Resources Science ›› 2021, Vol. 43 ›› Issue (4): 669-681.doi: 10.18402/resci.2021.04.03

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Nexus between low-carbon energy and critical metals: Literature review and implications

WANG Peng1, WANG Qiaochu1, HAN Ruru2, TANG Linbin1,5, LIU Yu1, CAI Wenjia3,4, CHEN Weiqiang1,5()   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Urban Environment and Health, Institute of Urban Environment, CAS, Xiamen 361021, China
    2. School of Energy and Environmental Engineering, University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing 100083, China
    3. Department of Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
    4. Tsinghua-Rio Tinto Joint Research Center for Resources, Energy and Sustainable Development, Beijing 100084, China
    5. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2021-01-18 Revised:2021-03-10 Online:2021-04-25 Published:2021-06-25
  • Contact: CHEN Weiqiang


There is a close interdependence between critical metals and low-carbon energy technologies. To improve the understanding of this relationship, this study made a comprehensive literature review (including about 200 papers published since 2000) to explore the objects, methods, and progress related to the research of the metal-energy nexus. The main findings are summarized as follows: (1) The low-carbon energy transition has driven the rapid growth of the production and trade of critical metals, and led to serious environmental pollution and the intensified competitions globally; (2) The global low-carbon energy transition could be constrained by the potential supply risks of critical metals caused by insufficient reserves, fragile trade networks, unequal geographical distribution, and high environmental pollution; (3) China, as a major producer and consumer of various critical metals, has borne the huge resource and environmental costs to support the global low-carbon energy transition, and its supply risks of critical metals are also high to support domestic needs. Under the target of “carbon peak” and “carbon neutrality”, we highlight that higher attentions are needed from researchers and policymakers in China on the research of the metals-energy nexus, coordinated management of critical metals and low-carbon energy, assessment of the potential critical metals constraint on low-carbon energy transition, and the emerging geopolitical risks concerning critical metals.

Key words: low-carbon energy, critical minerals, metal-energy nexus, environmental impact, supply security of resources