American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Decarbonization Goals Expose Bottleneck in Critical Mineral Supply Chains — Us

    [Note from Sandra Wirtz: As ARPN digs through the White House Supply Chain Report, we are completing the week with posts that “preview” metals and minerals prominently mentioned in the Report – beginning with copper.]

    “The road to decarbonisation will be paved with copper (…) and a host of other minerals, all critical for electric vehicles (EVs), solar panels and wind farms,” writes Andy Home, whose work we’ve highlighted here before, in a new piece for Reuters.

    Reporting from a European perspective, Home writes that stakeholders have begun to realize that levels of import reliance for these critical minerals on nations like China is not “sustainable,” and access to raw materials (from production to refining) is viewed as “strategic” by the European Commission. He says the big problem, however, is “Us” — meaning that “[t]he paradox of the green revolution is that public opinion is firmly in favour of decarbonisation but not the mines and smelters needed to get there.”

    Home points to the United States, where, by way of example, global miner Rio Tinto has been “trying for over a quarter century to win approval for its Resolution copper mine in Arizona” against “stiff opposition” from Native Americans and environmentalists in what is a traditional mining state and generally considered a mining-friendly jurisdiction. As friends of ARPN will know, the U.S. is presently import-dependent for 35% of its annual copper demand or 650,000 metric tons a year — and growing: According to the recent IEA Report, driven by the Electric Vehicle revolution, copper demand will be 25 times greater in 2040 than it was in 2020.

    Environmental concerns are a legacy issue the mining industry has been grappling with. Technological advances and commitments to more sustainable practices are changing the landscape, but, as Home writes, “[i]t’s not hard to understand why the political desire to reshore critical minerals production is running into popular resistance,” which is why European Commission plans to accelerate mine permitting are being drawn up in the context of a “responsible resourcing code in a bid to win hearts and minds.”

    Home points to a recent CSIS study which contends that while fully decoupling from China “is impossible today (and) in the future, it is improbable and likely expensive,” and that Western nations should instead focus on areas where they can “compete in parts of the green technology supply chain and accept a level of inter-dependence with China.”

    He concludes that dealing with a certain level of quid-pro-quo with China might be “unlikely to please those who contend that the United States and Europe must completely reshore their minerals production. But it may be no more than a statement of fact until we collectively accept the need for more mines and metals plants somewhere close to our back yards.” In other words, we are the “human bottleneck in critical mineral supply chains.”

    Our idea of having our cake, and eating it, too, will have no place in the post-petro Tech Metals Age. The hard truth is that achieving decarbonization goals while at the same time reducing the U.S.’s over-reliance on critical minerals from China will require an “all of the above” approach we’ve come to know from the energy debate, a notion that is supported by the IEA study on achieving carbon neutrality goals by 2050.

    This is why we’re encouraged by the Biden Administration’s just-released 100 day review report of critical supply chains — which, in the Department of Defense’s outline of policy recommendations to alleviate critical mineral supply chain vulnerabilities, explicitly calls for embracing such an approach: “Reliable, secure, and resilient supplies of key strategic and critical materials are essential to the U.S. economy and national defense. The United States needs an ‘all of the above’ comprehensive strategy to increase the resilience of strategic and critical material supply chains that both expands sustainable production and processing capacity and works with allies and partners to ensure secure global supply.”

    Recent media reports had indicated that the Biden Administration might not incorporate new domestic critical minerals production into its strategy and rather focus on the processing side of the supply chain relying on imports from allied nations. However, the just-released review report does see a role for new — sustainable — domestic mining, which, as we’ve previously pointed out, is feasible with industry having made strides towards reconciling environmental concerns with meeting supply needs.

    There is a lot to unpack in the 250-page report, and we will take some time to analyze it more thoroughly, but, as we stated earlier, it appears that the message that in our Tech Metals Age, minerals and metals are the indispensable ingredients to securing supply chains vital to advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, public health and national security has registered, and it is good to see that the Biden Administration appears willing to unkink the bottlenecks.

    To learn more about the “all of the above” approach, which ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty recently discussed at a congressional virtual forum, click here.

  • “Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup – Mining and Advanced Materials Industries Harness Materials Science in Green Energy Shift

    The Biden Administration has shifted focus to its next major legislative priority in the context of the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda — a multi-trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure package. Billed as a plan to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change, the package will likely dominate the agenda in Washington, DC for the next months.

    Tackling America’s crumbling infrastructure will be a behemoth challenge, as we’re not just talking about railways, roads, tunnels and bridges. (Read ARPN principal Daniel McGroarty’s piece on infrastructure reform from a while back here.) But the challenge is even bigger — not only are partisan battle lines drawn, the package will have to reconcile massive needs for material inputs underpinning infrastructure and clean energy investments with inherent geopolitical and sustainability implications.

    As policy makers gear up to reconcile the issues we already outlined in more detail here and here — the mining industry, recognizing the growing demand for sustainable mining processes that allow for the responsible extraction of critical minerals in North America, has embraced and harnessed advances in materials science and technology to strike a greater balance between mining and environmental protections.

    We’ve already highlighted a series of initiatives by mining companies to significantly reduce carbon emissions or even “close the loop,” (take a look here and here) but more are underway, so it’s time for another “Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup.

