Skip to content

Leading scientists set out resource challenge of meeting net zero emissions in the UK by 2050

June 5, 2019

By Paul Homewood



Gummer’s latest plans to decarbonise urge the government to ban all sales of new petrol/diesel cars by 2030.

But his simplistic approach is neither green, carbon free or likely even practical, as this letter to the CCC by leading experts makes clear:


A letter authored by Natural History Museum Head of Earth Sciences Prof Richard Herrington and fellow expert members of SoS MinErals (an interdisciplinary programme of NERC-EPSRC-Newton-FAPESP funded research) has today been delivered to the Committee on Climate Change

The letter explains that to meet UK electric car targets for 2050 we would need to produce just under two times the current total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production.

A 20% increase in UK-generated electricity would be required to charge the current 252.5 billion miles to be driven by UK cars.

Last month, the Committee on Climate Change published a report ‘Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming’ which concluded that ‘net zero is necessary, feasible and cost effective.’ As a major scientific research institution and authority on the natural world, the Natural History Museum supports the pressing need for a major reduction in carbon emissions to address further catastrophic consequences of climate change. Using its scientific expertise and vast collection of geological specimens, the Museum is collaborating with leading researchers to identify resource and environmental implications of the transition to green energy technologies including electric cars.

A letter which outlines these challenges was delivered to Baroness Brown, who chairs the Adaption Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change.

Prof Richard Herrington says: “The urgent need to cut CO2 emissions to secure the future of our planet is clear, but there are huge implications for our natural resources not only to produce green technologies like electric cars but keep them charged.

“Over the next few decades, global supply of raw materials must drastically change to accommodate not just the UK’s transformation to a low carbon economy, but the whole world’s. Our role as scientists is to provide the evidence for how best to move towards a zero-carbon economy – society needs to understand that there is a raw material cost of going green and that both new research and investment is urgently needed for us to evaluate new ways to source these. This may include potentially considering sources much closer to where the metals are to be used.”

The challenges set out in the letter are:

The metal resource needed to make all cars and vans electric by 2050 and all sales to be purely battery electric by 2035. To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copper. This represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018. Even ensuring the annual supply of electric vehicles only, from 2035 as pledged, will require the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of European industry.

The worldwide impact: If this analysis is extrapolated to the currently projected estimate of two billion cars worldwide, based on 2018 figures, annual production would have to increase for neodymium and dysprosium by 70%, copper output would need to more than double and cobalt output would need to increase at least three and a half times for the entire period from now until 2050 to satisfy the demand.

Energy cost of metal production: This choice of vehicle comes with an energy cost too.  Energy costs for cobalt production are estimated at 7000-8000 kWh for every tonne of metal produced and for copper 9000 kWh/t.  The rare-earth energy costs are at least 3350 kWh/t, so for the target of all 31.5 million cars that requires 22.5 TWh of power to produce the new metals for the UK fleet, amounting to 6% of the UK’s current annual electrical usage.  Extrapolated to 2 billion cars worldwide, the energy demand for extracting and processing the metals is almost 4 times the total annual UK electrical output

Energy cost of charging electric cars: There are serious implications for the electrical power generation in the UK needed to recharge these vehicles. Using figures published for current EVs (Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe), driving 252.5 billion miles uses at least 63 TWh of power. This will demand a 20% increase in UK generated electricity.

Challenges of using ‘green energy’ to power electric cars: If wind farms are chosen to generate the power for the projected two billion cars at UK average usage, this requires the equivalent of a further years’ worth of total global copper supply and 10 years’ worth of global neodymium and dysprosium production to build the windfarms.

Solar power is also problematic – it is also resource hungry; all the photovoltaic systems currently on the market are reliant on one or more raw materials classed as “critical” or “near critical” by the EU and/ or US Department of Energy (high purity silicon, indium, tellurium, gallium) because of their natural scarcity or their recovery as minor-by-products of other commodities. With a capacity factor of only ~10%, the UK would require ~72GW of photovoltaic input to fuel the EV fleet; over five times the current installed capacity. If CdTe-type photovoltaic power is used, that would consume over thirty years of current annual tellurium supply.

Both these wind turbine and solar generation options for the added electrical power generation capacity have substantial demands for steel, aluminium, cement and glass.

