American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Securing the Supply Chain — “If Tesla’s Got Troubles, Everyone Should Worry”

    Every December, editors of the English-speaking world’s dictionaries release their choices for Word of the Year, a “word or expression that has attracted a great deal of interest over the last 12 months.”

    Unsurprisingly, for 2020, the honorees were coronavirus-related terms, with Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com bestowing the honor on the word “Pandemic,” whereas the Collins Dictionary Word of the Year was “Lockdown.” 

    This year, Dictionary.com ended up choosing the term “Allyship,” while Merriam-Webster went with “Vaccine” as their Word of the Year, but ARPN feels that another term would have been at least equally worthy of being anointed “Word of the Year” this year, and that is the term “Supply Chain.”

    After all, the supply chain is what everything hinges on these days — our success in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the global push towards net carbon zero, buying a new car, putting presents under the Christmas tree, or just minding our day-to-day business in our personal lives.

    In 2020, as the coronavirus brought on a global public health crisis, sent markets into turmoil and brought public life to a screeching halt, we were given a first glimpse into the challenges associated with an over-reliance on foreign, and especially Chinese, raw materials, the effects of which were being felt across broad segments of manufacturing.

    Today, the extent of our supply chain vulnerabilities has reached crisis levels.

    As Bloomberg writer Anjani Trivedi points out in a recent piece, the fact that even Elon Musk, who has up until now been able to navigate many of the challenges associated with securing supply chains for his company, is “now struggling to procure a raw material only available (in the form it needs) in China, for a battery cell that it’s trying to develop in-house, shows how the compounded effect of tariffs and the supply chain crisis are nowhere near over.”

    The raw material in the crosshairs of Musk’s concerns according to Trivedi’s piece is natural graphite — a key component of EV battery anodes.

    According to Tesla, which has submitted three comments to the U.S. Trade Representative in support of waivers on essential raw materials it currently needs to import, “natural graphite is currently not available in the specifications nor capacity outside of its current suppliers and China that is required” for the company to manufacture batteries in the United States.

    While the logistical delays and related issues “may just seem like hiccups from constraints on moving materials around,” writes Trivedi, “they point to a widening issue.”

    He elaborates:

    “Consider this: The material Tesla needs – graphite – is also sought by other battery makers. In a comment submitted by South Korea’s SK Innovation Co., the company said ‘there is currently not enough infrastructure in the U.S. that can deliver artificial graphite at the quantity and cost’ it requires — similar to Tesla’s submission. What’s more, the firm noted that, because this material is so key, the higher costs will be passed on to U.S. consumers and American companies. If SK can’t get it, then battery investment — a highlight of the U.S.’s EV and manufacturing policy — could struggle.” 

    As the headline of Trivedi’s post suggests, “[i]f Tesla’s Got Troubles, Everyone Should Worry” — and the fact that companies have yet to develop long-term strategies, and policy makers, too have been “slow to address the growing challenges, (…) doesn’t bode well for the world’s manufacturing complex.”

    The time to focus on securing supply chains is now.  Thankfully, the United States is home to vast mineral resources and respective development projects that are only waiting to unleash their full potential, including for key battery tech metals like Graphite, Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel and Manganese.

    Policy makers must now focus their efforts on creating the framework conducive to harnessing this domestic resource potential, and do more than merely pay lip service to the comprehensive “all-of-the-above” strategy they have embraced on paper.

    To date, as we have previously lamented, the overall U.S. government plans appear more geared towards ‘rely[ing] on ally countries to supply the bulk of the metals needed to build electric vehicles and focus[ing] on processing them domestically into battery parts, [as] part of a strategy designed to placate environmentalists.’”

    However, while the “friend-shoring” concept is certainly appealing, especially to those policy makers with “not in my backyard (NIMBY)” constituencies, it is insufficient to alleviate our overall supply chain issue. The good news is that we can, in many cases, address the issue domestically, from “soup to nuts,” in  Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm’s words. As she told the U.S. Senate earlier this year:

    “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.”

    And she is right.

    We’ll let the dictionary editors lapse in judgment slide — after all the above-referenced ultimate choices for Word of the Year 2021 have their own merits. Ultimately, whether or not the term “supply chain” gets the recognition it deserves, is not important — as long as the issue itself does.

  • “Undoubtedly Good News for Industrial Metals” – a Look at the Senate-passed Infrastructure Package

    In a recent piece for Reuters, columnist Andy Home unpacks the U.S. Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure package.   While the bill has yet to make it through the U.S. House of Representatives and a likely conference committee, it is worth taking a look at what its passage could mean for the critical minerals sector.

    According to Home, the $1 trillion package, as passed by the Senate, “is undoubtedly good news for industrial metals,” as more funding for highway and railway systems as well as power grid upgrades “will mean more demand for steel, copper, and aluminium [as they say in the UK].”

    He adds that “when it comes to battery metals and critical minerals, the bipartisan bill is as much about boosting domestic supply as demand,” and its provisions mark a “broader investment drive across the full length of the metallic supply chain.”

