The global push towards net zero carbon emissions against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions and associated supply chain challenges has undoubtedly directed stakeholder attention to the need to reduce vulnerabilities associated with an over-reliance on metals and minerals from adversary nations, especially China.
Of course, the challenges of detangling supply chains and decoupling from China, which has long controlled various supply chain segments of many metals and minerals deemed critical are immense, and warrant a comprehensive all-of-the-above approach to mineral resource security.
Thankfully, the United States is home to vast mineral resources. Technological advances in the context of the materials science revolution allow the mining sector to efficiently and sustainably harness this often untapped potential – and as ARPN has reported, the U.S. Government has taken several important steps to support these important efforts.
A notable example of such efforts is the series of (Defense Production Act) DPA Presidential Determinations involving specific Critical Minerals, beginning with President Trump’s July 2019 designation of the Rare Earth permanent magnet supply chain as being “essential for the national defense,” followed by President Biden’s designation of what ARPN calls the “Battery Criticals” as DPA Title III eligible in March 2022, followed by Platinum and Palladium in a DPA Presidential Determination in June 2022. Earlier this spring, two further Presidential Determinations (February 27, 2023 Presidential Determination, and DPA Presidential Determination (2023-5)), effectively created an entirely new category of critical minerals – “Defense Criticals” as ARPN calls them – by way of designating airbreathing engines, advanced avionics navigation and guidance systems, and hypersonic systems and their “constituent materials” as priority DPA materials.
Those DPA actions, funded by Congressional appropriations, are now producing Department of Defense funded projects to encourage domestic development of these “defense criticals” and their supply chains.
Idaho-based Perpetua Resources, whose Stibnite Gold Project in central Idaho is home to one of the largest reserves of antimony – a critical mineral for which the U.S. is currently more than 80% import reliant — finds itself at the front end of DPA-funded projects. According to estimates, the project could conceivably supply about 35% of U.S. antimony demand during the first six years of production.
Having been awarded two grants of $100,000 from the DoD’s Defense Logistics Agency to support efforts to evaluate whether antimony from stibnite can meet military specifications for use in munitions, Perpetua Resources later became the first recipient of a critical minerals award through the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Industrial Base Policy’s Defense Production Act (DPA) Investments Program, obtaining a $24.8 million grant to complete environmental and engineering studies necessary to obtain a Final Environmental Impact Statement, a Final Record of Decision, and other ancillary permits for its Stibnite-Gold.
With analysts reporting that Perpetua Resources is on track to successfully conclude the environmental impact statement process, earlier in August the company was further awarded a Technology Investment Agreement of $15.5M to develop a wholly domestic supply chain of antimony trisulfide of military-grade Stibnite ore.
While Perpetua Resources’ antimony project is at the front end of DPA-funded projects, others are also underway.
In June of this year, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Industrial Base Policy (OASD(IBP)), through its Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization (MCEIP) office entered into an agreement with Jervois Mining USA, a subsidiary of Jervois Global Limited, to conduct feasibility studies to expand cobalt extraction in Idaho under Defense Production Act Title III authorities. A component of munitions and aerospace alloys, cobalt is also a battery critical used in high-capacity batteries for military and commercial electric vehicles.
One month later this summer, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy, through its Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization office awarded Graphite One, which seeks to advance its Graphite Creek project near Nome, Alaska to provide a fully integrated North American supply chain of the battery critical graphite, for which the U.S. is also currently 100% import dependent, a $37.5M grant under DPA Title III authorities to accelerate the feasibility study for the project.
While increased domestic production for critical minerals alone may not suffice to fully solve our nation’s critical mineral woes – hence ARPN’s support for an all-of-the-above approach to mineral resource security — there are promising domestic resource development projects that can go a long way to significantly reducing vulnerabilities in the short to medium term, and ARPN will continue tracking these DoD-funded projects as they begin to bear fruit.