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Resourcing the clean energy revolution

Keeping Scotland's place as a global leader in the energy industry

The last decade has seen the start of a global clean energy revolution, and with abundant natural resources and globally-recognised offshore industries, Scotland is well positioned to be an international leader in renewable energy. Scotland’s world-leading climate change targets now incorporate the aim of supplying 50% of the energy for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2030. But what about the materials needed to make this happen?

What do we mean by energy infrastructure?

This is the physical materials used to generate, store and distribute energy. Put simply, this means the nuts, bolts, pipes, wires, and pumps involved in supplying both electricity and heat to our homes and businesses.

All available research shows that moving to a world powered by clean technologies will result in a greater materials demand than would be needed by relying on traditional fossil fuel mechanisms. From rare earth elements employed in wind turbine generators and critical raw materials in lithium-ion batteries, to the thousands of tonnes of steel and concrete used in offshore energy installations, demand for metals in particular will increase as we strive to meet climate change targets.

Employing a circular approach to energy infrastructure not only safeguards against future raw resource shortages, but also accounts for the greenhouse gas emissions that are embodied into materials during their manufacture and deployment, during their uses, and at the end of their useful life.

Key sectors we are focussing on include:

Wind turbines

The first onshore wind farms installed in Scotland in the mid-1990s are now being considered for decommissioning; many of the first generation of turbines will be replaced by bigger, more powerful models. Concurrently, Scotland's offshore wind industry is set for explosive growth in the next decade, with 8 GW deployment target by 2030 and innovation in floating wind.

We are working with Scotland's supply chain to maximise the economic value of the materials in the wind sector by producing material forecasts and also supporting SMEs such as Renewable Parts and ACT Blade.

Primary manufacturing is currently largely based overseas but considering carbon impacts of materials used in construction, as well as ongoing maintenance, could help both reduce emissions and also help influence the market for local businesses. Improving the circularity of end of life is also key for this sector.

Our work shows there will be 150,000 tonnes of blade waste generated in Scotland by 2050, a material that is currently not recycled at any scale.

Energy storage

The increasing role of renewables in the electricity grid and the move to clean transport will both need to be supported by large-scale electricity storage. This, in itself, presents a resource challenge, particularly around the many types of critical raw materials needed to manufacture batteries. We are supporting companies involved in developing a second-life market for energy storage solutions, and building an evidence-base to better support future policy in this area.

An important new collaboration between Zero Waste Scotland, Transport Scotland and Scottish Enterprise aims to assess the issues and opportunities for Scotland which batteries present. The first research outputs from this partnership examines battery use now, and in the future, and look at the policy decisions that will affect their wider environmental and economic impact. It shows that battery waste is predicted to triple over the next 25 years as demand grows across all sectors, potentially reaching over 60,000 tonnes per year in Scotland by 2045. It is expected that 40% of the battery waste in 2050 could be spent electric vehicle batteries

Oil and gas

At least 60% of the oil and gas platforms in the Northern and Central North Sea will be decommissioned by 2030, topsides alone representing some 950,000 tonnes of materials. We're working with key industry players and their supply chains to improve the fate of these resources once they reach the end of their operational life at sea.

Along with partners from Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Government, Decom North Sea, and Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, we are working with The RSA to run a student design competition focussed on the reuse of steel from decommissioned oil platforms.

Renewable technologies including heat

Also within scope of our work are other renewable electricity generation technologies (solar PV, tidal, wave), transmission networks and low carbon heat delivery. We are looking at the materials impacts of future model shifts, for example the role of electrification and hydrogen to supply future heat and transport needs, and support businesses looking at circularity in any of these areas.

Zero Waste Scotland's role

Zero Waste Scotland is supporting projects in Scotland that increase the circularity of energy infrastructure and is working to highlight the importance of materials re-use in this sector. For example, we've worked with Renewable Parts Ltd to build a workshop that refurbishes and reuses components from wind turbines, preventing huge volumes of metals and specialist parts from being scrapped or sent to landfill.

We work alongside the enterprise agencies and other business support organisations to facilitate the delivery of targeted support and inspire collaborations between businesses.

We directly support developing businesses through our Circular Economy Business Support Service, which provides access to expertise and resources in order to help businesses implement the ideas for new processes, products or technologies. Innovative projects led by SMEs may also be able to access support through our Circular Economy Investment Fund.

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