American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • As Biden Administration Doubles Down on EV Adoption Push, U.S. Must Double Down on Comprehensive “All-of-the-Above” Critical Minerals Strategy

    The Biden Administration has announced the “most aggressive” plan to curb tailpipe emissions to date, with new vehicle pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and announced by the White House last week.

    If finalized, the proposed rules would require automakers to reduce carbon emissions by 56% in their 2032 models compared to 2026 models.  The expectation is that with the rules in place, 67% of new light-duty car purchases will be electric by 2032.

    The move comes at a time when geopolitical and trade tensions between the United States and our allies on one hand, and China on the other are soaring, and observers argue that the ambitious plans could play into Beijing’s hands.

    While the United States has taken several important steps to decouple its critical mineral supply chains from China, Beijing, having systematically built out its dominance across the entire value chain from mining over processing to manufacturing, still has a chokehold on the EV battery supply chain, and the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report confirmed that for all of the recent U.S. policy efforts, our dependencies still persist.

    In case anyone needed a reminder, here is an infographic from last November, compiled by our friends at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence clearly visualizing China’s dominance of the battery supply chain.

    Image 10-31-22 at 10.59 AM

    The Biden Administration has, in recent weeks, stepped up its friend-shoring initiatives to bolster U.S. supply chains, with recent trade deliberations having yielded a free trade Critical Minerals agreement with Tokyo and a likely similar accord between the U.S. and EU. U.S.-Canadian critical minerals cooperation has also seen a boost.

    Embedded into a comprehensive “All of the Above” strategy, these friend-shoring initiatives can play an important role in strengthening critical mineral supply chains.  And yet there are mounting concerns that the Biden Administration, in spite of verbal affirmations of wanting to responsibly expand domestic resource development and processing, continues to cater to the “not-in-my-backyard” sentiment, which still runs strong in discussions on resource development.

    This brings us back to the “inherent irony” or “paradox of the green revolution” Reuters columnist Andy Home has invoked in several instances when covering critical mineral resource supply chains for the very materials underpinning the green energy transition — the paradox that “public opinion is firmly in favour of decarbonisation but not the mines and smelters needed to get there.”

    It’s not that there is a lack of promising domestic resource development projects, especially for the Battery Criticals — lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese.

    ARPN recently looked at each of these materials, now deemed under President Biden’s DPA determination to be “essential to the national defense,” and the U.S.-based projects working to urgently needed new supply into production. [See our discussions linked here: LithiumCobaltGraphiteNickelManganese]

    And let’s not forget copper, which has increasingly been recognized – most recently by the EU — as a critical raw material in light of its key role in the green energy transition, and for which a push to have the metal added to the U.S. Government Critical Minerals List is currently underway.

    As ARPN has previously pointed out, lofty goals of net carbon neutrality – and that includes the just released proposed EPA emission standards –  will not be achievable if we don’t embrace a push to secure critical mineral supply chains from “soup to nuts” to borrow a term used by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

    After all, as we’ve noted often at ARPN, the first word in supply chain is… supply.

  • Strengthening the Supply Chains for the “Fuel of the Green Revolution” – A Look at Lithium

    Sometimes hailed the “fuel of the green revolution,” lithium has been the posterchild of the “battery criticals.”  Start with the fact that the leading battery technology underpinning the shift towards net zero carbon emissions is called “lithium-ion.” With its high electrochemical potential and light weight, the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery has transformed and accelerated the renewables shift.  Lithium is a key component of the battery cathode, and the EV market and demand for renewable energy storage are key drivers for soaring lithium demand.

    Meanwhile, as global lithium production has quadrupled since 2010, the U.S. share of production has dropped significantly. Once the largest producer of lithium in the 1990s, the United States’ share of production has dropped to 1 percent of the global total, as Australia, Chile and China dominate the field.

    As we previously pointed out, China may only account for 13% of total production, but It has not only consistently developed domestic mining capabilities — it has also acquired lithium assets in countries like Chile, Canada and Australia, and, one link down the lithium supply chain, it is now home to 60% of global refining capacity. In light of skyrocketing demand projections, the country has stepped up its involvement in the electric game, and has recently beat out automaker Tesla in a bid to mine for lithium in Nigeria.

    As for the United States, according to the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries“[c]ommercial-scale lithium production […] was from one continental brine operation in Nevada. Lithium was also commercially produced from the brine-sourced waste tailings of a Utah-based magnesium producer. Two companies produced a wide range of downstream lithium compounds in the United States from domestic or imported lithium carbonate, lithium chloride, and lithium hydroxide.”

    Big picture, the U.S. simply cannot realize its aspirations to be a global player in the renewable revolution while producing 1% of worldwide lithium supply.

    Efforts to strengthen the lithium supply chain are underway. Followers of ARPN are aware of the green energy-related provisions of 2021 congressional infrastructure package, as well as the 2022 invocation of the Defense Production Act for lithium and the battery criticals and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

    [Lithium is the latest in ARPN’s feature series reviewing the battery criticals against the backdrop of the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries. View our posts on graphitemanganesecobalt, and nickel.]   

    In January of this year, the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) announced a conditional commitment to Ioneer to advance the domestic production of lithium and boron at its Rhyolite Ridge project.

