Green minerals and the green economy

The minerals industry is among sectors of NZ society where great strides have been made over the last 20 years or so.

“There is sky-rocketing demand around the world for minerals which are used in clean-tech and which can aid our transition to a low carbon economy. That demand represents a real economic opportunity for New Zealand.” – Minister for Energy and Resources Megan Woods, Minerals Forum, May 2018.

The world’s demand for minerals – and especially green minerals – is growing because a transition to a low carbon or green economy requires green minerals. Almost everything related to a low carbon economy – from batteries to wind turbines, solar panels to hybrid cars – require minerals.

French academics Olivier Vidal, Bruno Goffé and Nicholas Arndt reported in the November 2013 issue of the international journal Nature Geoscience: “Humankind faces a vicious circle: a shift to renewable energy will replace one non-renewable resource (fossil fuel) with another (metals and minerals).”

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) projects that wind and solar energy, globally, will rise from to 12,000 TWh in 2035, and 25,000 TWh in 2050.

According to Vidal, Goffé and Arndt, those two uses alone will require 3200 million tonnes of steel, 310 Mt of aluminum, 40 Mt of copper, 800 Mt of glass, and 20 billion tonnes of concrete - to say nothing of rare earth elements, and many other metals, including gold, silver and platinum.

And, according to the World Bank, metals which could also see a growing global market include:

  • Manganese

  • Iron ore

  • Titanium

  • Cobalt

  • Nickel

  • Zinc

  • Silver

  • Lithium

  • Rare Earth Elements (REEs)

  • Steel

What’s here in New Zealand?

New Zealand has the potential to supply many of these minerals.  In 2018, a mineral potential study, commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, found possible areas of lithium, nickel-cobalt and rare earth minerals – also known as "green minerals".

The study concluded there was a high potential for lithium along the West Coast and the Taupō volcanic range, nickel-cobalt in Tasman-Marlborough and Southland, and rare earth minerals on the West Coast.

Energy and Resource Minister Megan Woods said the report provided the government with a strong basis upon which to make decisions on the future of mineral mining in New Zealand.

"There is sky-rocketing demand around the world for minerals which are used in clean-tech and which can aid our transition to a low-carbon economy," Ms Woods said. "That demand represents a real economic opportunity for New Zealand."

The table below shows the minerals required for a selection of green technologies and which ones New Zealand has potential to supply.

New Zealand Strategic Minerals used for Selected Green Technologies

 

Iron

Steel

Lithium

Nickel

Cobalt

REEs

Wind Turbine Manufacturing
x
x
 
x
 
x
Solar Photovoltaic Installations
 
 
x
x
 
 
Carbon Capture and Storage Installations
 
 
 
x
x
 
LED Manufacturing
x
 
 
x
 
 
Electric Vehicle Manufacturing
 
 
x
x
x
x
Lithium-Ion Batteries
 
 
x
 
 
 

Source: World Bank June 2017

Mining these responsibly will boost our economy and create jobs. 

As the table below shows, most of our ‘strategic mineral’ potential happens to lie under Conservation Land.  Much of that land is lower value – not national parks – which is why a blanket ban on mining on all conservation land makes no sense at all.

Areas of Green Mineral Potential

 

Rare Earth

Nickel-Cobalt

Lithium


On Public Conservation Land
 


10,029 km²
(79%)


6,041 km²
(69%)


10,367 km²
(66%)


Outside Public Conservation Land
 


2,621 km²
(21%)


2,759 km²
(31%)


5,294 km²
(34%)

Total

12,650 km² 8,799 km² 15,661 km²