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Made in America Starts with Mined in America: Happy National Manufacturing Day

Harnessing our Mineral Resource Potential Will Unleash Opportunities Associated with Clean Energy Conversion

Against the backdrop of National Manufacturing Day, which we mark today, an op-ed on MorningConsult.com highlights the opportunities for economic growth associated with our society’s shift towards “cleaner sources of energy, fuel efficient transportation and increased industrial and building efficiency.”  

The topic brings together two authors who frequently find themselves on opposing sides of the issues – Hugo Bague of mining company Rio Tinto, and Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers Union.  The reason for their common ground in this matter, they explain, is quite simple: 

“Beyond our shared concerns for the health and public safety risks of climate change, its effects also jeopardize the interests of shareholders and workers alike. But the conversion to cleaner power sources, fuel-efficient transportation, and other efficiency measures will depend on the “old” products and skills of the mining and metals sector.”

Indeed – as ARPN followers who have joined us on our trip Through the Gateway are aware – the green energy conversion relies heavily on materials that are traditionally known for their mainstay uses, like Copper and Aluminum, both of which have become clean energy powerhouses in their own right.  What’s more, these mainstay materials often also serve as the “Gateway Metals” to tech metals like TelluriumScandium and Gallium – metals that help increase energy efficiency, reduce the weight of vehicles, enhance battery technology, or open up new possibilities in areas like 3D printing which can in turn be harnessed for green energy projects. Many of these metals are not mined for themselves, but are in fact co-products of the refinement process of said “Gateway Metals.”

Bague and Gerard highlight the Obama Administration’s leadership and support for public-private partnerships like the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) under the auspices of the Department of Energy. However, as they point out, challenges loom large, “because today the U.S. imports more than 50 percent of the 41 metals and minerals key to clean technology applications.” 

The bottom line, they argue, is as follows: 

“Realizing the full potential of these ‘new’ technologies will depend on maximizing ‘old’ inputs from the mining and metals sector. With the right investments and the right leadership from the public and private sectors, this marriage of old and new can deliver positive climate change results as well as economic growth and job creation and retention.”

This would warrant a more comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy that we have previously seen from our policy makers in Washington, DC.  Hopefully, once the dust settles in the wake of the upcoming presidential election, which has been sucking up all the oxygen, policy makers will be ready to focus on the issues at hand.