American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • As Green Energy Push Accelerates, EV Battery Focus Shifts Toward the Anode – A Look at Natural vs. Synthetic Graphite

    As the global push towards net zero carbon emissions accelerates, the understanding that critical minerals hold the key to achieving climate goals has grown.   With EV battery technology at the heart of the green energy transition, the “Battery Criticals” (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese) have entered the spotlight.   While initially the main focus was on the cathode materials lithium, cobalt and nickel, the realization that graphite might be equally, if not more critical has set in — for good reason.

    As the key raw material in the battery anode, graphite is the largest component of lithium-ion batteries by weight. In light of phenomenal demand growth from the EV battery sector and delays to new capacity as well as rising power costs, the graphite supply chain represents a significant and growing challenge for automakers looking to reduce the carbon footprint of the materials they use for their EVs.

    As Fastmarkets consultant Amy Bennett outlines, unlike natural graphite, which is mined and then processed for usage in the battery industry, synthetic graphite utilizes a carbon precursor product – i.e. petroleum coke, needle coke or coal tar pitch – which is then made into graphite via a process called graphitization.

    Most graphite production currently takes place in China. A majority of batteries to date use a blend of natural and synthetic graphite, but there may be compelling reasons for a shift towards natural graphite as long as supply chain security can be established.

    Arguing that both supply chains have “multiple environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns, with natural graphite subject to the risks of an ongoing conflict in northern Mozambique that started in 2017,” our friends at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence have taken a closer look how both graphite materials compare, and find that “[t]the production of natural graphite anodes is around 55% less carbon intensive than the average synthetic graphite anode produced in China.”

    They add:

    “For natural graphite, two-thirds of the carbon emissions come from the spheroidisation process, for which China currently has a monopoly. Spheroidisation is the process in which flake graphite particles are mechanically rounded. This leads to the loss of some material, but yields improvements in the performance of the anode.”

    However, while the production of natural graphite is associated with fewer carbon emissions, Benchmark sees its global supply chain remaining fragile, particularly as Mozambique, a major source of natural graphite outside of China, experiences an  ISIS-affiliated terror threat in its northern Cabo Delgado province, from where much of the country’s graphite is sourced.

    Looking towards Europe, where almost 70% of natural graphite has been mined in Russia and Ukraine, Moscow’s ongoing war on Ukraine could seriously destabilize the region’s graphite production.

    Meanwhile mining in Madagascar, which currently accounts for roughly 10% of global supply is threatened by severe climate events in the form of cyclones.  Finally, there is some phantom natural graphite produced in North Korea, and likely moved into the global supply chain via China – no one’s idea of a socially-responsible source of battery material.

    Currently, according to the USGS, the United States is 100% import dependent for its graphite needs, but as ARPN recently pointed out,

    “that’s not for lack of known graphite resources.  As USGS noted in February 2022 in its updated U.S. Mineral Deposit Database, Graphite One’s Graphite Creek deposit near Nome, Alaska is America’s largest graphite deposit.  If U.S. Government efforts to develop an American-based EV and lithium-ion battery supply chain have any hope of succeeding, looking for ways to help projects like Graphite Creek down the path to production will be, in a word…. Critical.”

    Until then, China’s battery anode dominance could be the West’s Achilles heel in the green energy transition – in defense planners parlance, a potential “single point of failure”:  irrespective of whether we succeed in developing multiple minerals and metals for the battery cathode, if we are unable to meet anode material needs – and we cannot do so sustainably and ESG-friendly without natural graphite — we will not be able to build a rechargeable battery independent of China.

    As ARPN outlined:

    “The sourcing provisions in the energy passages of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, coupled with the recently announced grants to ‘supercharge’ U.S. EV battery and electric grid supply chains are important steps towards mitigating that potential single point of failure.  However, considering the long timelines for permitting for mining and processing projects, decoupling and building out a battery supply chain independent of China will warrant a concerted effort by stakeholders and policy makers to decouple from China.”

  • A New “Great Game” is Afoot – Are We Able to Keep the Focus on Diversifying Critical Mineral Supply Chains Away from Adversaries

    In a new piece for Canada’s Globe and Mail, columnist Robert Muggah zeroes in on the geopolitics of mineral resource supply, which have, in his view, triggered a new “Great Game” – a term coined by British writer Rudyard Kipling to describe the “fierce competition between Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia, both of which sought to control South Asia and Africa” which “went on to shape geopolitics for much of the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

    The new Great Game, according to Muggah, foreshadowed by the 2010 rare earths dispute between China and Japan, gained momentum with the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 which committed countries to significantly reduce greenhouse gases and transition to renewables.

    Writes Muggah:

    “In order to achieve the agreement’s targets by 2050, more than 60 per cent of installed power capacity will need to come from a combination of solar plants, wind farms, hydropower, bioenergy, geothermal reservoirs and batteries to power electric vehicles. But scaling these climate-friendly technologies comes with a catch: a sixfold increase in the sourcing of so-called critical minerals such as nickel, copper, lithium and cobalt as well as rare earths, by some estimates.

    And so while the effort to move away from oil, gas and coal to low-carbon energy sources is essential, it has also unleashed powerful destabilizing forces. Countries are scrambling to secure the minerals needed to power the green transition; competition among major powers to control supply chains could trigger new global security risks.”