The co-signatories, like Prof Herrington are part of SoS MinErals, an interdisciplinary programme of NERC-EPSRC-Newton-FAPESP funded research focusing on the science needed to sustain the security of supply of strategic minerals in a changing environment. This programme falls under NERC’s sustainable use of natural resources (SUNR) strategic theme. They are:

Professor Adrian Boyce, Professor of Applied Geology at The Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre

Paul Lusty, Team Leader for Ore Deposits and Commodities at British Geological Survey

Dr Bramley Murton, Associate Head of Marine Geosciences at the National Oceanography Centre

Dr Jonathan Naden, Science Coordination Team Lead of NERC SoS MinErals Programme, British Geological Society

Professor Stephen Roberts, Professor of Geology, School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton

Associate Professor Dan Smith, Applied and Environmental Geology, University of Leicester

Professor Frances Wall, Professor of Applied Mineralogy at Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter


Demonisation of diesels along with huge uncertainties around government policy has already caused great damage to the UK car industry.

It is simply crazy to make any further moves to EVs until the issues raised above are properly addressed and solutions put in place.

  1. June 5, 2019 6:16 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate- Science.

  2. Joe Public permalink
    June 5, 2019 6:17 pm

    “The letter explains that to meet UK electric car targets for 2050 we would need to produce just under two times the current total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production.”

    Or just 0.001% of the world’s Fairy Dust.

    • hsabin permalink
      June 5, 2019 7:00 pm

      Great post!!

    • The Man at the Back permalink
      June 5, 2019 10:40 pm

      No Joe – they are going to use powdered Unicorn horn.

  3. Stonyground permalink
    June 5, 2019 6:19 pm

    Hopefully these ignorant half wits won’t be in positions of power for very much longer.

    • David Parker permalink
      June 5, 2019 7:38 pm

      The problem is that those who replace them could be worse, a lot worse.

  4. Broadlands permalink
    June 5, 2019 6:49 pm

    Do any of these “leading” climate “experts” realize that attaining Net-Zero carbon emissions (regardless of how long) does not lower the CO2 already in the atmosphere? Do they not realize that other “leading experts” are convinced (right or wrong) that “we” must also lower the atmospheric burden by using at global scale the various negative emission technologies? Do they not understand that the amount required to keep the global temperature from rising “catastrophically” is in the hundreds of billion of tons, stored safely somewhere? Someone is paying the wrong people to lead the world out from under this “existential crisis” that is supposedly imminent. Not half wits, nitwits.

  5. cassio21 permalink
    June 5, 2019 6:50 pm

    It would be interesting to learn if the CCC requested the advice of SoS MinErals in this regard, or if these SoS MinErals members were so worried by the ravings of Deben and his cronies that they felt a compelling need to clarify matters.

    Let’s hope that Deben’s response and further correspondence is made public.

    • June 5, 2019 8:58 pm

      This report and the CCC response, if forthcoming, will never see the light of day in the Mainstream Media. That is the problem that needs to be addressed.

      I note that it seems apparent that in the search for alternative energy supplies we are stuck with digging it out of the ground in terms of rare earth elements rather than in the form of ready made energy in the form of oil. The wild geese are laughing.

  6. Douglas Brodie permalink
    June 5, 2019 6:56 pm

    These scientists spoil their case by quoting what seems like a ridiculously low “20% increase in UK-generated electricity” to power a full UK fleet of electric vehicles. Maybe they have based it on the propagandist predictions of the National Grid. They should have done their own sums.

    According to the Digest of UK Energy Statistics 2017, petrol and diesel road vehicle transport accounted for about 450 TWh against the 2017 UK electricity supply of 336 TWh. The EV drivetrain may be more efficient than that of internal combustion engines but is that enough to offset the losses in electricity generation which will have to be predominantly fossil fuel (not that the establishment can bring itself to admit this), the losses in electricity distribution (especially if from the outer reaches of Scotland) and the losses in battery charging and discharging? Not to mention the very high energy costs of producing all those batteries.

    A 20% increase in electricity generation seems nowhere near enough.

