Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Chart: China dominates production of minerals needed for clean energy

Extraction and processing of critical minerals and metals are concentrated in a few countries, most notably China — and that’s a challenge for the energy transition.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format. Canary thanks Natural Power for its support of this feature.

Minerals are critical to the clean energy transition, as they are crucial components of solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and other key technologies. According to the International Energy Agency, A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant.” But the extraction and processing of these materials are highly concentrated in a small number of countries, leaving supplies vulnerable to disruptions that could threaten the ramp-up of clean energy technologies.

The chart on the right above shows how China dominates in processing of key minerals. And the chart on the left shows that for some key minerals, a single country is responsible for more than half of extraction — China for rare earths, Australia for lithium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for cobalt. In contrast, the extraction and processing of oil and gas, shown at the bottom of the chart, is much less concentrated.

As David Roberts explained in a recent piece on minerals and clean energy, The risk of this concentration is not so much that any one country will try to pull some kind of Bond-villain crippling of the world economy, but simply that the fewer producers or processors involved, the more it matters when any one of them runs into regulatory changes, trade restrictions or political instability.”

Our overreliance on China to both extract and process minerals is particularly problematic. For example, the U.S. has just begun banning imports of products from China’s Xinjiang province because some factories there use the forced labor of Uyghurs, a persecuted ethnic minority. Xinjiang currently produces much of the world’s polysilicon, an essential ingredient in solar panels. U.S. solar companies now must demonstrate that the panels they’re importing don’t include any of that Xinjiang polysilicon, as Canary Media has reported.

Chinese companies operating in Xinjiang also produce many of the minerals and metals needed for lithium-ion batteries, The New York Times reported this week, and the Chinese government is looking to expand extraction of those materials in Xinjiang province.

One way countries can lessen their dependence on imports of minerals is to extract minerals via recycling of batteries and other technologies, as highlighted last week in Canary’s Recycling Renewables series. Recycling minerals can also help insulate companies and countries from skyrocketing prices like those we’re now seeing for lithium.


Natural Power is a global consultancy that supports its clients to deliver a wide range of renewable energy projects. Its independent engineering experience covers all phases of the project lifecycle, from feasibility through construction to operations, and all stages of the transaction. Learn more.

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Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.