Natural resources and sustainable energy : Growth rates and resource flows for low-carbon systems

Abstract: Large-scale deployment of low-carbon energy technologies is important for counteracting anthropogenic climate change and achieving universal energy access. This thesis explores potential growth rates of technologies necessary to reach a more sustainable global energy system, the material and energy flows required to commission these technologies, and potential future availability of the required resources.These issues are investigated in five papers. Potential future growth rates of wind energy and solar photovoltaics, and the associated material requirements are explored, taking the expected service life of these technologies into account. Methodology for assessing net energy return and natural resource use for wind energy systems are analyzed. Potential future availability of lithium and phosphate rock are also investigated.Estimates of energy and materials required for technologies such as wind energy and photovoltaics vary, and depend on the assumptions made and methods used. Still, it is clear that commissioning of low-carbon technologies on the scale required to reach and sustain a low-carbon energy system in coming decades requires significant quantities of both bulk materials and scarcer resources. For some technologies, such as thin film solar cells and electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries, availability of materials could become an issue for potential growth rates. Future phosphate rock production could become highly dependent on few countries, and potential political, social and environmental aspects of this should be investigated in more detail.Material and energy flows should be considered when analyzing growth rates of low-carbon technologies. Their estimated service life can indicate sustainable growth rates of technologies, as well as when materials are available for end-of-life recycling. Resource constrained growth curve models can be used to explore future production of natural resources. A higher disaggregation of these models can enable more detailed analysis of potential constraints. This thesis contributes to the discussion on how to create a more sustainable global energy system, but the methods to assess current and future energy and material flows, and availability of natural resources, should be further developed in the future.