    • Ivan permalink
      June 6, 2019 12:02 pm

      20% is a reasonable estimate for cars (only). The reason your objection doesn’t apply is that electric cars use a lot less energy than diesel/petrol cars.
      But that’s only cars. There’s freight vehicles, where you don’t get such a large efficiency gain, so freight would require another 25% (source: footnote 77). So now we are up to 45%. Then there’s space heat for buildings. And industrial requirements. In most cases there are substantial efficiency gains in going electric, for example using heat pumps to heat buildings uses only about 1/3 the energy of gas, and that is before you improve insulation. So although electricity is currently only about 25% of our current energy use, to decarbonise the economy you probably need to roughly double electricity output. Though that is without any significant growth in underlying demand.
      It is broadly acknowledged that the technology to make practical even the target 80% (of 1990 level) decarbonisation of the economy does not exist yet. The calculations in the letter cited are just one of many aspects of that. Tech progress has been fast of late, and thus I think we can be reasonably sure that these numbers will move fairly quickly. But who can say if they will move sufficiently to make practical those ambitions.
      That is why I often say that those who propose changing the 80% target to 100% rarely understand quite how difficult/expensive it is to achieve what they are proposing: we don’t yet even have the tech to achieve 80% at sensible cost. My gut feel is that even 80% will prove beyond us. I suspect the people who set it knew that, but realised that only a challenging and far-reaching target would enliven us to do something serious about it, and set in train the technical progress to enable a low carbon economy.

  7. hsabin permalink
    June 5, 2019 6:58 pm

    “Leading”? scientists? You mean paid by the government to lie about emissions and global warming or climate change. Notice they are so far off in the future that most of us will be dead and then they will resurrect the Al Gore climate damage baloney once again for younger generations and keep raking in the $$$$!! 0 emissions? If I believed that you can sell me a bridge! Some fool on TV last night said there would be NO CARBON DIOXIDE in twelve years! Echoing AOC and Joe Biden! SIGH! Stupid is as supid is for these two!

  8. June 5, 2019 7:04 pm

    Alarmists forget or ignore that most so-called greenhouse gas is water vapour anyway. Cutting CO2 emissions doesn’t change that, so what do they expect to achieve apart from nothing?

    • hsabin permalink
      June 5, 2019 7:15 pm

      They will “FEEL GOOD” that they are “doing something” even if it does no good! Its all about emotion – not facts, not thinking, not science, just “feeling good!”

    • HotScot permalink
      June 5, 2019 9:23 pm

      Water vapour – around 95% of all greenhouse gases.

      CO2 – around 4% of all greenhouse gases and 0.04% of our atmosphere.

      Nobody understands how clouds affect global temperatures. Clouds are water vapour/droplets.

      This is a truly massive hole in the understanding of how climate works.

      Yet the cause of GW can be pinned down to the 0.0012% of CO2 man is responsible for in the atmosphere.

      Is it just me?

      • Eoin mc permalink
        June 6, 2019 1:44 pm

        Not just you. I have come to realisation that the parts per million quotient is massively confusing those who barely understand the so-called science of climate. Major issue is how most who are not versed in climate science have mistakenly come to the conclusion that carbon dioxide is a threat and are unaware that two thirds of C02 is currently naturally produced. The mistaken view now is that its a “pollutant”. The way it could be better explained is that the ratio of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the athmosphere is a puny 1 : 8,000 ie, circa 130ppm.

  9. GeoffB permalink
    June 5, 2019 7:08 pm

    Another problem is charging…With a petrol/diesel re-fuelling takes around 6 minutes and gives a range of 400 miles. A Nissan Leaf with a 50kWatt charger with 6 minutes of charge would manage 17 miles. A Nissan Leaf has a range of 168 miles on a full charge, but on a fast charge the battery gets hot and limits the second charge so that you cannot get another 168 miles, no chance that day of a third charge. iTS NEVER GOING TO WORK.

    • hsabin permalink
      June 5, 2019 7:14 pm

      But liberals and liftists do NOT let FACTS get in their way. They are willing to recharge every 17 miles while applauding themselves for doing something good for the “environment.”

    • jack broughton permalink
      June 5, 2019 8:59 pm

      An interesting bit in “Fire Security Matters” Journal yesterday. Apparently 74 % of EVs are charged using “daisy-chain” connections and about 40% do this even in the rain. The claim is that this dangerous practice is due to lack of charging stations.

      I regularly drive past 6 sets of charging stations and have only once actually seen a car charging.

