American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Caught in the “Green Dilemma” of Securing Critical Mineral Resource Supply Chains

    A few months ago, when the Biden Administration stepped up its efforts to promote its ambitious renewable energy agenda, Forbes analyst David Blackmon suggested that we might be about to “witness a replay of the politics of the Shale Revolution, only this time those politics will be playing out around the mining of the country’s own supplies of rare earth minerals.” 

    Blackmon argued that with the green energy transition requiring vast amounts of critical minerals, sparks would “inevitably fly when the traditional priorities [of the anti-development green lobby and the politics that push a rapid net zero carbon transition] collide with realities on the ground.”

    It appears we have reached that moment.

    A few weeks ago, the Biden Administration, with the release of its 100-Day Supply Chain Report, embraced an “all of the above” approach to critical mineral resource security. Against earlier concerns that it would pursue a more selective strategy, this approach encompasses both investing in “sustainable production, refining, and recycling capacity domestically,” AND working to “diversify supply chains away from adversarial nations and sources with unacceptable environmental and labor standards” by cooperating closely with allies and partners.

    A Financial Times story from earlier this week outlines the “green dilemma” the Administration is facing as it pushes to build out the United States’ rare earths capacity.  Pointing to negative reactions towards a recent announcement that Lynas, an Australian rare earths company, had received a $30m U.S. Government grant to open a new processing facility with U.S. company Blue Line in Texas, the Financial Times story says it illustrates the dilemma President Joe Biden is facing: “while rare earths such as cerium and yttrium are needed for green technologies, the mining and processing to obtain them, which takes place mostly in China, has a reputation for being polluting and environmentally damaging.”

    As the piece points out, the United States currently only has one operational rare earths mining site — and no processing capacity, so that currently rare earth concentrate sourced in California has to be shipped to China for processing.

    To meet soaring demand and develop supply chains that are not reliant on adversary nations, both new domestic mining and processing capabilities should be boosted, but, as one mining executive quoted in the FT piece put it, while domestic —responsible — mining would be preferable to outsourcing it to China, “[e]nvironmentalists want to have their cake and eat it. They want these materials for the EV sector — but if they’re causing environmental devastation [in China], then how are you going to put them into green technologies?”

    The FT piece points to public private partnerships funded by the Department of Energy and the Pentagon to develop new technologies and methods that would extract and process rare earth elements from existing mining waste.  However, while that is a welcome development, “recycle, reuse and substitute” can only be one part of a comprehensive “all of the above” strategy, because the material inputs required to achieve a net zero carbon transition are simply too immense.

    Caught in the “green dilemma,” the Biden Administration, according to a consultant cited by the Financial Times, will deny funding to companies that do not have an “environmental element” — this would be a “non-starter.”

    The good news is that the mining industry of today is not your grandfather’s industry anymore, and has recognized ‘[its] responsibility and [is] trying to meet the increased expectations of consumers, society and governments” to contribute towards the push towards a greener energy future.

    As such, the industry has increasingly been harnessing advances in materials science and technology to meet the challenge of developing a domestic critical minerals supply while maintaining and advancing responsible mining practices — current examples of which can be found here.

    As we have previously stated:

    “Recent studies — we featured the latest IEA study here — and policy experts agree: against the mounting pressures of the 21st Century Tech Metals Age, keeping it all in the ground is too simplistic, and a holistic ‘all of the above’ approach to energy and critical minerals is the only viable path to success.”

  • The Mining Industry is Ready to Strengthen American Supply Chains

    With the release of its 100-Day Supply Chain Report, the Biden Administration has sent a strong signal that it is serious about stepping up U.S. efforts to secure domestic supply chains — especially for the four areas covered by the report: semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging; pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), and, of particular interest for followers of ARPN, large capacity batteries, as well as critical minerals and materials.

    In its commitment to ensure a stable supply for these tech sectors, the Administration has embraced an “all of the above” approach to critical mineral security, which spans all segments of the supply chain and a broad array of strategies. In the run-up to the Report’s release, there were news reports that the Administration would focus on expanding domestic processing and rely on allies and other nations to mine the minerals and metals. However, both the 100-Day Supply Chain Assessment and subsequent statements by Administration officials like Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm have made clear that the “all of the above” referenced by DoD, or the “wrap-around strategy” Sec. Granholm has touted, would not only include recycling and substitution as well as partnering with close allies such as Canada and Australia, but also new domestic mining — with the caveat that it be “sustainable” and “responsible.”

    This is good news for the mining sector, which has recognized “[its] responsibility and trying to meet the increased expectations of consumers, society and governments” to contribute towards the push towards a greener energy future and has increasingly been harnessing advances in materials science and technology to meet the challenge of developing a domestic critical minerals supply while maintaining and advancing responsible mining practices.

    Over the past few months, ARPN has been highlighting initiatives by mining companies to sustainably green the future, ranging from overhauling supply chain policies to ensure suppliers conform to certain environmental and social standards, to incorporating renewable power sources into their operations to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development. With the 100 Day Report focusing a new level of attention on critical minerals supply chains, ARPN is spotlighting several new initiatives across the entire spectrum of the supply chain, from upstream to downstream.

    - DoE has provided funding for BHE Renewables’s lithium extraction efforts from geothermal brine at its operations in the Salton Sea, California, where the almost $15 million award will go towards constructing a demonstration plant to convert lithium chloride into battery-grade lithium hydroxide.

    - 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.’”

    - 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.” American Manganese’s battery recycling work even received a “shout-out” in the White House’s 100 Day Report.

    - 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 – achievements that align well with the 100 Day Report’s objectives.

    - 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 footprint.

    - And more is happening at Boron: Drawing on its longstanding partnership with DOE’s CMI, 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.

    Of course, more can and should be done. But, as Secretary Granholm told U.S. Senators last week:

    “This is the United States. We can mine in a responsible way. And many places are doing it. And there are some places where there are more challenges, but we can do this.”

  • Biden Administration 100-Day Supply Chain Report Holds Surprise for Some: And the Winner is… Nickel?

    Critical Minerals policy-wonks:  if you wagered that Rare Earths would be the leading elements in the Biden 100-Day Report in terms of mentions, you’d be wrong. That’s right — we took a look at the Biden Administration’s just-released 100-day supply chain assessment, and created a word cloud based on the number of mentions (footnotes included) of [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • “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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • The Road to “Building Back Better” is Paved with Critical Metals and Minerals

    Another round of COVID relief stimulus checks is hitting Americans’ bank account this week, and a vaccine schedule laid has been laid out. Time for the Administration and Congress to move on to the next key priority of the Biden Administration’s “Build Back Better” agenda: an economic recovery package that will “make historic investments in [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • The Rise of the Urban Mine — Reconciling Resource Supply Needs and Sustainability

    The new Biden Administration has made clear that addressing the issue of climate change is a key priority for the next four years, and a flurry of first-week executive orders leave no doubt that the Administration intends to double down on the President’s ambitious goal to make the United States carbon neutral by 2050. As [...]
  • 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 [...]