Conseil Français de l'Énergie optimistic about unleashing limitless energy?

Posted on 28 February 2019

By Mathieu Berthonnet, member of the FEL-France

On Wednesday the 23rd of January, the Conseil Français de l’Énergie (the World Energy Council’s French Member Committee) organised a seminar on the topic: “Non-energetic resources, a barrier to the energy transition? “. A major concern for a lot of industrial, rare metals are, most of the time, ignored by those who claim that renewables are the miracle solution to climate change.

As Hubert Vedrine noted in the foreword to the book The Rare Metals War, these raw materials are far from clean, and involve complex geopolitical issues. In the opening speech, the CEO of BRGM, Michèle Rousseau insisted on the financial shortcomings… Indeed, BRGM, as the second biggest French organisation, only invested around 3 million euros on rare metals recycling last year.

During a busy day, many experts came on stage to give details and figures on the many aspects. Among them, Professor Philippe Chalmin from Paris Dauphine University revealed for example that palladium, as opposed to the more mediatic and better-known lithium or cobalt, had become a much more precious metal nowadays.

However, Bernard Tardieu, chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee at the National Academy of Technologies of France, said there is no need to be worried. The mining world will always be able to expand. According to him, we can always find new materials for new technologies. Enthusiasts, the participants did not ignore that many problems are still relevant to daily economic life.

How to overcome the challenge of electric mobility? How to face the pollution that will result from extracting those rare metals? Many questions still need answers… As a conclusion, a similar interrogation was underlined at the UNESCO during the annual congress of the renewable energy union, by Ghislain de Marsily, a member of the French Academy of Sciences: are we ready in France to accept the possibility to reopen mines, or should we leave this hard work to other countries?

In 2019, China – and to a lesser extent Russia – is already one step ahead in that field. If the strategic research foundation (FRS) is to be believed, this success can be explained by two main structural reasons: China has first of all a very strong industry, and it also has a very dynamic extracting sector. Nevertheless, Nicolas Mazzucchi (FRS) explains that western countries have not really tried to secure access to lithium. According to him, they have preferred to develop circular economies and tried to come up with some kind of substitute for it, and likewise for cobalt…

This has proved a paying strategy for China, as they are now leaders in electric mobility. Beijing aims to have sold 2 million cars by 2020, and more than 16 million by 2030. Unfortunately, in France electric mobility is not as popular yet! And it is definitely bad news for climate change because, as Catherine Girard (Renault) points out, these new cars have a carbon footprint 25% lower than traditional cars…

The speakers’ presentations are available at: http://wec-france.org/seminaireressources-presentations.php