“From coal to climate neutral energy supply – easy to do or a complex multi stakeholder issue?”
Energy is part of our basic needs and the basis for production, comfort and prosperity. The availability of energy from coal for steam generation set the industrial revolution in motion and has shaped the energy economy of many countries since the 19th century until today. The environmental impact of coal use has, with the realization of its climate relevance, forced the question of the need for alternative energy sources. For the replacement of coal, especially in the electricity industry, one essential constraint must be met: availability 24/7. Alternative sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind power) are either limited by nature or are subject to natural conditions. Storage facilities and electricity grids are therefore basic prerequisites for the use of these technologies. In addition, they require a lot of construction raw materials, industrial minerals and metals, which per kilowatt hour generated are significantly higher than those of coal-fired power plants, in the case of copper and aluminium by a factor of 4-5. Electricity currently accounts for only about 22% of energy demand. If mobility and heat are to be generated in the future largely via the diversions of electricity (hydrogen, batteries …), this means an enormous increase in electricity generation with even more demand for transmission lines and storage. It is important that Europe has recognised that the provision of the necessary metals for the transformation of the energy economy requires a strategy to reduce dependencies on supply volumes and prices. The potential for expanding European mining production, e.g. for lithium, must be addressed quickly, as must the expansion of the smelting industry for European and imported ores. The existing recycling of base metals should be expanded and the recycling of new metals, such as rare earths and lithium, should be accelerated after the end of the service life of the first products (approx. 2040). The coverage gap that still exists then must be made up by imports of refined metals from diversified sources. Reliable framework conditions are needed to implement the necessary investments in Europe’s mining, smelting and recycling industries. Approval procedures must be accelerated without compromising thoroughness – political barriers must be overcome. Awareness of raw material projects must be raised in society, because the expansion of the new energy industry also requires the training of skilled workers. The new mining, processing, smelting and recycling technologies also need intensive scientific support.