Low-carbon windfarm

Five things the world will need for a low-carbon future

Wind, sun and water – what else do you need to make renewable energy work?


Wind, sun and water – what else do you need to make renewable energy work?

A lot of things in modern life involve at least a little bit of the metals and minerals we produce.

And some things need a lot.

Take clean energy technologies like wind, solar and batteries: each of these needs large amounts of minerals and metals to work. In fact, the World Bank has found that as clean energy becomes more widely used – with global renewable capacity expected to grow by 46% by 2023 according to the International Energy Agency – the future demand for minerals will be significant.

Here are five minerals and metals you can expect to see more of in a low-carbon world:

Copper tubes
Used in everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines, copper is the best non-precious electricity conductor

1. Copper

Copper is the best non-precious conductor of heat and electricity on the planet. It's found in everything from the electrical wiring in your house to renewable power sources like wind turbines. And because it can help things work more efficiently, copper will play an important part in a more sustainable future. It's used widely in smart technologies and the electrification of transportation: Electric vehicles use about four to six times more copper than traditional internal combustion engine cars.

2. Lithium

From electric vehicles to power grids, in a low-carbon future we'll need more and bigger batteries. That means we'll also need significant amounts of minerals like lithium, a key ingredient in battery technologies. The World Bank estimates global demand for lithium will increase by 965% by 2050 to supply clean energy technologies.

WHAT'S IN A WIND TURBINE?

A 3-megawatt wind turbine – which is about as tall as the London Eye – contains 4.7 tons of copper, 3 tons of aluminium, 335 tons of steel and 1,200 tons of concrete.

Electric car
What is Climate-Smart Mining?

We want to be part of the solution to help address climate change.


That's why we are one of the first to join the World Bank's Climate-Smart Mining Facility.

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Climate-Smart Mining will support the sustainable mining and processing of minerals and metals needed for clean energy technologies, while also minimising the environmental and climate footprint.

It will provide funding to support projects like integrating renewable energy in mining operations, supporting sustainable land-use practices, repurposing mine sites, and recycling minerals. The Facility will also assist governments to build a robust policy, regulatory and legal framework that promotes climate-smart mining practices.

"We want to be part of the solution on climate change and the best solutions will come from innovative partnerships across competitors, governments and institutions," says J-S Jacques, Rio Tinto Chief Executive.

"Our collaboration with the World Bank and many others is aimed at making a real difference by promoting sustainable practices across our industry."

3. Aluminium

Aluminium is light and strong – perfect for use in energy-efficient transportation. Aluminium-intensive vehicles generate up to 17% lower carbon dioxide equivalent emissions over their life cycle, compared with baseline models. It's also known as one of the most energy efficient and sustainable construction materials. It's corrosion resistant and long lasting, and aluminium building products generally contain anywhere from 50 – 85% recycled metal. Its light reflecting and insulating properties can also contribute to energy efficiency.

4. Borates

Never heard of borates? You're looking at them right now: They're used in everything from smartphone and computer screens to agricultural fertilisers, which help feed the world's growing population. They're also a vital ingredient in building insulation, which keeps your home warm in winter and cool in summer – helping to reduce your electricity use.

Wind turbine
Reducing Our Own Footprint

It takes a lot of energy to mine and process the minerals and metals the world needs.


We have reduced our emissions intensity by almost 30% since 2008 and 71% of the electricity used across the business is from low-carbon renewable energy. We're also the only major mining company to have a fossil-fuel free portfolio.

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But there's more we need to meet our goal to substantially decarbonise our business by 2050. That's why we're always looking for ways to reduce our emissions – from renewable energy to innovative technologies.

In our Aluminium business, we've formed a ground-breaking partnership with Alcoa – with support from Apple and the governments of Canada and Quebec – to further develop technology that will eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the aluminium smelting process.

At our Kennecott copper operations in America, we've shut our coal power plant and moved to renewable electricity – reducing our annual carbon footprint by 65%. That's equivalent to over a million tonnes of CO2.

5. Titanium

Our titanium dioxide business is working on the development of low-cost metal powders for 3D printing which is used by the aerospace industry, removing the need to cast metal, reducing energy and waste.