, hybrid electric vehicle;
  • HTS, high temperature superconductivity;
  • In, indium;
  • ITO, indium-tin-oxide;
  • JORC, The Australasian Code for Reporting of Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves;
  • La, lanthanum;
  • LAP, lanthanum phosphate;
  • LED, light emitting diode;
  • LFL, linear fluorescent lamp;
  • mc-Si, monocrystalline silicon solar cells;
  • MMTA, Minor Metals Trade Association;
  • Nd, neodymium;
  • NdFeB, neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnet;
  • NiMH, nickel metal hydric battery;
  • pc-Si, polycrystalline silicon solar cells;
  • PEMFC, proton exchange membrane fuel cell;
  • PFSI, perfluorosulfonic;
  • PGM, platinum group metals;
  • PHEV, plug-in hybrid vehicle;
  • PM, permanent magnet;
  • Pr, praseodymium;
  • Pt, platinum;
  • PV, photovoltaics;
  • RC, recycled content;
  • REE, rare earth elements;
  • REO, rare earth oxids;
  • rpm, rotations per minute;
  • Ru, ruthenium;
  • SOFC, solid oxid fuel cell;
  • Tb, terbium;
  • Te, tellurium;
  • USGS, United States Geological Survey;
  • Y, yttrium;
  • YBCO, yttrium-barium-copperoxid;
  • YSZ, yttrium stabilised zirkonia

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