News from RICE University

Energy transition requires new investments in ‘Minerals Heartland’

HOUSTON – (Jan. 9, 2023) – The transition from legacy energy sources to sustainable sources will require an enormous amount of resources in the form of energy, minerals, metals and other materials — as well as new supply chains, infrastructure, human talent and financial commitments, according to a new report from an expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Ahead of attending this week’s Future Minerals Forum, Michelle Michot Foss has authored a knowledge paper on the future of the “Minerals Heartland.” Saudi Arabia, the host of the forum, is directly in the middle of this heartland and is poised to become a hub for strategic and critical metals and minerals, according to the paper.

The rush to accelerate adoption of “new energies” such as wind, solar and battery-enabled electrification of transport has run up against the realities of what raw materials we already use and what will be required for that execution, Michot Foss argues. Investments can only proceed at a pace that current critical supply chains can support — meaning the global market needs new resource centers and logistics pathways, she explains.


The Minerals Heartland, comprising Africa through the Middle East and into Central Asia, would add much-needed resource diversity to global supply chains, Michot Foss argues. This area represents an important cradle for the future global resource base; it has most if not all of Earth’s critical minerals necessary for the energy transition, as well as other commodities.

“With its rich geology and trading and commerce connections built over centuries, the Minerals Heartland should hold a larger share of worldwide non-fuel minerals output,” she wrote. “Heartland countries continue to face huge development challenges. Thus, the ‘Future Minerals Heartland’ can only be a magnet for capital flows if sovereign resource owners meet key preconditions: infrastructure, oversight, young populations and centers of excellence.”

To accomplish this, the governments of many Heartland countries must improve their roads and ports — and their accompanying governance — as well as education, training and skills development for the general population, Michot Foss argues. Centers of excellence will require both government and industry to create effective clusters of supply and value chains, as well as hone human talent and emerging advanced technologies.

Establishing and growing these centers and supply chains will also take a lot of money, she explains. While green energy and green materials are popular concepts, the accompanying capital-intensive, risk-filled industries are not, she said.

“By every measure, the hundreds of trillions in alternative energy investment will require hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions, more for raw materials, processing and associated logistics and other inputs,” Michot Foss wrote.