US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm warned fellow ministers that supply chains for key energy transition minerals and materials need to be scaled-up and secured as nations lay their plans for a future that is both green and less reliant on Russia.
Granholm chaired a meeting of ministers from 30 governments who pledged to help promote energy security, reduce market volatility, and accelerate the global clean transition while slashing fossil fuel imports from Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA's) two-day 2022 ministerial meeting in Paris took place amid turmoil in energy markets with coal, crude oil, and natural gas prices soaring as western nations apply sanctions on Russia, a major supplier of all three.
IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the 30 member countries despite their different energy policies were unified behind “one single target: reducing, radically, Russian oil and gas imports”.
Russia and Ukraine are not members of IEA, which was established in 1974 as an autonomous intergovernmental body within the framework of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Granholm said the US was exporting “every molecule” of natural gas that can be liquified at existing terminals to help stabilise the global energy market and assist Europe’s effort to ease dependence on Russia.
In addition to helping ensure global energy security, the IEA adopted a new guiding principle: supporting nations in the global effort to attain net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector by mid-century.
“The energy world is changing fast and needs to change faster still,” said Birol. Granholm noted that while IEA members address near-term market disruptions, they must redouble efforts to become free of carbon that will “ultimately end our reliance on nations that weaponise fossil energy”.
New front of supply chain vulnerability
Granholm cautioned, however, that they do not trade one energy supply chain vulnerability for another, referring to critical minerals and materials for clean energy technologies.
“We have to source these materials responsibly, we have to process them sustainably, and we have to minimise the carbon footprint from manufacturing to add enough scale to meet the demand,” she said.
The IEA warned last year, even before the Ukraine crisis, that the world faced a “looming mismatch” between the demands of the energy transition and supply of critical minerals used in key technologies for power generation and storage.
Since taking office in January 2021, President Joe Biden has launched various critical mineral supply chain initiatives.
Last month, the US Department of Energy (DoE) established a new manufacturing and energy supply chains office to “modernise the nation’s energy infrastructure and support the clean energy transition”.
It also published a request for information to design and construct a new full-scale rare earth element and critical mineral extraction and separation refinery, and will allocate $140m to help fund it.
Granholm said IEA members were under no illusions about the effort required to transition to clean energy.
“The path ahead is a challenge. Even with our impatience and with our determination, it’s going to take some time before we see a heat pump in every home and electric vehicles populating every street,” she said, adding there is no choice but to persevere as “Mother Nature sending us a big flashing code red”.