    Rhyolite Ridge would become the second lithium mine in the United States, but – while DOE is providing a 9-digit loan guarantee – the project is still pending approval from DOI, the Department of the Interior, where it is mired in the inherent irony of the green energy transition, with environmentalists opposing the project on grounds that Thiem’s buckwheat, a rare wildflower found on the proposed mine site, was added to the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only a few weeks ago.   We have seen this paradox elsewhere. As Reuters columnist Andy Home phrased it“public opinion is firmly in favour of decarbonisation but not the mines and smelters needed to get there.”

    Also in January, General Motors announced that it would jointly invest with Lithium Americas Corp. to develop the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada, which is the largest known source of lithium in the United States, and is considered the third largest in the world.  With a $650 million equity investment, this would represent the “largest investment by an automakers to produce battery raw materials” in GM’s own words. Under the agreement, GM will have exclusive access to the lithium once the investment is complete. The company expects that once the mine is operational in the second half of 2026, the batteries bearing Rhyolite Ridge lithium could power up to 1 million EVs.

    Not surprisingly, the Thacker Mine, too, is embroiled in a high stakes legal battle, with environmentalists and tribal leaders attempting to block the project near the Oregon line.  Just last week, however, a federal judge – for the third time in two years – sided with the Biden Administration and Lithium Americas, denying the opposition’s request for an emergency injunction until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals can hear their latest appeal.  Based on the judge’s decision, construction could begin as early as this week.

    In addition to projects pursuing lithium as a primary material, Rio Tinto’s U.S. Borax Mine in California has recovered lithium from 90-year old waste piles.  The effort has leveraged a public-private partnership linking Rio Tinto with DOE’s Critical Materials Institute, to work through processing challenges.  It’s the kind of unconventional thinking that finds a 21st Century tech material in the mine tailings of the 1920s, turning a “waste stream” into a “work stream” in a world hungry for lithium.

    Achieving global (and domestic) decarbonization goals while at the same time strengthening our supply chains and reducing our over-reliance on critical minerals from China will require a comprehensive “all of the above” approach across the entire value chain, and,  ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has consistently  pointed out“we don’t have the luxury of time” anymore.

  • Critical in Spite of “Relatively Benign Supply Profile?” A Look at Nickel

    When it comes to the metals and minerals underpinning the green energy transition, and specifically the EV battery revolution, much of the spotlight has fallen on lithium — and for good reason, as we will discuss in a forthcoming post.  However, as ARPN’s latest review of the “battery criticals” against the backdrop of the just-released latest iteration of [...]
  • Visualizing the Lithium Challenge – Time to Strengthen the Domestic Supply Chain

    As part of the Biden Administration’s efforts to bolster U.S. critical mineral supply chains, and specifically the battery supply chain, the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) has announced a conditional commitment to Ioneer Rhyolite Ridge to advance the domestic production of lithium and boron. Under the conditional commitment, the LPO would lend up to $700 [...]
  • Go West – A Look at the Western World in the Context of the Post-Cold War Critical Mineral Realignment

    As world leaders continue to deliberate on the new realities of the post-Cold War world order in Davos this week,  ARPN takes a second look at the realignment underway in the minerals sector.  In this post, we shift our focus to the West, where the “Three Amigos Summit,” as the trilateral North American Leaders’ Summit between the prime minister [...]
  • 2022 – ARPN’s YEAR IN REVIEW

      2022 surely was as fast-paced a year as they come. Didn’t we just throw overboard our New Year’s Resolutions?  We blinked, and it’s time for another review of what has happened in the past twelve months. So with no further ado, here is ARPN’s annual attempt to take stock of what has happened on the [...]
  • Canada Releases Critical Minerals Strategy Embedded in Geopolitical “Friend-Shoring” Context

    As geopolitical and economic stakes mount, the urgency to build out secure critical mineral supply chains is increasingly resonating with policymakers around the world.  Acknowledging that “[c]ritical minerals are not just the building blocks of clean technology like solar panels and electric vehicle batteries – they are a key ingredient for creating middle class jobs and growing [...]
  • Canada’s New Critical Mineral Investment Rules for State-Owned Entities Harden Already-Drawn “Geopolitical Battle-Lines in the Metals Sector”

    Within days of Canada outlining new investment stipulations for state-owned entities aimed at protecting the country’s critical minerals sector, the Canadian government last week told three Chinese resource companies to divest their interests in Canadian critical mineral firms. Basing the decision on “facts and evidence and on the advice of critical minerals subject matter experts, Canada’s [...]
  • New Publication Alert – Metal Tech News Releases Comprehensive 2022 North American Primer on Critical Minerals

    Shane Lasley is known to followers of ARPN for his stellar reporting on critical mineral resource issues from an Alaskan perspective.  Today, his Metal Tech News project has published the second iteration of what may just be the most comprehensive North American primer on critical minerals: Critical Minerals Alliances 2022 is a magazine covering 29 metals and minerals (when counting rare [...]
  • Congress “Net-Zeroes” in on Energy Security, Supply Chains for Critical Minerals – A Look at the Inflation Reduction Act

    As countries and corporations continue the global quest towards net zero carbon emissions, the U.S. Congress has passed what some consider landmark legislation to address climate change and bolster our nation’s economic and national security. The clean energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act negotiated by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) — [...]