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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Bolstering supplies of critical raw materials for low-carbon technologies through circular economy strategies


Global scenarios in line with Paris Agreement climate goals would increase deployment of low-carbon technologies that contain significant amounts of critical raw materials (CRMs). However, most climate policies and decarbonization pathways typically do not identify the role CRM supply could play in slowing or limiting the scale-up of low-carbon technologies. Circular economy strategies can help secure the supply chain for many CRMs. While it is technically possible to recover all CRMs, current recovery is limited by the lack of a strong economic driver or policy that could provide economic incentives, support a cost-competitive secondary material market, and encourage the use of recycled materials. In this perspective, we investigate the potential of two circular-economy strategies, end-of-life collection and recycling. Our results show that enhanced collection and recycling could enable secondary materials to meet 37%–91% of demand for CRMs in low-carbon technologies in 2050, depending on the technology type and characteristics (e.g., shorter lifetime of battery energy storage systems). However, progress is required in building robust collection frameworks, developing cost-competitive and highly efficient recycling technologies, and designing recycling-friendly products.

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