    Home highlights the following provisions:

    • Building on the Department of Energy’s R&D efforts across the REE spectrum ranging form primary processing to recycling, the bill “hardens the commitment with a $140 million grant to build a facility ‘to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of a full-scale integrated rare earth element extraction and separation facility and refinery’” in the context of a public-private partnership.
    • The bill also earmarks $100 million annually for through 2024 for critical mineral development, processing and recycling, with a minimum of 30% designated for recycling projects.
    • U.S.-based projects will be prioritized and no project may export to a “foreign entity of concern.”
    • While the bill only allocates $7.5 billion for EV battery charging, Home says “the direction of electric travel is clear,” with President Biden having signed his executive order stipulating that 50% of all domestic new vehicle sales by 2030 should be EV battery powered.
    • To address rising demand for battery tech metals, the bill designates $3 billion for processing, and an additional $3billion for battery manufacturing projects.
    • Grants in this context will be only be awarded to applicants demonstrating “U.S. ownership, North American intellectual property rights and a commitment not to ‘use battery material supplied by or originating from a foreign entity of concern.’”
    • Acknowledging that Federal permitting process has served as “an impediment to mineral production and the mineral security of the United States,” the bill introduces performance metrics for approving critical mineral mines.

    Home sees a challenge in fast-tracking Federal permitting in light of the “growing push-back against ‘dirty’ mining.”  However, he sees an opportunity to bridge this “green-green divide” in new efforts by mining companies to re-think mine “waste,” — and essentially harness gateway/co-product metal relationships.

    He points to Rio Tinto’s Scandium operations in Quebec, Canada, as an example:

    “Companies such as Rio Tinto are now going back to re-examine what they’ve been throwing away. In the case of the company’s Canadian titanium business, they found scandium, designated a critical mineral by both the United States and Europe.

    A relatively modest $6 million investment will produce three tonnes per year of scandium oxide – around 20% of the global market – without the need for any additional mining.”

    As Home points out, the infrastructure bill embraces the “whole-concept” or “total mining” concept, instructing USGS to comprehensively survey national minerals resources, “using a whole ore body approach rather than a single commodity approach, to emphasize all of the recoverable critical minerals in a given surface or subsurface deposit”.

    Home sees provisions calling for USGS to “map and collect data for areas containing mine waste to increase understanding of above-ground critical mineral resources in previously disturbed areas,” as the ones that can help reconcile the “green-green” issue, because “building new mines will remain a headache for critical minerals planners everywhere so going back to the stuff already mined makes a lot of sense.”

    While changes to the bill must be reasonably expected in the coming weeks, the general thrust is clear, and it is encouraging to see that lawmakers are acknowledging and addressing the importance of critical minerals and the urgency of associated supply chain challenges.

  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that “much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.” In this [...]
  • Podcast: Battery Tech Supply Chain Expert Simon Moores Discusses Lithium Challenge

    American Jobs Plan, Green New Deal … irrespective of whether these plans will get implemented fully or in part, the renewable energy transition is already here, and it’s here to stay. The renewable energy sector has been transforming at neck-breaking speed, and with that, demand for the metals and minerals underpinning the green energy shift [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • A Pivotal Moment to “Get Serious About Building the Domestic Mineral Supply Chain”

    Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing his economic and national security teams to conduct a 100 day review of four key U.S. supply chains across federal agencies to assess the nation’s “resiliency and capacity of the American manufacturing supply chains and defense industrial base to support national security [and] emergency [...]
  • Amidst Big Policy Shifts, Signs for Continued Emphasis on Securing Critical Mineral Supply Chains at DoE

    Parents of young children will know: Transitions are hard. And what is true for toddlers, is also true for government. Observers of the critical mineral resource realm have been closely monitoring the transition from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration. There were early indications that, unlike some other areas, the critical mineral resource realm [...]
  • Take a Break from Election Scrolling – Watch Highlights from Webinar on Lithium Ion Battery, EV and Energy Storage Supply Chain Issues

    While it seems that for weeks, all eyes have been on the Presidential elections in the U.S., earlier in October, our friends of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence hosted its Washington DC Summit 2020, which brought together U.S. Government representatives and industry stakeholders to discuss materials challenges — specifically in the realm of lithium ion battery technology, [...]
  • Has Canada Just Jump-Started its Electric Vehicle Sector? – A Look at the Recent Ford Canada Labor Deal Through the Prism of an Integrated North American Value Chain

    From a U.S. perspective, arguably the biggest news in the critical minerals sector in recent weeks has been U.S. President Trump’s latest executive order on critical minerals, which, according to analysts, is the first one in this field “that has the potential to bring some meaningful changes.” Aside from calling on the Department of the [...]
  • Europe Forges Ahead With Battery Gigafactory Buildout As U.S. Still Struggles to Get Off Starting Block

    The current coronavirus pandemic may have thrown a wrench into the gears of many industries, but — against the backdrop of skyrocketing materials supply needs in the context of the green energy transition — Europe continues to forge ahead with the buildout of its large-scale battery gigafactory capacity.  According to London-based Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, whose [...]