American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • As Clean Energy Adoption Reaches “Tipping Point,” the Challenge of Untangling Critical Mineral Supply Chains Looms Larger than Ever

    “Solar power, electric cars, grid-scale batteries, heat pumps—the world is crossing into a mass-adoption moment for green technologies,” writes Tom Randall for Bloomberg.  Citing Bloomberg research, he argues that “clean energy has a tipping point, and 87 countries have reached it.” 

    The mass-adoption of green technologies, as followers of ARPN well know, requires drastically increased amounts of critical minerals, including the Rare Earths and mainstays such as copper, as well as, perhaps most notably, the so-called “battery criticals” lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese — key  inputs for EV battery technology, which is at the heart of the green energy transition.

    Randall writes that the U.S. has passed a “critical EV tipping point: 5% of new car sales powered only by batteries,”and argues that “[i]f the U.S follows the trend established by 18 countries that preceded it, a quarter of new car sales could be electric by the end of 2025.”

    These emerging trend lines, along with the realization that supply chains for many metals and minerals leave us at the mercy of adversary nations like China who control much of the material supplies and processing capabilities, have prompted the Biden Administration and members of Congress to finally give the critical mineral supply chain conundrum ARPN and others have long warned of the attention it deserves.

    Thus, in recent years, stakeholders began taking steps to strengthen domestic supply chains for critical minerals, with the supply chain chaos resulting from coronavirus pandemic and rising geopolitical tensions kicking these efforts into high gear in 2022.

    Much of these efforts have focused on the rare earths and battery criticals, such as the March 2022 Presidential Determination to invoke the Defense Production Act for these materials, which grants the  federal government the authority to direct taxpayer funds to private companies for the extraction of said minerals.

    However, untangling the supply chains is proving more difficult than some would have thought — and new sourcing requirements for the battery criticals contained in the energy provisions of the the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act may have added another layer of complications to an already challenging situation.

    Earlier this summer, a RealClearInvestigations exposé discussed the alleged China connections of a domestic lithium extraction project in Nevada, where, as RealClear’s Steve Miller writes “a Chinese-dominated mining company has procured millions of dollars in American subsidies to extract lithium in the United States – but, given a dearth of U.S. processing capacity, the mineral is likely to be sent to China with no guarantee that the end product would return as batteries to power President Biden’s envisioned green economy.”   U.S. Senator Tom Cotton recently called for additional information from the Department of Energy regarding the alleged China connection of the project, which we  discussed here.

    The Nevada project is is still in the permitting process, but similar scenarios have already unfolded elsewhere, such as in the case of rare earths magnets used in engine parts for F-35 fighter jets, where the U.S. Department of Defense has resorted to granting a waiver for sourcing requirements because at the current time acquisition of parts without Chinese components is not possible.  While the U.S.’s national security imperatives may make a rare earth waiver unavoidable, it should serve to turbo-charge domestic rare earth supply chain development to break the U.S. Armed Services’ Chinese rare earth dependency once and for all.

    In the same vein, as Miller writes discussing the above-referenced project in Nevada, “critics say the scenario would increase U.S. energy dependence on a hostile power – one accused of using forced labor in the manufacture of both lithium batteries and solar panels – and undercuts the Biden administration’s emphasis on domestic sourcing of green energy,” experts have long warned that decoupling supply chains for lithium, for example represents a formidable challenge.

    As Simon Moores, chief executive of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence argued in the wake of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, “[c]onsidering it takes seven years to build a mine and refining plant but only 24 months to build a battery plant, the best part of this decade is needed to establish an entirely new industry in the United States.”

    Both assertions are accurate — yet, as we previously outlined:

    “Senator Cotton’s point [regarding the Nevada project] that questions of foreign control deserve to be fully investigated before the U.S. Government confers funding seems unarguable. Government programs intended to alleviate worrisome foreign resource dependencies should not unwittingly strengthen those dependencies at the expense of the American taxpayer – and American national security.”

    As clean energy adoption reaches a “tipping point,” this is all the more reason for stakeholders to place an even stronger emphasis on formulating and implementing a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” strategy for domestic critical mineral resource supply chain security — today.

  • Not Just the “Battery Criticals” — Green Energy Transition’s Mineral Intensity Requires Broader Focus: A Look at the “Solar Metals”

    Recent media coverage might have you believe critical mineral policy only revolves around the “battery criticals”lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt and manganese, and maybe the frequently referenced, though still somewhat obscure rare earths.  However, as followers of ARPN well know, this is far from the truth.

    The New South Wales Department of Planning and environment has taken a closer look at solar panels, which, just like EV batteries, are at the core of the green energy transition, and outlines the top four metals and minerals that make solar panels work: 

    Copper — a mainstay metal with perhaps unrivaled versatility, lending itself to a wide range of traditional and new applications,  and yields access to other critical minerals as a “gateway metal,” an indispensable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs and wind turbines to the electric grid and solar panels.

    For some of our most recent coverage of Copper, click here.

