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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Critical raw minerals for Australia’s ‘just’ energy transition

To mitigate the effects of climate change, the world will need to rapidly shift to renewable energy sources. However, these technologies are typically more mineral intensive than their fossil fuel counterparts. That is, the world is expected to need four times more minerals in 2040 for low-carbon energy than currently used today. Australia is positioned to play a key role in the supply of critical minerals, endowed with significant copper deposits required for renewable energy. Whilst increased mineral extraction may come at a socio-environmental cost, consideration of distributional, procedural and restorative (recognitional) justice tenets can ultimately facilitate an equitable, deliberative and representative energy transition, respectively. Moreover, Australia’s recent commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 hinges on the large-scale deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind energy, with a historic dependence on fossil fuels adding to the complexities of enabling a ‘just’ transition.

The objective of this research is to evaluate the wider system implications of copper required for Australia’s energy transition, and how this can be achieved in a just and sustainable manner. As such, a Sankey diagram representing Australia’s copper flows in a 2050 scenario is utilised to determine mineral availability and potential supply chain constraints. This helped inform the construction of a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) to map system interdependencies, whereby, thematic clustering is used as a tool to categorise feedback mechanisms and identify key leverage points. This emphasised the intricacies of enabling just outcomes from phasing out fossil fuels and sustainably scaling copper production to meet rising renewable energy demand.

Intervention strategies contextualised within the justice tenets provides an ethical framework that balances trade-offs between sustainable development dimensions. This revealed that effective policies and participatory transition planning can help alleviate tensions between incumbent fossil fuel systems, political interests and societal pressure. Additionally, Australia can reduce reliance on raw materials and mitigate environmental degradation by leveraging circular economy approaches to scale recycling infrastructure that meets growing end-of-life (EOL) renewable technologies over the coming decades. Thus, if Australia is to achieve their climate ambitions by 2050, decarbonisation pathways should consider a socio-technical transformation of the structural inequalities pertaining to critical minerals and energy security.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.