huge phosphate rock deposit discovered in Norway contains enough minerals to meet the global demand for batteries and solar panels for the next 100 years, according to the mining company that controls it. Norge Mining said up to 70 billion tonnes of the non-renewable resource may have been uncovered in south-western Norway, alongside deposits of other strategic minerals like titanium and vanadium. Phosphate rock contains high concentrates of phosphorus, which is a key component for building green technologies but currently faces significant supply issues.

 Phosphorus has become an essential component in lithium-iron phosphate batteries in electric cars, in BESS systems, in solar panels and in computer chips. Russia previously controlled the world’s largest ultra-pure phosphate rock deposits, with the European Union warning that these “critical raw materials” have a high supply risk.

The EU is currently almost entirely dependent on imports of phosphate rock from the rest of the world, according to a report from The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, with China, Iraq and Syria also home to large deposits. The report warned that the EU should be “concerned about phosphate rock shortages”.

 A 2022 article in the scientific journal NATURE warned of imminent supply disruptions of phosphorus, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent economic sanctions as a potential cause of market volatility.

The global economy consumes an estimated 50 million tonnes of phosphorus each year, with scientists warning earlier this year that the planet could face a “phosphogeddon” if supply trends continue. “The buyers’ market is becoming increasingly crowded by limited trade – due to political instability in several source countries, as well as international sanctions imposed on others,” Norge Mining noted in a June blog post. “This is forcing importers to fear an impending crisis.”

In February 2023 India also reported its first significant discovery of reserves of lithium, another rare element associated with the manufacture of energy storage batteries and BESS systems. Around 5.9m tonnes of the element has been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir. Previously,  India was dependent on Australia and Argentina for lithium imports. Lithium is a key component in rechargeable batteries which power a variety of electrical equipment.

The Geological Survey of India found the lithium reserves in the Salal-Haimana area of Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir, India's Ministry of Mines said. In 2021, much smaller deposits of lithium were found in the southern state of Karnataka.

Around the world the demand for rare metals, including lithium, has increased as countries look to adopt greener solutions to slow down climate change.  In 2023, China signed a $1bn (£807m) deal to develop Bolivia's vast lithium reserves, which are estimated at 21m tonnes and the largest in the world. According to the World Bank, mining of crucial minerals will need to increase by 500% to meet global climate targets by 2050.

Lithium is extracted from hard rocks and underground brine reservoirs largely found in Australia, Chile and Argentina. After it is mined, it is roasted using fossil fuels, searing the landscape and leaving behind scars. The extraction process also requires a lot of water and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To extract it from underground reservoirs, many of which are found in water-scarce Argentina - a large amount of water is used, leading to protests from indigenous communities, who say that such activity is exhausting natural resources and leading to acute water shortages.

Jul 18, 2023
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