    Silicon — the most abundant compound in the Earth’s crust, silicon takes the form of ordinary sand, quartz, rock crystal, amethyst, agate, flint, jasper, and opal. To produce pure silicon, the compound is hearted with carbon at extra high temperatures.  The material is used extensively in electronics because of its semiconducting properties. It is used in the manufacture of next-gen 5-nanometer (5nm) semiconductor chips, and is a key component of solar panels and photovoltaic cells.

    For ARPN’s recent coverage of Silicon, click here.

    Silver — By definition a “precious” metal like gold, it may come as a surprise to those who see silver primarily as shiny adornment or a means to store value that the biggest end users of silver may actually be specialized industries. More recently, the metal has evolved from “money metal to techno metal,” as North of 60 Mining News’s Shane Lasley termed it, with its true value lying in “more industrious properties that make it invaluable to high-tech applications such as solar panels, electric vehicles, and 5G networks.”

    For Shane Lasley’s Treatment of Silver in the 2021 issue of “Critical Mineral Alliances” click here.

    Zinc — primarily used in metallurgical applications, zinc is also a Gateway metal, yielding access to “criticals” Indium and Germanium. Today, zinc is also seeing greater application in green energy technology.

    For examples of ARPN coverage of Zinc, click here and here.

    These four may not make the top of the hour news at the moment, but silicon, for example, appears on the Australian and European Union’s critical minerals lists, while zinc, previously not on the U.S. Critical Minerals List, was afforded critical mineral status by the U.S. Government earlier this year, and is also deemed critical by the Canadian government.

    As for copper – which Canada considers a critical mineral – followers of ARPN well know that there are good reasons to include Copper into the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List, and ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has consistently argued in favor of doing so via public comments during the draft process of both the initial 2018List and its 2022 iteration.

    See McGroarty’s public comments on the U.S. Critical Minerals Lists here and here.

    The bottom line is, while people appear to be laser focused on achieving the green energy transition via securing supply chains for the battery criticals and rare earths, the issue is bigger than this limited group of metals and minerals.  With the materials science revolution continuing to yield research breakthroughs at neck-breaking speeds, demand scenarios for metals and minerals will be subject to change.

    It is clear that in the words of Forbes contributor Wal van Lierop, “[w]ithout massive investments in base metals and key minerals, Europe and North America will fail to meet their carbon emission targets and face a new form of energy insecurity,” — but these investments have to be made in the context of a broad-based “all of the above” strategy.  

  • New Report Warns: Looming Copper Shortfall Could Delay Global Shift Away From Fossil Fuels

    The mainstream media and parts of the political establishment may just now have begun to realize it — but followers of ARPN have long known that our nation’s critical mineral woes are real, and go beyond the often discussed battery criticals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and manganese) and include one of the key mainstay metals: [...]
  • The Reorganization of the Post-Cold War Geopolitical Landscape and its Impact on Critical Mineral Supply – A Look at Copper

    Pandemic induced supply chain shocks, increasing resource nationalism in various parts of the world, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exactly one month ago have brought the stakes for securing critical mineral resource supply chains to a whole new level. The emerging geopolitical landscape has sent countries scrambling to devise strategies to not only ensure steady [...]
  • “Mining Sector Workhorse” Can “Pull America’s EV Ambition Cart”

    At the 2021 Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow, Scotland this November, several automakers joined scores of territories and countries, signing a commitment calling on automakers to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040. In light of this development, recent Biden Administration pledges to similar effects, and the acceleration of overall electrification trends we have [...]
  • Wilson Center Embraces All-of-the-Above Multidimensional Strategy for Supply Chain Security, Calling for “Mosaic Approach” in New Study

    In early October, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars announced the release of a new report entitled “The Mosaic Approach: a Multidimensional Strategy for Strengthening America’s Critical Minerals Supply Chain.”  According to Duncan Wood, Vice President of Strategy and New Initiatives at the Wilson Center and one of the report’s co-authors, “[the] paper reflects the dialogue sustained [...]
  • Wind Turbine Makers’ Price Challenges Sign of Looming Raw Material Shortfalls

    As lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling to finalize major federal spending legislation set to include several key provisions relating to natural resources, a recent Wall Street Journal piece on wind power underscores the urgency of our nation’s looming raw material shortfalls. Against the backdrop of surging demand in the context of the green energy transition, wind [...]
  • The Mineral Intensity of a Carbon-Neutral Future – A Look at Copper

    Amidst the global push towards carbon neutrality, “Critical Minerals” has become a buzzword.  As the green energy transition has gone mainstream and electric vehicles and renewable energy sources dominate the news cycle, so has talk about growing demand for some of the specialized materials underpinning this shift — most notably the Rare Earths, and the battery [...]
  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that “much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.” In this [...]
  • If Copper is the New Oil, We Need to Prioritize Its Development

    A Bank of America commodity strategist warns that the world may be “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits. Suggesting that prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025, the strategist’s note called out that inventories are currently at levels seen 15 years ago, and that existing stocks may cover just [...]