Harnessing Critical Minerals for Sustainable Development in Nigeria’s Clean Energy Sector

Clean Technology Hub
6 min readMar 22, 2024

Curated by Clean Technology Hub on March, 2024

Written By Victor I. Fagorite, PhD and Victor Omefe

Despite its economic power, Nigeria, like many developing countries, faces significant challenges in energy production and access. This “Giant of Africa’’ struggles to meet its energy needs. The nation relies heavily on fossil fuels like crude oil, natural gas and coal for both revenue and energy generation. While these resources have traditionally formed the backbone of Nigeria’s energy sector, this dependence comes at a cost. Over-reliance on fossil fuels contributes to a high carbon footprint, which negatively impacts the climate..

In 2020, the World Bank estimates that, of the country’s 208 million people, “only 55.4% have access to electricity.” Consequently, energy inaccessibility negatively impacts economic development. At the United Nations climate change conference (COP26) held in Glasgow in November 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari repeated Nigeria’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2060. Following this, Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo launched Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan (ETP) on August 24, 2022, further establishing the country’s plans to reach a net-zero emissions energy system by 2060. The Nigerian government created the Energy Transition Plan (ETP) to achieve net-zero emissions for the country’s energy use. This data-driven plan outlines a timeline for reducing emissions in five key sectors: power, cooking, oil and gas, transportation, and industry.

Energy transition is defined by Smil (2017) as “the change in the composition (structure) of primary energy supply, the gradual shift from a specific pattern of energy provision to a new state of an energy system.” Energy transition also refers to the global shift from reliance on fossil fuels to the adoption of renewable and low-carbon energy sources. This change involves a fundamental recalibration of energy production, distribution, and consumption systems. The primary motivations behind this transition include the need to address climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance energy security, and promote sustainable development.

A clean energy-powered system is fundamentally different from one that relies on traditional hydrocarbon resources. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy technologies often rely on specific minerals for their production, such as lithium for batteries and rare earth elements for wind turbines. This presents a unique challenge for countries transitioning to clean energy.

Therefore, Nigeria’s vast reserves of critical minerals become crucial in this context. With 44 different types of minerals in commercial quantities, many vital for clean energy technologies, Nigeria has the potential to be a key player in the global energy transition. By leveraging this natural resource advantage, Nigeria can not only ensure its own clean energy future but also become a strategic supplier for the global renewable energy market.

By definition, critical minerals are minerals that are essential to modern-day technologies, including renewable electricity, batteries, electronics, and electric vehicles. What is defined as a critical mineral is usually determined by the mineral’s strategic importance to a country, as well as the availability of supply, the demand, and the existence of viable substitutes. For instance, while table salt was once considered a critical mineral, today, many critical minerals are metals essential to high-tech industries.

Dr. Oladele Alake, Nigeria’s Minister of Solid Minerals Development, has highlighted Nigeria’s valuable solid minerals deposits, estimated at over $700 billion. This demonstrates Nigeria’s preparedness to contribute significantly to meeting the global demand for critical minerals.

Speaking at a special session during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the minister emphasised Nigeria’s mineral wealth, positioning it among the top 10 global players in the energy sector. The session, titled “From Critical Minerals to Energy Transition: Africa in the Driver’s Seat,” organised by the Corporate Council of Africa, focused on Africa’s potential to lead the global energy transition, driven by critical minerals.

He further highlighted Nigeria’s significant role in the global energy landscape, historically as a major oil exporter and a key supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe during the Russia-Ukraine crisis. He emphasised the increasing importance of minerals in the context of new energy sources, electric vehicles, and energy storage, noting that this trend is irreversible. He also stressed the world’s shift towards a lower-carbon future, with a focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors.

Although Nigeria may not have a robust mining history compared to some African neighbours, the minister pointed out that the nation is poised for change, citing the presence of the critical minerals, which have substantial potential in advancing clean energy technologies and are essential for achieving a sustainable energy future in Nigeria. Thus, the uses of some of the key minerals and their presence in Nigeria are described (see Table 1).

Lithium: This mineral is crucial for the production of lithium-ion batteries, which are essential for storing energy from renewable sources like solar and wind, enabling the production of clean energy. The government of Nigeria aims to develop the entire value chain for lithium, from ore extraction to the production of lithium hydroxide.

Zinc: Zinc is used in the production of zinc-air batteries, which can be used for energy storage in renewable energy systems.

Rare Earth Elements: Rare earth elements are critical components in the magnets used in wind turbines and electric vehicle motors, supporting the production of clean energy.

Lead: Lead is an essential material with significant importance in various sectors such as transportation, electrification, technological advancement, and supply chain security. It also contributes to the achievement of recycling targets. The metal plays a pivotal role in supporting a variety of low-carbon technologies essential for meeting the world’s objectives of achieving net zero emissions.

Manganese: Manganese is a key component in lithium-ion batteries, which is widely used in electric vehicles and energy storage systems for renewable energy. Manganese helps improve the stability and energy density of lithium-ion batteries, making them more efficient and reliable for storing renewable energy.

Tantalite, Tin, and Nickel: Tantalum, renowned for its durability and corrosion resistance, occupies a pivotal role in modern technology, particularly in mobile phones and lithium-ion batteries. It is widely recognized for its application in compact, lightweight capacitors with high capacitance. Conversely, tin finds its niche in clean energy, primarily utilised in solder for creating electrical connections. Notably, soldering alone accounts for close to 50% of the global demand for tin. Meanwhile, nickel assumes a critical position in the transition to clean energy, being indispensable for various renewable energy technologies and battery manufacturing. Nickel serves as a primary cathode material in lithium-ion batteries, which are essential components of energy storage systems for renewable energy sources.

Table 1: Location of Key Clean Energy Minerals in Nigeria

Fig. 1. Map of Nigeria indicating locations of Critical Clean Energy Minerals

Source: https://ngsa.gov.ng/

From all indications, it is clear that Nigeria’s energy landscape is undergoing a transformative shift towards cleaner and more sustainable practices. Despite facing challenges in energy production and access, the country has shown a strong commitment to embracing clean energy technologies.

The Energy Transition Plan, coupled with the abundant reserves of critical minerals like lithium, rare earth elements, platinum group minerals, nickel, and zinc, positions Nigeria as a key player in the global energy transition. These minerals are vital for the production of renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles, highlighting Nigeria’s potential to become a leader in clean energy innovation.

As Nigeria continues on its path towards a low-carbon future, it is essential for the government, private sector, and civil society to collaborate effectively. By investing in infrastructure, technology, and policy frameworks that support clean energy development, Nigeria can unlock its full potential and contribute significantly to global efforts to combat climate change.

The journey towards a sustainable energy future will not be without its challenges, but Nigeria’s rich mineral resources and determination to succeed make it well-positioned to overcome these obstacles. By seizing the opportunities presented by the energy transition, Nigeria can drive economic growth, improve energy access, and protect the environment for future generations.

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