As the number of countries pledging to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century (or soon thereafter) continues to grow, and governments and other stakeholders work to transform the energy systems underpinning our economies, demand for critical metals and minerals is soaring.
The rapidly-accelerating adoption of EV battery technology, along with plans to build out power lines to move electricity from wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs, are key drivers of unprecedented demand projections for the materials fueling these technologies.
The National Mining Association’s Minerals Make Life blog earlier this month took a closer look at four metals and minerals essential to the pursuit of net-zero.
Citing the IEA’s recently issued “stark warning” as part of its Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector report — which effectively proclaimed: “Fail to develop the mineral supply chains that are the building blocks for advanced energy technologies and risk undercutting deployment at the speed and scale needed to meet emission reduction goals” — the Minerals Make Life post laments that, to date, the U.S. has not harnessed our vast domestic mineral potential. The post points to several domestic projects that could help alleviate our critical mineral supply chain concerns for Copper, Lithium, Antimony and Tellurium, all of which are key building blocks of renewable energy technology:
For Copper, which “provides the arteries and veins of an electrified world,” NMA points to Freeport-McMoRan’s newest project “on track to exceed 200 million pounds of copper a year in 2021,” Taseko’s Florence Copper’s development of “a copper recovery process expected to produce an average of 85 million pounds of copper per year over 20 years” with minimal environmental footprint, as well as Rio Tinto’s proposed Resolution Copper Mine and Hudbay’s Rosemont Copper Mine — both of which are ready to supply future copper needs assuming ongoing permitting hurdles are cleared. And if the U.S. hopes to have the copper it needs to be a tech power in the net zero world, having those projects move through permitting and into production will be critical. As a Rio Tinto executive noted at the 2019 World Copper Conference: “The world will need the same amount of copper over the next 25 years that it has produced in the past 500 years if it is to meet global demand.”
For Lithium, NMA highlights Lithium America’s Thacker Pass project in Nevada, which could deliver an estimated 60,000 tones of battery-grade material per year, alongside Standard Lithium’s Lanxess project in Arkansas, which could produce 29,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate annually.
For Antimony, which has been flying under the radar and is less well-known that the two above-referenced materials, but has critical applications for EV batteries, wind turbines, and semiconductors to name but a few high-tech applications, the post highlights Perpetua Resources’ proposed Stibnite Gold Project in central Idaho, which projects significant antimony production as a co-product. Once approved, says NMA, the “mine could rank in the top 10 antimony producing mines globally, and supply 35 percent of U.S. demand within six years.”
For Tellurium, another “unsung hero of advanced energy technologies,” NMA points to Rio Tinto’s Kennecott mine in Utah, where the company plans to extract Tellurium as a co-product of its copper production operations, generating 20 tonnes of tellurium a year.
The post merely provides a snapshot — there are many more promising projects for a variety of critical metals and minerals, but many of them are still mired in regulatory red tape.
The post concludes:
“Across the U.S., mining companies are harnessing innovation to deliver minerals more efficiently and sustainably, but their ability to meet our soaring mineral demands is being undercut by a legislative environment defined by cumbersome permitting timelines and the threat of excessive fees. To address the climate challenge and secure our mineral supply chains, policymakers must enact the right policies to encourage investment in America’s minerals and resources.”
Here’s hoping that in the context of its recently adopted “all of the above” approach to critical mineral resource security, the Biden Administration will work to support more sustainable and responsible domestic projects.
As Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently told U.S. Senators:
“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.”