Most countries have committed to tripling the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030. This rapid scale-up will create a huge demand for “critical minerals” such as lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements, which are essential to building clean technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, grids and electric vehicles.

The problem is that critical minerals are inherently difficult to source responsibly. Poor mining practices can lead to human rights abuses, land degradation and toxic pollution. In addition, if energy technologies are not managed responsibly at their end of life, they could create enormous amounts of waste and pollution. This leads to both health and environmental hazards.

As the world transitions to a clean energy economy, WRI is supporting and promoting strategies that can meet demand for critical minerals in time while protecting people and nature. We aim to identify and develop pathways to more responsible mineral production while also driving down demand for primary minerals through reuse and recycling. 

WRI will provide research, data and analysis to help inform more responsible practices and policies for the critical minerals sector. We will partner directly with governments and the private sector to create solutions that turn these recommendations into action. And we will help design policies at the national and subnational levels to drive responsible supply, shift demand and improve circularity in the mineral value chain.

We will start with supporting three key areas of work:

Improving Copper Recycling

Existing waste streams — including end-of-life scrap (such as from electronics, buildings and vehicles) and mine wastes — could potentially supply millions of tons of copper each year. Improving copper recycling may present a significant near-term opportunity to help meet demand for the energy transition while developing the necessary technology, infrastructure, regulations and logistics to prepare for recycling large volumes of clean energy products in the future.

Optimizing a "Second Life" for Solar Panels and EV Batteries

Older solar panels and EV batteries retired from their first use may continue to serve a “second life” in applications such as storage for renewable energy and providing power for people living off-grid. This needs to be managed properly to avoid illegal waste dumping and the environmental and social harms that come with it, while also reducing the need to extract new minerals for clean energy components.

Helping Countries Transition to Responsible Mineral Production

Mining has a long history of environmental contamination, human rights abuses and negative socioeconomic impacts to nearby communities. But there are many examples of good practices in mining as well as a broad range of standards focused on ensuring good practices. We are working with a wide range of stakeholders — including both producing and importing country governments, downstream purchasers, civil society, mining companies and the financial sector — to measure, manage and minimize impacts to people and the environment while producing the minerals that are needed for a clean energy transition.


Cover image by: Avalon/Construction Photography/Alamy Stock Photo