University of Texas at Austin

Critical Minerals

The changing composition of energy sources demands energy economists to pay closer attention to value chains of minerals that will be in increasing demand for manufacturing of batteries needed for electric vehicles and grid applications (e.g., lithium, cobalt) and solar panels (e.g., tellurium, indium, germanium), or for hydraulic fracturing (e.g., sand).  As the chemistry of some of these technologies evolves, the minerals in need might shift over time.  Changes in our energy portfolios will also impact uranium value chain.

Minerals value chains entail upstream (resource definition and recovery), midstream (intermediate processing and field to market logistics) and downstream (end use). CEE applies its commercial frameworks lens on value chains of the critical minerals.  Where are the resources? What is the ownership structure? What are the laws and regulations that govern extraction, processing, and transportation of these resources? What are the markets (i.e., where does price discovery occur)?

In order to answer these and related questions, we develop a deep understanding of organizations, trading frameworks, government participation, cost and incentives of growth and constraints in supply. We study legal frameworks, transparency, oversight, and time frames of production growth in host countries with an aim to identify supply risks and evaluate supply flexibility under supply constraints. Our experience with much more mature global oil and gas value chains offers many valuable analogues and analysis tools.

In this research, we collaborate with BEG’s Economic Minerals Program, which systematically investigates geologic potential, to assess full cycle cost and value chain considerations required to fully evaluate “prospectivity” and “deliverability” of minerals resources.

cobalt scenarios

 

Main Areas of Research Interest

Upstream deep dives
  • Develop an in-depth understanding of the lithium resources: geology, deposition, chemical formation, and extraction procedures
  • Develop an in-depth understanding of the market: end users, types of chemical compounds, applications
  • Build upstream supply (value) chain model for global supply: catalog resources, reserves, production facilities, processing plants, country specific commercial frameworks, and industrial infrastructure
The economics of minerals extraction
  • Develop an understanding of supply-demand drivers
  • Identify and model materials locations, how minerals resources are captured, global value chains from extraction to manufacturing end use
  • Identify and resolve potential bottlenecks, trade issues and other potential risks to value chain integrity
  • Research extraction interdependence across minerals
  • Identify manufacturing locations for batteries and alternative energy system components and implications for supply of raw material on manufacturing and implications for supply of manufactured components on global deployment
  • Assess criticality of minerals of interest for particular manufacturing applications (e.g., lithium for batteries),
  • Develop trade flow maps, identify potential bottlenecks, and calculate impact on renewable energy deployment
  • Assess possibilities of substitution and recycling