Powerful and counterintuitive insights into the future supply and demand of critical metals have been uncovered in a new report by CSIRO.
According to one scenario modelled using the Physical Stocks and Flows Framework (PSFF) tool, trajectories for metals used in electric vehicles (EVs) may be more complicated than what is currently thought to support the transition to a low emissions future.
The report ‘Known Unknowns: the devil in the details of energy metal demand’ uses the bespoke tool to look at three EV battery metals (cobalt, lithium and nickel) under three different EV uptake scenarios.
CSIRO’s Critical Energy Metals Mission-in-development lead Dr Jerad Ford said the PSFF tool uses factors not currently accounted for in traditional forecasts to test the demand and supply assumptions.
“We know that demand for many metals will increase substantially as the world transitions to a low carbon economy,” Ford said.
“But unsophisticated models based on current supply levels and basic recycling rates lead to many mischaracterisations of the real opportunities in both metal mining and recycling.”
According to CSIRO, it is commonly assumed that demand for newly mined metals like cobalt and nickel will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, as they are essential for high performance lithium-ion batteries used in EVs.
But by accounting for additional factors such as changes in battery chemistry, quicker EV uptake, and higher levels of recycling, the PSFF tool suggests that, even within the same scenario, new cobalt demand may have an extremely short demand window before an extended glut, while nickel peaks early then falls back sharply, and lithium remains stronger for longer before also trailing off in the out years.
“This challenges conventional wisdom that the demand for these battery metals will mirror each other,” Ford said.
CSIRO senior experimental scientist Dr Jim West built the model and co-authored the report.
“We are currently in the early stages of engaging with external partners, and ready to partner with industry and government to develop bespoke scenarios that reflect partners’ key interests,” West said.
“Our overarching aim is to better develop and share our capability, to help Australian industry make the smartest investments in the lead-up to a low carbon future.”