    Suppliers of mining operations are also doing their part. As the Biden Administration has already made clear that it will look to increase cooperation with Canada in its quest to secure critical mineral resource supply chains, we’ll include both U.S. and Canadian initiatives in this iteration:

    • British Columbia-based Teck Resources Ltd., Canada’s largest metallurgical coal producer, has announced plans to reduce the carbon intensity of its operations by 33% over the next decade and is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 by using more clean energy in its operations.
    • Having developed a patented process for recycling cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries, Canada-based American Manganese, an industry member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), is working with U.S. National Labs to “promote a circular economy for the lithium-ion battery supply chain and set the standard for high recovery and purity of cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries.”
    • U.S.-based precious metals producing and processing group Comstock Mining has partnered with others to “deploy novel [clean energy] technologies for gold processing and extraction across its portfolio” and aims to “efficiently reprocess and renew silver and other strategic metals as part of a ‘clean energy transition’ towards ‘climate-smart mining.’”
    • Rio Tinto has announced plans to construct a new plant to recover tellurium, a co-product of copper refining and a material critical to the green energy transition, at its Kennecott mine in the Utah. By harnessing an innovative extraction processes at an already existing mine site, the company is able to reduce waste while adhering to federal and state environmental standards and minimizing the carbon footprint of the operation.
    • Epiroc, a Europe-based developer/producer of drill rigs, rock excavation and construction equipment, has updated its North American underground mining market strategy to reflect “increasing demand for electrification solutions that deliver savings on maintenance, ventilation and cooling while lessening environmental footprint.” The strategy seeks to support North American mining operations through battery-electric, zero-emission equipment.
    • Clean energy start-up Heliogen has announced a partnership with Rio Tinto to deploy its solar technology at the the largest open pit mine in California, Rio Tinto’s borate project in Boron, California. Using artificial intelligence and computer-vision-controlled mirrors, Heliogen will harness the power of the sun to power operations while cutting the project’s carbon foot print.
    • And more is happening at Boron: Rio Tinto has begun producing battery-grade lithium at a demonstration plant located at the operation using a new extraction process developed on-site. As part of the company’s full-value mining strategy, the global miner seeks to recover lithium out of waste piles stemming from more than 90 years of mining at the site.
    • Barrick Gold Corporation is looking to reprocess tailings at the currently-closed Golden Sunlight Mine in Montana. The project would focus on removing and concentrating sulfur (iron pyrite) —a source of potential water pollution from the mine site. The sulfur would then be sold to and used in gold production by Nevada Gold Mines (NGM). According to Barrick company statements, the combination of rehabilitation with value creation, would serve as a model for Barrick’s future mine closures.

    There is a lot of activity here — and we’ll continue to feature these initiatives going forward.

  • A Look North: Challenges and Opportunities Relating to Canada’s Critical Mineral Resource Dependence on China

    Like the United States, Canada has subjected itself to an “increasingly uncomfortable reliance” on China for critical mineral supplies, but its wealth of metals and minerals beneath the country’s soil could, if properly harnessed, give Canada a significant strategic advantage in years to come, mining executives and experts recently told Canada’s House of Commons resource [...]
  • Canada’s Just-Released List of 31 Critical Minerals Includes Key Gateway Metals

    As demand for critical minerals is increasing in the context of the global shift towards a green energy future, Canada’s Minister of Resources Seamus O’Regan Jr. earlier this week announced the release of a Canadian list of 31 metals and minerals deemed critical “for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies—minerals that can [...]
  • Sec. Granholm, DoE Embrace Domestic EV Mineral Production “So Long As It Is Done Sustainably”

    With the “battery arms race” turbocharged by the coronavirus pandemic, observers are concerned that Lithium ion batteries could become “geopolitical hot potatoes.” In light of these developments, the latest statements from newly-confirmed Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, coupled with the recently-signed executive order on strengthening U.S. supply chains, are encouraging indications that the new Administration [...]
  • Sustainably Greening the Future – How the Mineral Resource Sector Seeks to Do Its Part to Close the Loop

    Merely days after assuming office U.S. President Joe Biden has already signed a series of executive orders on climate change and related policy areas, marking an expected shift in priorities from the preceding Administration. But even before, and irrespective of where you come down on the political spectrum, there was no denying that we find [...]
  • Demand for Certain Metals and Minerals to Increase by Nearly 500%, According to New World Bank Study

    At ARPN, we have long argued that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as green energy technology relies heavily on a score of critical metals and minerals. The World Bank’s latest report, entitled “The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition,” published earlier this week in the context of the [...]
  • The Future of Mining is “Climate Smart”

    In the latest issue of Metal Tech News, a new publication we recently featured, editor Shane Lasley zeroes in on opportunities offered by the World Bank’s Climate Smart Mining initiative. The initiative, which “supports a low-carbon transition where mining is climate-smart and value chains are sustainable and green,” kicked into high gear in May of [...]
  • Required Reading: Metal Tech News – a New Publication Exploring the “Elements of Innovation”

    In our first post kicking off 2020, we suggested that reading should be one of the key New Year’s resolutions for mineral resource policy stakeholders – and made a few suggestions as to what should be “Required Reading.” Today, we’re suggesting an addendum to that list.  North of 60 Mining News Editor Shane Lasley, whose work [...]
  • 2019 in Review – Towards an “All-Of-The-Above” Approach in Mineral Resource Policy?

    We blinked, and 2020 is knocking on our doors. It’s been a busy year on many levels, and mineral resource policy is no exception. So without further ado, here’s our ARPN Year in Review. Where we began: In last year’s annual recap, we had labeled 2018 as a year of incremental progress, which had set [...]