      • HotScot permalink
        June 5, 2019 9:45 pm

        Possibly of more relevance, ~45% of the British households do not have access to off street parking to charge EV’s.

        Lamp posts have been suggested as a solution but they would all have to be substantially upgraded to take just one, never mind the four or five cars (at the very least) in our street that would need charging every night.

        Then there is parking provision for each of those four or five cars clustered around a lamp post. It’s unreasonable to expect to have 30M cables strewn along the streets to get to the last car.

        Then there’s priority. If you live in a street, do you have exclusive access to the lamp post, or do you arrive home in the evening, after a hard day of driving only to find there are no charging points available to even get you to work the next day, far less drive your van to the first of several jobs you might have.

        And whilst our government is preparing to spend £5bn on refurbishing the Palace of Westminster (£10bn according to some contractors) do we really believe our politicians are serious about climate change when the building is mere feet away from from a Thames high tide?

        If sea level rise is such a problem, the place would be swamped within a few years.

      • June 5, 2019 10:21 pm

        It doesn’t take much simultaneous EV charging for the local substation to become dangerously overloaded and liable to fail.

        “If each home on a block gets one electric vehicle, that’s probably equivalent to double that block’s existing power load”

    • Dave Ward permalink
      June 5, 2019 10:01 pm

      “A Nissan Leaf has a range of 168 miles on a full charge”

      Since a Nissan Leaf was following me, I was thinking about this while driving down to Essex to watch the D – Day flypast. I had filled my car up before leaving, so knew I had 300+ miles to play with – even with aircon running. As it happens, when I returned home the trip was showing 145 miles – would I have risked doing this journey in a Leaf?

      As to “Decarbonising” the economy, I’m just glad the wonderful sight of some 30 odd Dakotas rumbling sedately through the sky has taken place before Gummer and his cronies completely bugger up this country. And lead by the very same aircraft that dropped the first paratroopers in France 75 years ago – God help us if we have to fight an all electric war…

      • hsabin permalink
        June 5, 2019 10:06 pm

        AN EMP attack will wipe out any war with mainly electronics on which to base it……

      • Joe Public permalink
        June 5, 2019 11:49 pm

        “God help us if we have to fight an all electric war…”

        Don’t worry Dave, all battlefield commanders will have to carry out & forward to the MOD a full ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ before being allowed to fire a shot.

        Shouting “Bang, your dead” will not qualify as an ‘impact’ assessment. 😉

  10. John Peter permalink
    June 5, 2019 7:38 pm

    I notice they are using average wind power output for their calculations as if wind power is dispatch-able. So what about this high pressure that descends on the UK for weeks in winter with no wind, but -5C in daytime and -15C at night like in I think 1995/96? What about an extended Carribean winter cruise in a sailing boat for a few weeks? Would there be enough energy in their calculations to both provide for current demand and re-charge all the batteries to full charge for the next arrival of calm weather?

  11. Roger Cole permalink
    June 5, 2019 7:40 pm

    The assumption is made by these scientists that the government intends everyone to still be as mobile as he is today. I believe this is erronious. They will (assuming no governmental change of ideology) just ban new petrol cars, and as they gradually fade away, their occupants will be forced to return to public transport, permanently or bicycles. Of course this will not apply to those in power or the wealthy. That will put the Populists back where they are considered to belong, on foot!

    • Broadlands permalink
      June 5, 2019 8:38 pm

      And they must have also forgotten that with carbon banned to Net-Zero there will be no asphalt nor even concrete (another “hazardous” material) to repair or build roads for these ‘green and clean’ vehicles. All dressed up with nowhere to go.

      • Bertie permalink
        June 5, 2019 9:41 pm

        If there is no concrete how will they manage to build their beloved wind turbines to power their wonderful electric cars?

      • Dave Ward permalink
        June 5, 2019 10:05 pm

        From my driving experiences, I think they’ve already run out of asphalt…

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      June 5, 2019 8:47 pm

      But, afaik, the gov is not banning older cars. So, unless they also ban petrol stations, or put the price of fuel through the roof…..Cuba, here we come.

      • HotScot permalink
        June 5, 2019 9:49 pm

        They wouldn’t ban old cars, they would just increase road tax relative to emissions so high that no one could afford to run a petrol/diesel car.

