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LDE minor focuses on resources needed for energy transition

European dependence on Russian gas, earthquake damage in Groningen and the changing climate: the call for an energy transition is getting louder. This transition will be accompanied by an increasing demand for 'new' raw materials. The Geo-Resources for the Future minor looks at exactly that development.

The interview with René Klein took place before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The introduction of this article has therefore been modified.

René Kleijn, Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Ecology at Leiden University and leader of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities Circular Industries Hub, is one of the lecturers on the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus minor. ‘The energy transition is also a transition from fossil fuels to metals,’ he explains. ‘We are moving towards a society that uses a lot more electricity, and that technology is largely based on metals. Just imagine all the batteries, wind turbines, and solar cells.’

‘More and more materials are needed for electronics and computers. In your mobile phone alone you'll find a mix of about 60 elements’ - René Kleijn

Demand for metals has been increasing for some time and this will accelerate in the coming decades. Within the minor, Kleijn is involved in the ‘Geo-resources 2.0: towards the future’ course, which focuses on future demand for materials and minerals. ‘You could say that we are looking at the metabolism of society as a whole. We call this field “industrial ecology”. Currently, only a fraction of the cars on our roads are electric but eventually all cars will have to run on electricity. Besides this, more and more materials are needed for electronics and computers. In your mobile phone alone you'll find a mix of about 60 elements; the vast majority of them are metals.’

From oil to metal

There is a strong focus on the economic and the (geo)political aspects of the various minerals and resources. A trend running parallel to the energy transition is the increasing shift of power oil to metal suppliers. As a result, resource extraction as a political instrument of power is only increasing. Just think of all the claims on international waters to extract raw materials through deep-sea mining. The programme also addresses the world’s increasing dependence on China, for example, when it comes to the metals (such as cobalt) used in batteries. ‘Although 60 percent of all cobalt is mined in the Congo, 80 percent of all refining takes place in China. The further you get in the production chain the more it takes place in China; this also applies to other metals.’

'Het is belangrijk dat studenten goed snappen wat er bij de supply chain van grondstoffen komt kijken en dat ze begrijpen wat we in de toekomst kunnen verwachten' - René Kleijn

The minor examines the entire supply chain of geo-resources, from mining to extracting the elements (refining) and the final applications. Reusing metals also plays a role, such as why it is important to consider the recyclability of metals in product design. The approach is not technical. Kleijn emphasises that the minor deals with geo-resources as broadly as possible: “Society as a whole is going to change drastically. That requires new business cases, different regulations and political decisiveness. It is important that students develop a good understanding of what is involved in the supply chain of resources and that they understand what we might expect in the future.”

This article appeared in the magazine of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities, a partnership between the three universities in the province of Zuid-Holland. Read the full article here.

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