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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.”

  • The Mining Industry is Ready to Strengthen American Supply Chains

    With the release of its 100-Day Supply Chain Report, the Biden Administration has sent a strong signal that it is serious about stepping up U.S. efforts to secure domestic supply chains — especially for the four areas covered by the report: semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging; pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), and, of particular interest for followers of ARPN, large capacity batteries, as well as critical minerals and materials.

    In its commitment to ensure a stable supply for these tech sectors, the Administration has embraced an “all of the above” approach to critical mineral security, which spans all segments of the supply chain and a broad array of strategies. In the run-up to the Report’s release, there were news reports that the Administration would focus on expanding domestic processing and rely on allies and other nations to mine the minerals and metals. However, both the 100-Day Supply Chain Assessment and subsequent statements by Administration officials like Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm have made clear that the “all of the above” referenced by DoD, or the “wrap-around strategy” Sec. Granholm has touted, would not only include recycling and substitution as well as partnering with close allies such as Canada and Australia, but also new domestic mining — with the caveat that it be “sustainable” and “responsible.”

    This is good news for the mining sector, which has recognized “[its] responsibility and trying to meet the increased expectations of consumers, society and governments” to contribute towards the push towards a greener energy future and has increasingly been harnessing advances in materials science and technology to meet the challenge of developing a domestic critical minerals supply while maintaining and advancing responsible mining practices.

    Over the past few months, ARPN has been highlighting initiatives by mining companies to sustainably green the future, ranging from overhauling supply chain policies to ensure suppliers conform to certain environmental and social standards, to incorporating renewable power sources into their operations to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development. With the 100 Day Report focusing a new level of attention on critical minerals supply chains, ARPN is spotlighting several new initiatives across the entire spectrum of the supply chain, from upstream to downstream.

    - DoE has provided funding for BHE Renewables’s lithium extraction efforts from geothermal brine at its operations in the Salton Sea, California, where the almost $15 million award will go towards constructing a demonstration plant to convert lithium chloride into battery-grade lithium hydroxide.

    - U.S.-based precious metals producing and processing group Comstock Mining has partnered with others to “deploy novel [clean energy] technologies for gold processing and extraction across its portfolio” and aims to “efficiently reprocess and renew silver and other strategic metals as part of a ‘clean energy transition’ towards ‘climate-smart mining.’”

    - Having developed a patented process for recycling cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries, Canada-based American Manganese, an industry member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), is working with U.S. National Labs to “promote a circular economy for the lithium-ion battery supply chain and set the standard for high recovery and purity of cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries.” American Manganese’s battery recycling work even received a “shout-out” in the White House’s 100 Day Report.

    - Rio Tinto has announced plans to construct a new plant to recover tellurium, a co-product of copper refining and a material critical to the green energy transition, at its Kennecott mine in the Utah. By harnessing an innovative extraction processes at an already existing mine site, the company is able to reduce waste while adhering to federal and state environmental standards and minimizing the carbon footprint of the operation – achievements that align well with the 100 Day Report’s objectives.

    - Epiroc, a Europe-based developer/producer of drill rigs, rock excavation and construction equipment, has updated its North American underground mining market strategy to reflect “increasing demand for electrification solutions that deliver savings on maintenance, ventilation and cooling while lessening environmental footprint.” The strategy seeks to support North American mining operations through battery-electric, zero-emission equipment.

    - Clean energy start-up Heliogen has announced a partnership with Rio Tinto to deploy its solar technology at the the largest open pit mine in California, Rio Tinto’s borate project in Boron, California. Using artificial intelligence and computer-vision-controlled mirrors, Heliogen will harness the power of the sun to power operations while cutting the project’s carbon footprint.

    - And more is happening at Boron: Drawing on its longstanding partnership with DOE’s CMI, Rio Tinto has begun producing battery-grade lithium at a demonstration plant located at the operation using a new extraction process developed on-site. As part of the company’s full-value mining strategy, the global miner seeks to recover lithium out of waste piles stemming from more than 90 years of mining at the site.

    - Barrick Gold Corporation is looking to reprocess tailings at the currently-closed Golden Sunlight Mine in Montana. The project would focus on removing and concentrating sulfur (iron pyrite) —a source of potential water pollution from the mine site. The sulfur would then be sold to and used in gold production by Nevada Gold Mines (NGM). According to Barrick company statements, the combination of rehabilitation with value creation would serve as a model for Barrick’s future mine closures.

    Of course, more can and should be done. But, as Secretary Granholm told U.S. Senators last week:

    “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.”

  • Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm Commits to “Soup to Nuts” Strategy, with Critical Minerals Being “Part and Parcel” of Renewable Energy Production

    During last week’s Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on President Joe Biden’s FY 2022 budget request for the Department of Energy, Senators questioned Secretary Jennifer Granholm on the Department’s view on the role of critical minerals in energy production. Watch the archived webcast here. Sec. Granholm stated that critical minerals are “part [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Post-Petro Geopolitics in the Tech Metals Age

    The sands of geopolitics are shifting. As Anumita Roychowdhury, Snigdha Das, Moushumi Mohanty, Shubham Srivastava outline in a multipart series for India’s Down to Earth magazine, global competition, cooperation and conflicts are less about arms and oil, and more about critical technologies as the world is experiencing a “Fourth Industrial Revolution, an age of advanced [...]
  • New IEA Report Underscores Material Inputs of Net Zero Energy System By 2050, Indicates Support for “All of the Above” Approach to Mineral Resource Security

    Touting his infrastructure package at Ford’s electric vehicle plant in Michigan last week, President Joe Biden declared: “The future of the auto industry is Dearborn,electric. There’s no turning back.”  Against the backdrop of the Biden Administration’s push for a low carbon energy future and a global push to reduce greenhouse gases, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has [...]
  • Commentary: Fighting Global Climate Change Through Electrification is a Herculean Task

    In a new piece for Forbes, Jude Clemente, principal at JTC Energy Research Associates, LLC, outlines the size and scope of the ambitious climate goal of electrification to fight climate change, and discusses the underlying challenges associated with the shift. Clemente argues that the likely surge in electricity demand as the world seeks to decarbonize [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • “Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup – Mining and Advanced Materials Industries Harness Materials Science in Green Energy Shift

    The Biden Administration has shifted focus to its next major legislative priority in the context of the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda — a multi-trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure package. Billed as a plan to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change, the package will [...]
  • 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 [...]