        I think I’ll buy a tractor when I retire.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        June 6, 2019 1:48 pm

        Old cars are tax free. And MOT free. And if you want to beat the London low emission charge with a truck, use one from 1972 or earlier. Bring back classic trucks.

  12. mwhite permalink
    June 5, 2019 8:00 pm

    “Ford Bridgend: Closure fears for town’s engine plant”

    What idiot is going to make combustion engines in a country that wants to ban them?

    They aren’t too bright at the top are they?

  13. June 5, 2019 8:09 pm

    Reality hurts. We need to get some real, independent engineers in charge and get rid of anybody who is in anyway associated with anything ‘green’. We need that green swamp draining fast.

  14. Harry Passfield permalink
    June 5, 2019 8:42 pm

    If any one of the elements required to produce batteries required fracking to produce them I wonder what the PTB would say…(Deben would probably buy shares in fracking equipment).

  15. A C Osborn permalink
    June 5, 2019 9:10 pm

    What do they think these requirements would do to world prices.

    I almost stopped reading when they said ” “The urgent need to cut CO2 emissions to secure the future of our planet is clear”.
    No it isn’t.

  16. June 5, 2019 9:35 pm

    This is a smart stance.
    Like Bjorn Lomborg these scientists have accepted that demon CO2, the human produced portion, is the magic climate control knob.
    Thus they can’t be dismissed as climate deniers.
    Therefore their logical & reasonable logistical concerns need to be addressed.
    Perhaps we should all be forwarding their article to our MPs?
    John Doran.

  17. Neil Hampshire permalink
    June 6, 2019 7:19 am

    Delighted to see some scientists are putting the size of the challenge into simple numbers.

    There is another elephant in the room!

    China emits about 10,800 Mte of CO2 per year.
    (That is 29.6 Mte of CO2 per DAY)

    The Paris agreement allows them to INCREASE their emissions to 13,000 Mte of CO2 per year.

    The UK emits 360 Mte of CO2 per YEAR.

    If we were able to make the UK carbon neutral TOMORROW.

    China would put all that CO2 back into the atmosphere in just over 12 DAYS!

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      June 6, 2019 9:27 am

      Neil, I’m going to put that in an email to my MP and ask him if he intends to vote for Zero-C, and also ask him what he thinks it will achieve. (Bet he says we will be showing leadership!)

    • Kestrel27 permalink
      June 6, 2019 6:20 pm

      It appears that this particular room is full of large and very visible elephants that greens and, more sadly, Government ministers can’t or won’t see. Whether this is down to delusion or intellectual dishonesty I’m not sure.

  18. June 6, 2019 7:40 am

    But, but . . . . . clean energy, zero emissions vehicles. Green zealots get all their greatest ideas from a unicorn’s backside.

  19. JimG permalink
    June 6, 2019 9:15 am

    I wonder why the Museum writers were so polite. They quoted the CCC “Last month, the Committee on Climate Change published a report ‘Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming’ which concluded that ‘net zero is necessary, feasible and cost effective.’ and then go on to show that NetZero is not feasible and horrendously expensive (never mind parroting the ‘necessary’ part without any proof). So CCC report was a pile of fermented compost, and the Museum writers should have called the CCC to task for it.

  20. Dave Ward permalink
    June 6, 2019 10:48 am

    @ hsabin – June 5, 2019 10:06 pm

    Reminds me of the time a Korean pilot defected to the West in an elderly Mig 15 fighter. Apparently the engineers & technicians studying his aircraft couldn’t believe how dated it was – still using valve technology. But their delight at “Western superiority” quickly evaporated when an old hand pointed out that it would continue flying after an EMP attack, unlike their newer electronically controlled machines…

    @ Joe Public June 5, 2019 11:49 pm

    Thanks, how very apt! But if our current breed of highway “engineers” (and I use the term loosely) have anything to do with a future war, the enemy will be totally confused by endless road closures and lengthy diversions around empty work sites…

  21. Up2snuff permalink
    June 6, 2019 8:55 pm

    Reality starts to hit the rotary ventilation aid . . . …

  22. James Broadhurst permalink
    June 10, 2019 1:54 am

    Your estimate of a 20% increase in generating capacity assumes that all these cars are charged in an unlikely and benign manner. If, as seems likely, the charging curve follows the current demand pattern with a peak at 1800 hrs then the required increase in capacity is unattainable.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: