SURFER: Assessing the feasibility of the energy transition in France

The SURFER project, which required four years of research, brought together BRGM, CNRS and ADEME to assess France’s requirements in raw materials, energy, water and soil for the energy transition in France covering the period 2015-2050.
10 September 2021
Piles of salt in the Uyuni Salt Salt Flat, salt desert and the world's largest lithium deposit.

Piles of salt in the Uyuni Salt Salt Flat, salt desert and the world's largest lithium deposit (Bolivia, 2012).

© Vladimir Melnik – Fotolia

Coordinated by BRGM in partnership with CNRS-ISTerre and co-financed by ADEME, the SURFER project provides some answers concerning the feasibility of the French energy transition in terms of the resulting mineral, energy, water and soil requirements.

The objectives of this 4-year project were to:

  • make the data on material requirements more reliable by searching for the most relevant data,
  • pinpoint the lack of representativeness of data where appropriate,
  • select certain sub-technologies according to the availability of data,
  • assess energy, water and soil requirements,
  • assess supply-line risks.
Copper cathodes from the Las Cruces mine

Copper cathodes from the Las Cruces mine (Spain).

© BRGM - Guillaume Bertrand

Which materials and minerals does France need for its energy transition?

The energy transition of European countries requires an ambitious change in the energy mix to reduce carbon emissions, leading in turn to a greater proportion of renewable energies, the use of electricity for transport and also a reduction in certain energy-intensive items, particularly for buildings.

This transition will not be neutral either in terms of demand for structural materials (steel, concrete, copper, aluminium) or in terms of rare metals (cobalt and lithium for batteries, certain rare earths for the generators of some types of wind turbines, etc.), hence the initial question behind the project and one that several countries are also asking themselves: will the energy transition replace the dependence on fossil fuels and fissile fuels with a dependence on metals?

An inventory of the mineral, energy, water and soil requirements of energy transition technologies

The main outcome of this project was the publication, in May 2021, of a report characterising the “material intensities” of the main technologies of the energy system (electricity and heat production systems, electric vehicles, electricity and heating networks).

The material intensities correspond to the amount of mineral matter (for about ten substances) as well as the water, energy and soil mobilised for a given energy performance.

This report is the result of an extensive survey of the existing literature (more than 200 references analysed). It has sought to make the data more reliable, to warn of any lack of representativeness and to distinguish between sub-technologies.

Subsequently, these material intensities could be used to estimate the flows and stocks of material mobilised under different energy scenarios and to study the corresponding supply-line risks.