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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • The Mineral Intensity of a Carbon-Neutral Future – A Look at Copper

    Amidst the global push towards carbon neutrality, “Critical Minerals” has become a buzzword.  As the green energy transition has gone mainstream and electric vehicles and renewable energy sources dominate the news cycle, so has talk about growing demand for some of the specialized materials underpinning this shift — most notably the Rare Earths, and the battery tech metals Lithium, Cobalt, Graphite and Nickel.   A little lost in the media shuffle, though no less important, is Copper — perhaps the unsung hero of the green energy transition.

    Less flashy and headline-grabbing than some of its tech metal peers, this mainstay mineral deserves far more credit and attention than it is currently getting.  Followers of ARPN will know that we have long touted the versatility, stemming from its traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status.

    Copper is also an irreplaceable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs over wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid.   The manufacturing process for EVs requires four times more Copper than gas powered vehicles, and the expansion of electricity networks will lead to more than doubled Copper demand for grid lines, according to the IEA.

    A recent graphic by Visual Capitalist depicts the Copper intensity of the energy transition with a view towards solar and onshore and offshore wind energy technology:

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    Add in Copper’s Gateway Metal status — the processing of the metal yields access to a host of co-products essential to “manufacturing the advanced technologies that will power our economy for generations to come”  such as Cobalt, Tellurium, Molybdenum, Rhenium, Arsenic and REEs  — and a 2019 mining executive’s projection that “[t]he 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.

    Recent developments in Washington, D.C. — movement on a bipartisan infrastructure package and announcements of new EV goals and fuel efficiency standards — will only add to the outlined Copper demand scenarios.

    And the challenge is not just mining, but also processing, as Laura Skaer, a member of the board of directors of the Women’s Mining Coalition and former director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, outlined in a recent piece for Morning Consult:

    “Last year, the United States imported 37 percent of the copper we used. China already refines 50 percent of the world’s copper and the United States only refines about 3 percent. National security experts have warned that relying on China for critical supply-chain materials like refined copper poses a serious threat to America’s national security interests.”

    The United States Government failed in 2018 to include Copper in its official Critical Minerals list, a faux pas the Canadian government did not commit with the release of its own Critical Minerals list earlier this year, which included Copper along with fellow key Gateway Metals Nickel and Zinc in its list of 31.

    Meanwhile, the Biden Administration’s 100-Day Supply Chain Review highlights Copper as an integral component of Lithium-ion battery technology, in the context of being what we have called a “gateway metal” to other critical materials, and for its “use across many end-use applications aside from lithium-ion cells, including building construction, electrical and electronic products, transportation equipment, consumer and general products, and industrial machinery and equipment.” 

    Here’s hoping that the greater prominence given to Copper — both as a standalone material and Gateway Metal — by the White House 100-day report is an indication that a forthcoming updated U.S. Critical Minerals List will acknowledge the metal’s ever-growing importance.  Until then, Copper will remain one of the most “Critical Non-Criticals,” as we note in ARPN’s recent report, Critical Mass.

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  • Copper, Lithium, Antimony and Tellurium: Minerals Make Life Features Four Minerals as “Key to an Advanced Energy Future”

    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.”

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  • 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 [...]
  • Biden Administration 100-Day Supply Chain Report Holds Surprise for Some: And the Winner is… Nickel?

    Critical Minerals policy-wonks:  if you wagered that Rare Earths would be the leading elements in the Biden 100-Day Report in terms of mentions, you’d be wrong. That’s right — we took a look at the Biden Administration’s just-released 100-day supply chain assessment, and created a word cloud based on the number of mentions (footnotes included) of [...]
  • If Copper is the New Oil, We Need to Prioritize Its Development

    A Bank of America commodity strategist warns that the world may be “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits. Suggesting that prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025, the strategist’s note called out that inventories are currently at levels seen 15 years ago, and that existing stocks may cover just [...]
  • Decarbonization Goals Expose Bottleneck in Critical Mineral Supply Chains — Us

    [Note from Sandra Wirtz: As ARPN digs through the White House Supply Chain Report, we are completing the week with posts that “preview” metals and minerals prominently mentioned in the Report – beginning with copper.] “The road to decarbonisation will be paved with copper (…) and a host of other minerals, all critical for electric [...]
  • Mining Industry Expert: “A Serious Conversation About Infrastructure and Clean Energy Must Start at the Beginning of the Supply Chain. It’s Time to Boost Domestic Supply of Copper”

    As was to be expected, President Joe Biden used his State of the Union address to both chambers of Congress to tout his American Jobs Plan, which has been billed as comprehensive package to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change. And while nobody can [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Canada’s Just-Released List of 31 Critical Minerals Includes Key Gateway Metals

    As demand for critical minerals is increasing in the context of the global shift towards a green energy future, Canada’s Minister of Resources Seamus O’Regan Jr. earlier this week announced the release of a Canadian list of 31 metals and minerals deemed critical “for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies—minerals that can [...]
  • 2020 – A Watershed Year for Resource Policy

    ARPN’s Year in Review — a Cursory Review of the United States’ Critical Mineral Resource Challenge in 2020 It feels like just a few weeks ago many of us quipped that April 2020 seemed like the longest month in history, yet here we are: It’s mid-December, and we have almost made it through 2020. It’s [...]

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