Critical Materials: A Barrier to Our Clean Energy Ambitions

Published: February 25, 2023

“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions.”
– Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director

Investing in the decarbonization of our economy involves more than just reducing carbon emissions; it also entails modernizing and rebuilding critical infrastructure that we depend on every day. This infrastructure is responsible for powering our homes, providing heat, transportation, food, and much more. Over the past two decades, the growth of digital technology has been the driving force behind economic growth. However, the next two decades are expected to see a renewed focus on our built environment as we strive to achieve our Net Zero ambitions.

Achieving even the most basic Net Zero goals will require a dramatic increase in the production of batteries, solar farms, wind turbines, pipelines, and sustainable fuels, as well as a complete overhaul of how we produce the core materials we have been using for decades, such as cement, steel, aluminum, and copper. This shift in focus is long overdue, and it will undoubtedly lead to a surge in demand for critical battery materials like Lithium, Cobalt, and Nickel, causing inflation to soar and threatening to reverse the downward price trajectory of batteries.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2040, the demand for these critical materials could grow by as much as 7 – 40 times the current demand levels, depending on the mineral. This level of growth is typically associated with digital technologies, not minerals. Adding to the complexity is the fact that bringing new supply online can take years due to the need for permitting and construction, often in countries like Russia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and China.

The story is similar for core infrastructure materials like cement and steel. The feedstock minerals are plentiful, but the manufacturing process is power hungry and carbon intensive. These two materials combined make up ~15% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) annually. To make matters more challenging, the supply chain and manufacturing of cement and steel are so finely tuned that costs are incredibly low, leaving little room for new technologies to compete without a significant “green premium”.

The opportunity is to roll up our sleeves and innovate.  We need to support investments in fundamental materials science research happening in universities and both the private and public sector. And once we find technologies that work, deploy the scaffolding of scale-up skills, experience, and capital necessary to commercialize these typically capital-intensive technologies. The potential materials innovation market is wide and diverse, ranging from reducing the quantity of materials needed, enhancing the performance of critical materials, replacing with alternative lower cost and lower carbon footprint materials, and/or improving the extraction/production processes.

At Lyten, we are driven by creating disruptive materials that directly target heavy infrastructure and hard-to-abate sectors of the economy. Our approach is to re-imagine carbon’s role in the economy. We take methane as a feedstock and permanently capture the carbon in the form of Lyten 3D Graphene™, a highly reactive and tunable supermaterial that we are testing with a wide range of elements to improve the performance (i.e. strength, weight, conductivity, and/or permeability) of products you use every day and that are critical to decarbonizing the economy.

Lyten’s drive to address the emerging critical materials shortage is a direct result of our carbon Lyten 3D Graphene™ materials being both highly reactive and highly tunable. As a result, we are infusing 3D graphene into sulfur cathodes in an effort to make lithium-sulfur batteries with 50% higher energy density than lithium-ion while using no cobalt or nickel. We are also able to infuse Lyten 3D Graphene™ into polyethylene to make plastics up to 50% lighter weight, utilize less material and deliver a lower carbon footprint. Potentially, our Lyten 3D Graphene™ material may even be infused into metals such as copper, aluminum, and steel to make these alloys retain strength and improve conductivity with less material. In addition, we’ve already identified dozens of additional potential applications and use cases. We are scaling our production capabilities and partnering with Fortune 100 industry leaders with the goal to get more out of the critical materials our economy and society rely on.

With the growing level of transparency into the size and scale of the minerals and materials requirements to reach our Net Zero ambitions, there has never been a better time to be a materials innovator.