As we have outlined, last month’s executive order on critical minerals could have far-reaching implications for our national security and economic wellbeing. If you needed a case in point – look no further than Lithium.
One of the hottest commodities of the day, Lithium, as ARPN expert panel member and managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, Simon Moores recently outlined, “is coming of age in a big way. It’s the core ingredient to 99 percent of electric vehicles and as a result, demand is going through the roof.”
Meanwhile, China has long been jockeying for pole position in the EV industry segment, and is “outpacing the U.S. and other countries in a global race to secure supplies of [Lithium - ] an all-important element for electric cars.”
In global terms, Moores’s company sees a 10-fold increase in the industry’s demand profile over a ten-year timeframe. Currently, Lithium supplies are largely sourced from Chile, Argentina and Australia, and processed into battery grade material in China and the U.S.
Against the backdrop of surging demand, a few months ago, professor emeritus of mining engineering at the University of Nevada, Jaak Daemen, lamented that the reason the U.S. was unprepared to meet demand was not a lack of resources, but rather “a regulatory approach that endlessly delays bringing mines in production.”
The executive order may help change that.
Nevada is one of the states with known Lithium reserves. As the Las Vegas Sun recently outlined, “[b]uoyed by Nevada’s enormous potential reserve of lithium and the opening of Tesla’s Gigafactory nearly 200 miles to the north, 25 mining companies and investor-backed speculators have staked more than 13,000 placer claims, covering almost the entirety of the Clayton Valley and 18 hydrographic basins.”
Meanwhile, much of these companies’ activities in the state are still exploratory, and as Jim Faulds, geologist and director of the Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada in Reno has pointed out, “Lithium has not been studied in much detail in Nevada to really understand how much might be out there.”
As a direct consequence of the executive order, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has already signed a secretarial order directing initial steps to producing the first nationwide geological and topographical survey of the U.S. in modern history, and in doing so marking a first step towards “really understanding how much might be out there” – not just Lithium and not just in Nevada, but materials across the critical minerals spectrum and across the United States. Coupled with other reforms outlined by the executive order, including permitting reform which has hampered domestic mineral resource development for too long, this survey may help yield a comprehensive federal action plan that can significantly reduce our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources.
While it is unlikely that the U.S. will become self-sufficient for its Lithium needs, there is no good reason why we should not harness our domestic resource potential to the fullest extent possible, and in doing so make the U.S. stronger, more competitive, and safer.