    Muggah points to China as the undisputed dominant player “when it comes to refining those critical minerals and rare earths, effectively leveraging its state-backed firms, low-cost work force and lax environmental standards to gain a stranglehold on global markets.” Despite its omnipresence in global critical mineral supply chains, he says, China “does not yet dominate the exploration and extraction of critical minerals such as cobalt, lithium or nickel.” As a result, companies with backing from Beijing are “busily scouring international markets for raw materials, from Argentina, Bolivia and Chile to the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Zambia, but the competition is fierce.”

    While Russia is another key player as one of the top producers of palladium, scandium, titanium and nickel, Russia’s war on Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russia have slowed down Moscow-backed domestic critical minerals production and processing and external pursuits, further consolidating China’s pole position in the global race for resources.

    Muggah laments North American and Western European lack of expediency to build out their own critical mineral supply chains, not least due to most Western countries facing “major hurdles when it comes to accelerating domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals and rare earths, including the high costs of capital investments, long lead times to build out mines and refineries, and stronger environmental and labour standards compared to countries such as China and Russia.”  However, he says, “supply chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and rising tensions with China – including Chinese threats to curb rare-earth exports to the U.S. – have all served as a wake-up call,” and a new Great Game is on.

    He goes on to detail recent steps taken by the U.S. and European Union to diversify its supply chains away from adversaries in general, and China in particular, which both appear to embrace a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” strategic approach, ranging from strengthening domestic production, over strengthening closed-loop concepts to increased “friend shoring.” 

    In this context, Muggah believes Canada “will have a consequential role to play in what is shaping up to be one of the defining struggles of our era,” and goes on to discuss Canada’s latest policy initiatives to strengthen critical mineral supply chains.

    Muggah says there is reason for “cautious optimism that Canada can achieve its goals,” but that “Canada and its partners still face major obstacles to meet their ambitions, including from China.”   He points to Chinese firms having acquired several key Canadian mines (see ARPN’s recent post on the issue here) and calls for greater scrutiny for mining deals with state-owned mining companies from authoritarian countries, arguing that “Canada will need to broaden its conception of what constitutes national security in relation to critical minerals and rare earths.”

    He closes:

    “To achieve more strategic autonomy amid the new Great Game, Canada must build more predictable and sustainable supply chains and take a more pro-active global role in driving the global shift to renewable energy. (…) Notwithstanding China’s firm grip on global supply chains of critical minerals and especially rare earths, Canada and its allies can support a more predictable green transition.

    This is one game that Canada can and must help the whole world win.”

    The question for the United States, where the midterm elections — and with that intensified partisan politics — are just around the corner, is whether policy makers will maintain their newly gained bipartisan focus on the importance of critical mineral supply chains and continue to work towards achieving greater mineral resource independence.

  • Green Energy Shift Requires a Revolution in Materials Science

    As the global push towards a carbon neutral future accelerates, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the green energy shift will be mineral intensive, as a score of critical metals and minerals underpin 21st Century green energy technology. It’s not too much to say that shifting green depends on a revolution in materials science. [...]
  • American Resources Policy Network announces new Advisor on Advanced Materials

    Investment Intelligence Site Head Assumes Expanded Role Within ARPN WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Resources Policy Network has
 announced that Tracy Weslosky, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for InvestorIntel, a global investment source for the resource, energy and technology sectors, and a member of the American Resources Policy Network panel of experts, will expand her role at [...]
  • Congressional Committee Investigates EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment

    ARPN President Testifies on Use of Questionable Research and Calls for Review of Data WASHINGTON, D.C. – Daniel McGroarty, American Resources Policy Network President, provided testimony today on Capitol Hill concerning the EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, a major environmental study in Alaska. “The problem with the Assessment has always been that EPA is preempting [...]
  • American Resources Policy Network Invited to Take Part in National Defense Stockpile Report

    U.S. Defense Agencies Look to ARPN Experts for Critical Input on Metals and National Security The American Resources Policy Network has been invited by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency/Strategic Materials (DLA/SM) and the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) to take part in the 2015 National Defense Stockpile (NDS) Requirements Report process, assessing potential shortfalls in [...]
  • National Center for Policy Analysis to Hold Capitol Hill Conference

    Forum linking metals and national security first of its kind WASHINGTON, D.C. 10/26 – The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) has announced that it will hold a conference to examine the link between rare earths, critical metals, energy, and national security. The event, entitled Rare Earths, Critical Metals, and National Security will take place [...]
  • American Resources Policy Network Launches Informational Campaign on Copper, Antimony, and Lithium

    CopperMatters.org Shows that Resource Dependency goes beyond Rare Earth Elements Washington, D.C. – The American Resources Policy Network announced today that it would expand on its messaging in favor of exploring the available non-fuel resources in America by launching a campaign for copper, antimony, and lithium – elements readily available in the country, yet not [...]
  • Expert Gareth Hatch releases eye-opening Critical Rare Earths Report

    American Resources expert and Technology Metals Research co-founder, Gareth Hatch, has released a new study that highlights the implications of the supply and demand over rare earths elements. Hatch’s research also delves into how the United States can mitigate the current REE shortage. The Critical Rare Earths Report features detailed evaluations of the supply challenges and qualitative rankings [...]
  • Volunteer Directors to oversee American Resources Policy Network

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Resources Policy Network has announced two new volunteer directors who will advise American Resources Principal Daniel McGroarty on the direction of the organization: Anne Darconte, Former Director of Outreach at the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), and Captain Nelson P. Jackson, U.S. Navy (Ret.), President and principal owner of [...]