From oil to electric: The new energy powerplay and China's growing dominance

China is the largest producer and importer of rare-earth minerals

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 15 April 2021

Global economies need to decarbonise quickly to keep up with the worsening climate crisis. For this, global CO2 emissions need to drop to net-zero by 2050 to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius (°C) above pre-industrial levels.

Since fossil fuels account for 80 per cent of global energy consumption and 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, countries are transitioning to cleaner energy systems like renewables to promote energy efficiency.

The global scramble is particularly high for lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and graphite that are key for the production of dominant lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, used to power anything from mobile phones to electric cars to power grids.

China’s rise in this new electro-economy has been meteoric. About 70-80 per cent of the global trade of most critical minerals, 23 per cent of the global mine-output of battery minerals, 73 per cent of the battery supply chain and 63.2 per cent of battery cell production is controlled by China. They also own the most number of patents in fast and wireless charging as of 2019.

Currently, China is the largest producer and importer of rare-earth minerals. This dominance is making other countries uncomfortable. Especially the United States of America, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia, who have controlled the fossil fuel economy for decades.

But the demand for fossil fuels has now peaked, with electricity and renewables likely becoming the major sources of energy consumption by 2050. According to early research, renewables have proven to be cost-competitive as well as technically feasible in the long run.

But amid this race of rare-earth mineral production and distribution, there is now another alternative. Hydrogen! It is the ultimate green fuel. It is the most abundant element in the universe. It provides three times more energy than fossil fuels and releases pure water as the only by-product.

But since it does not occur in isolation, nations are now talking about using renewables as the dominant energy source to isolate hydrogen. But only time will tell whether nations will be able to establish a new energy order to win the race against climate change or not. 

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