American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • DoL “List of Goods Produced By Child Labor or Forced Labor” Zeroes in on Lithium-Ion Batteries, Adding Pressures for Already Strained Material Supply Chains

    Pressures on already strained battery material supply chains are mounting, and not just due to geopolitical tensions and rising demand in the context of the green energy transition.

    The U.S. Department of Labor has included lithium-ion batteries into its “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” – a list of 158 goods from 77 countries assumed to be produced in violation of internationals standards regarding child or forced labor.

    As Mining.com reports, “[t]the addition of Li-ion batteries to the list is not due to direct evidence of labor abuses in the final production of this good, but because of the evidence of human exploitation in the mining of cobalt, a key input in the production of the technology.”

    The Democratic Republic of Congo supplies more than 70% of the world’s cobalt, and labor practices in the country have long been scrutinized by the global community, including the United States.

    The Department of Labor first placed cobalt, specifically referred to as “cobalt ore” on its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, and a year later, Congress included language in the Dodd-Frank financial law targeting the sale of conflict minerals from the DRC to address profits from commodities mined in Congo, but they stopped short of including cobalt,  and only focused on gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten.

    In 2016, Amnesty International released a report on child labor at the DRC’s so-called “artisanal” informal mine sites, increasing international scrutiny, but fast forward to 2022, and child labor persists in the DRC.  Today, according to the Department of Labor report, “it is increasingly linked to the global supply chain of products made with cobalt, including lithium-ion batteries that power our smartphones, laptops, and electric cars,” leading the agency to dedicate a separate writeup to outlining  “How Batteries Are Powered by Child Labor.”

    Writes Valentina Ruiz Leotard for Mining.com:

    “One of the main conclusions in the report is that as the world is shifting toward generating clean and renewable energy, it is important for companies to track the cobalt supply chain by acquiring knowledge of trade data, supplier information, transport routes, and processing steps. 

    Demanding such information and conducting their own research, will give companies ‘fewer excuses—such as the distance between raw materials and the finished product or supply chain complexity—to point to their lack of accountability in determining if a supply chain is tainted with child labor or forced labor,’ the reports states.”

    The added scrutiny of labor practices for cobalt also adds increased urgency for U.S. policy and other stakeholders to build out a North American supply chain for the “battery criticals” lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese — which already has received fresh impetus with the passage of the sourcing requirements contained in the statutory language on EV credits in the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act.

    Efforts are underway. To stick with cobalt — in Idaho, America’s first and only cobalt mine in decades opened earlier this month, and while it “will be a while before we can actually say that this is going to be a growth industry,” as Brad Martin, director of the RAND National Security Supply Chain Institute says, it is a “geopolitically significant” development for the United States and a small first step away from relying on materials sourced from a country using child labor practices.

    However, in light of the multifaceted challenges relating to building out domestic mining and processing capacity, ranging from permitting issues to to politically-motivated NIMBYism, we still have a long way to go until the Department of Labor will be able to drop lithium-ion batteries from its watch list, and we have a fully built-out North American supply chain for the battery criticals.

  • A Visual Reminder: Breaking Down the EV Battery

    In case anyone needed a visual reminder of how the EV revolution is adding fuel to the fire of the overall critical minerals challenge we’re facing, Visual Capitalist has put together a handy graphic depicting the material inputs for EV batteries.

    Here’s a snippet – for the full graphic and context, click here.

    Screen Shot 2022-05-09 at 12.37.58 PM

    The infographic uses data from the European Federation for Transport and Environment, which bases the mineral content on the ‘average 2020 battery’ — the weighted average of battery chemistries on the market in 2020.  Friends of ARPN will recognize familiar elements:  graphite, copper, manganese, nickel, aluminum, cobalt and, of course, lithium.  (All of which – with the exception of copper – are U.S.-Government designated “Criticals.”  To revisit our case for copper as a “Critical,” see HERE and HERE.)

    As Visual Capitalist notes,

    “The EV battery market is still in its early hours, with plenty of growth on the horizon. Battery chemistries are constantly evolving, and as automakers come up with new models with different characteristics, it’ll be interesting to see which new cathodes come around the block.”

    Of course, as ARPN has consistently argued, the issue goes well beyond the “battery criticals,” and we’re thankful to see that as mainstream awareness is rising, so is the realization that our critical minerals challenge extends across vast swatches of the periodic table, and encompasses both sourcing and processing of many metals and minerals.

    Some steps have been taken, but much more remains to be done. Against the backdrop of ever-increasing stakes, the time for stakeholders to act decisively to implement an all-of-the-above strategy on critical mineral security is now.

  • Time to Address the “Gaping Hole” in America’s Efforts to Secure Critical Mineral Supply Chains

     “The historic shift to electric vehicles will give the U.S. a fresh chance to achieve energy independence, but it will require complex strategic moves that won’t pay off for years,” writes Joann Muller in a new piece for Axios. A look at the numbers reveals that despite a noticeable push towards strengthening U.S. supply chains (we’ve featured [...]
  • Presidential Determination Invokes Title III of Defense Production Act to Encourage Domestic Production of Battery Criticals

    A confluence of factors — pandemic-induced supply chain shocks, increasing resource nationalism in various parts of the world, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine extending into its second month — has completely altered the Post-Cold War geopolitical landscape and mineral resource security calculus. Responding to the resulting growing pressures on critical mineral supply chains and skyrocketing [...]
  • Russia’s War on Ukraine and Rising Resource Nationalism to Reshape Global Post-Cold War Order and Resource Supply Chains – A Look at Cobalt

    With a single electric vehicle battery requiring between 10 and 30 pounds of cobalt content, the lustrous, silvery blue, hard ferromagnetic, brittle nickel and copper co-product has long attained “critical mineral” status. However, with most global supplies of the material coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where mining conditions often involve unethical labor standards and [...]
  • U.S. Senators to President Biden: With Stakes Raised, Time to Invoke the Defense Production Act to Secure Critical Mineral Supply Chains

    Already severely strained by the coronavirus pandemic, global critical mineral resource supply chains have taken another hit with Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.  With no de-escalation of hostilities in sight, Western nations, including the United States, are stepping up their efforts to bolster domestic supply chains, not only for oil and gas, but also for non-fuel [...]
  • DoE Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Calls for Immediate Investment in “Scaling up a Secure, Diversified Supply Chain for High-Capacity Batteries Here at Home”

    The Biden Administration made clear early on that it is committed to pursuing a low-carbon energy future, and battery technology is a key driver underpinning the shift away from fossil fuels. Just a few weeks ago, when touting his infrastructure package at Ford’s electric vehicle plant in Dearborn, President Joe Biden declared: “The future of [...]
  • Tesla’s 20 Million Vehicles by 2030 Goal in Context

    Innovation. Disruption. That’s what Elon Musk and Tesla have become synonymous for — and for good reason. A recent claim made that Tesla would be able to reach production of 20 million vehicles per year before 2030, however, may be more of a stretch goal than a realistic number, as staff at Mining.com has recently [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • ARPN’s Wirtz: “COVID Should Be the Last Warning the U.S. Needs to Bolster Mineral Resource Security”

    ***Posted by Daniel McGroarty*** “The current coronavirus pandemic has exposed significant supply chain challenges associated with our over-reliance on foreign (and especially Chinese) raw materials,” — writes ARPN’s Sandra Wirtz in a new piece for The Economic Standard:   “PPE has become the poster child, but whether it’s smart phone technology, solar panels, electric vehicles, or [...]