Renewable energy transition

Governments around the world have developed

some ambitious goals for a transition to renewable energy

  • Aluminium (including its key constituent, bauxite)
  • Copper
  • Cobalt
  • Iron
  • Lithium
  • Manganese
  • Nickel
  • Platinum (the platinum group of metals)
  • Rare Earth Elements (REEs) including cadmium, molybdenum, neodymium, and indium
  • Silver
  • Titanium
  • Zinc
What green minerals are in New Zealand?

New Zealand has the potential to supply many of the minerals required for a low emissions future.

In 2018, a mineral potential study, commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), found possible areas of lithium, nickel-cobalt and rare earth minerals – also known as “green minerals”.

The study concluded there was a high potential for lithium along the West Coast and the Taupō volcanic range, nickel-cobalt in Tasman-Marlborough and Southland, and rare earth elements on the West Coast.

The table below shows the minerals required for a selection of green technologies and which ones New Zealand has potential to supply.

New Zealand potential contribution for selected green technologies
Iron Steel Lithium Nickel Cobalt REEs
Wind turbine manufacturing
Solar photovoltaic installations
Carbon capture and storage installations
LED manufacturing
Electric vehicle manufacturing
Lithium-ion batteries
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Areas of green mineral potential
Rare Earth Nickel-Cobalt Lithium
On public conservation land 10,029 km²
6,041 km²
10,367 km²
Outside public conservation land 2,621 km²
2,759 km²
5,294 km²
Total 12,650 km² 8,799 km² 15,661 km²
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Rare earth elements

The 17 metals known as the rare earth elements (REEs) are central to green and advanced technologies.

REEs are, in fact, not rare, although they are not common. The term derives from the 1400s, when “rare” meant unusual or strange, and “earth” describes the appearance of REE oxides. The REEs are mostly heavy metals, similar in weight to platinum, gold, and lead. To complete the 17, the lighter scandium and yttrium are included, having similar chemical properties to the other REEs.

What are REEs used for?

High-tech uses for REEs include:

  • Magnets, such as for wind turbines (neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium)
  • Batteries, for electric and hybrid vehicles (several kilograms of REEs in each vehicle)
  • Electronics (tantalum)
  • High-performance ceramics (yttrium)
  • Phosphors, used in TVs and energy-efficient lamps (europium, terbium)
  • Refrigerants (gadolinium)
  • Superalloys of steel (scandium)
  • Catalysts (cerium, tantalum). These metals are technology performance improvers where space is at a premium - in computer hard drives, mobile phones, superconductors, capacitors, hearing aids, pacemakers, lasers, optics, GPS systems, electromagnets.
Where do REEs come from?

REEs are formed in uncommon types of volcanic rock. Geological processes are usually necessary to concentrate them into mineable deposits. Erosion and weathering of source rock is one avenue, with material carried down rivers and deposited as sediment. Being heavy, REEs accumulate at places where lighter material is carried away, as is the case for alluvial gold.

REEs may be mined as a low cost by-product of mining for other metals, such as iron oxide, copper and gold.

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