The International Energy Agency (IEA) is launching a programme to secure the supply of critical minerals as industry control is increasingly consolidated around a small number of key players.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, said that energy transition technologies such as electric vehicles (EVs) and solar panels rely on minerals such as lithium, cobalt and copper. On Tuesday, he said the IEA will focus most of its attention on this area.

“It is the reason we are embarking on a critical minerals security programme,” he said. “Currently, we are A, not able to keep up with the demand, and B, the ability of manufacturing these critical minerals is concentrated in one single country or two.”

The programme will be modelled upon the IEA’s oil security mechanism, which requires member countries to hold 90 days’ worth of oil stocks that can be released in case of global supply disruptions.

According to a US Aerospace Industries Association paper from last year, China is the main producer of 30 out of 50 critical materials and is the world’s top miner and processor of rare earths.

China also holds a pivotal position on critical mineral supply chains. Speaking at the Resourcing Tomorrow 2023 mining conference in London last December, Michal Meidan, director at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said: “China’s industrial policies to develop these technologies are decades old and the nation has developed an expansive global presence in the entire value chain of extraction of the ores overseas. If you look at the supply chains, whether it is EVs or batteries, there is a strong China component throughout them. This is in extraction and obviously processing, where China has 80–100% control of some processing supply chains.”

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The country placed curbs on exports of germanium and gallium last year in an effort to obtain further dominance of the market.

Demand for minerals and China’s strategic manoeuvres have prompted the IEA to look at security of supply, with geopolitics remaining a key consideration.