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Tech-Critical Metals to Manage Climate Change in New Zealand

The digital economy has risen to prominence as the new centre of growth development. Climate change, on the other hand, remains a global issue that threatens our and other species’ long-term future on this planet especially in New Zealand.

A research team at the University of Canterbury is developing new technologies that could lead to creating low carbon technologies from mixed oxides that could help in transforming climate change in New Zealand. The research is focused on the processing of tantalum, a hard-to-process metal; and neodymium, a rare earth metal, in the initial proof-of-concept stage. These are used in capacitors and magnets, including the magnets that are a key component in almost all wind turbines.

These low-carbon technologies rely on a few critical metals, some of which have been underutilised in the past. This raises the question of whether there will be enough of these materials to support a large-scale rollout. Others are concerned that as metal output rises to meet demand, bottlenecks could develop, or that mining’s environmental costs may erode carbon savings elsewhere.

Low and zero carbon technology (LZC) is the term given to technologies that emit low levels of CO2 emissions, or no net CO2 emissions.

In an article from OpenGov Asia, The Otago Climate Change Risk Assessment indicated that climate change puts the region at risk of more heavy rainfall events, drought, coastal erosion and inundation, and more extreme hot days exceeding 30 degrees Celsius in the longer term. The report also projected major implications for communities and the economy.

The climate crisis continues to play out as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe. In fact, 2020 may is likely the third-warmest year on record; the planet was warmer by 1.2 degrees Celsius from January to October than the pre-industrial average measured between 1850 and 1900; and cyclones, floods and wildfires caused large-scale devastation.

Many storms and cyclones also affected other Asian countries, such as cyclones Amphan, Nisarga, Nivar and Burevi in India and African countries, and cyclone Gati in Somalia which brought two years’ worth of rains in two days.

By developing a new, carbon-free route to obtaining these critical metals, with further innovation, be a means to achieving New Zealand’s low carbon goals; securing access to these metals has also been identified as essential for achieving equitable transition to low carbon goals by the International Energy Agency.

Critical metals are technologically essential to the functioning of a variety of developing technologies, yet their supply is potentially unstable. This situation necessitates strategic planning based on long-term demand and supply for these metals, as well as its implications.

Rare earth elements are required for climate solutions such as solar energy, wind energy, and electric vehicles. These “green tech metals” have strong magnetic and luminous properties that make them difficult to replace with other elements.

According to a report, low carbon technology entails more than just combating climate change. It also allows for improved energy supply and energy security, accelerates productivity growth, raises employment and competitiveness, and improves public welfare and environmental quality. As a result, policies aimed at accelerating the dissemination and innovation of low-carbon technologies can help achieve multiple development goals simultaneously.

In the following decades, the global energy sector is likely to shift gradually toward renewable energy sources. The focal points are climate change and energy security concerns. Electricity is projected to take precedence over fuel costs in this process. However, many of these new technologies are reliant on various metals. For a sustainable future for all, the social, environmental, and carbon impact of extracting and processing minerals and metals that contribute to a low-carbon future must be effectively managed.

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