American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Nature Magazine Column Calls on U.S. to “Embrace Tough Trade-Offs” and “Get Serious” About Domestic Mining to Support Green Energy Shift

    The time has come for the United States to get “serious about mining critical minerals for green energy,” writes Saleem H. Ali for Nature.

    Ali points to the inherent irony of the green energy transition — renewable technologies requiring vast and increasing amounts of metals and minerals like lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt, manganese and REEs, but the U.S. Administration finding itself in a bind with the climate movement, a core part of President Joe Biden’s base, not wanting to mine them, “certainly not close to home.”

    Ali cites the January 2023 Boundary Waters decision, in which the U.S. Department of the Interior closed over 350 square miles of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota – an area that holds some of the nation’s largest undeveloped deposits of copper and nickel but is also known for its pristine lakes — to mineral and geothermal leasing for twenty years.

    Arguing that while the “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) sentiment has gone global – Ali points to Serbia’s Jadar lithium mining project being stopped in response to environmentalist pressures — the “United States seems particularly stuck.”  

    (See ARPN’S coverage of the NIMBY movement here.)

    Relying on allies, such as Australia and Canada, and countries with “controversial domestic-labour policies and environmental standards, including Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo” rather than developing its own resources has led to the U.S. yielding to China which has “benefited from the uncompromising US opposition to domestic mining and has built up a formidable dominance in critical metal extraction and processing over the past 30 years.”

    Ali notes that while “[m]ining has a sordid history of exploitation and plunder, particularly with respect to Indigenous people,” “contemporary mines with regulatory oversight can have workable impact–benefit agreements with communities,” citing specific examples exemplifying such agreements, including Voisey’s Bay nickel mine in Canada and Red Dog Mine in Alaska, which preferentially employ Indigenous people, respect traditional hunting seasons and include incremental royalties and partial resource ownership.

    Ali suggests:

    “The country is in danger of forgetting one of the four laws of ecology that Barry Commoner (…) established in his 1971 book A Closing Circle: ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch.’ All industrial activities have some ecological impact. As researchers, and as informed societies, we must consider the benefits and trade-offs in concert.”

    adding that

    “as the world prepares for the 2023 COP28 climate conference — where even free conference lunches are not really free — the United States should revisit Commoner’s wisdom: there is virtue in embracing tough trade-offs.”

    All in all, a welcome if somewhat unexpected proposition coming in an article from (mostly) peer-reviewed Nature.

  • Strengthening the Supply Chains for the “Fuel of the Green Revolution” – A Look at Lithium

    Sometimes hailed the “fuel of the green revolution,” lithium has been the posterchild of the “battery criticals.”  Start with the fact that the leading battery technology underpinning the shift towards net zero carbon emissions is called “lithium-ion.” With its high electrochemical potential and light weight, the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery has transformed and accelerated the renewables shift.  Lithium is a key component of the battery cathode, and the EV market and demand for renewable energy storage are key drivers for soaring lithium demand.

    Meanwhile, as global lithium production has quadrupled since 2010, the U.S. share of production has dropped significantly. Once the largest producer of lithium in the 1990s, the United States’ share of production has dropped to 1 percent of the global total, as Australia, Chile and China dominate the field.

    As we previously pointed out, China may only account for 13% of total production, but It has not only consistently developed domestic mining capabilities — it has also acquired lithium assets in countries like Chile, Canada and Australia, and, one link down the lithium supply chain, it is now home to 60% of global refining capacity. In light of skyrocketing demand projections, the country has stepped up its involvement in the electric game, and has recently beat out automaker Tesla in a bid to mine for lithium in Nigeria.

    As for the United States, according to the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries“[c]ommercial-scale lithium production […] was from one continental brine operation in Nevada. Lithium was also commercially produced from the brine-sourced waste tailings of a Utah-based magnesium producer. Two companies produced a wide range of downstream lithium compounds in the United States from domestic or imported lithium carbonate, lithium chloride, and lithium hydroxide.”

    Big picture, the U.S. simply cannot realize its aspirations to be a global player in the renewable revolution while producing 1% of worldwide lithium supply.

    Efforts to strengthen the lithium supply chain are underway. Followers of ARPN are aware of the green energy-related provisions of 2021 congressional infrastructure package, as well as the 2022 invocation of the Defense Production Act for lithium and the battery criticals and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

    [Lithium is the latest in ARPN’s feature series reviewing the battery criticals against the backdrop of the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries. View our posts on graphitemanganesecobalt, and nickel.]   

    In January of this year, the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) announced a conditional commitment to Ioneer to advance the domestic production of lithium and boron at its Rhyolite Ridge project.

    Rhyolite Ridge would become the second lithium mine in the United States, but – while DOE is providing a 9-digit loan guarantee – the project is still pending approval from DOI, the Department of the Interior, where it is mired in the inherent irony of the green energy transition, with environmentalists opposing the project on grounds that Thiem’s buckwheat, a rare wildflower found on the proposed mine site, was added to the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only a few weeks ago.   We have seen this paradox elsewhere. As Reuters columnist Andy Home phrased it“public opinion is firmly in favour of decarbonisation but not the mines and smelters needed to get there.”

    Also in January, General Motors announced that it would jointly invest with Lithium Americas Corp. to develop the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada, which is the largest known source of lithium in the United States, and is considered the third largest in the world.  With a $650 million equity investment, this would represent the “largest investment by an automakers to produce battery raw materials” in GM’s own words. Under the agreement, GM will have exclusive access to the lithium once the investment is complete. The company expects that once the mine is operational in the second half of 2026, the batteries bearing Rhyolite Ridge lithium could power up to 1 million EVs.

    Not surprisingly, the Thacker Mine, too, is embroiled in a high stakes legal battle, with environmentalists and tribal leaders attempting to block the project near the Oregon line.  Just last week, however, a federal judge – for the third time in two years – sided with the Biden Administration and Lithium Americas, denying the opposition’s request for an emergency injunction until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals can hear their latest appeal.  Based on the judge’s decision, construction could begin as early as this week.

    In addition to projects pursuing lithium as a primary material, Rio Tinto’s U.S. Borax Mine in California has recovered lithium from 90-year old waste piles.  The effort has leveraged a public-private partnership linking Rio Tinto with DOE’s Critical Materials Institute, to work through processing challenges.  It’s the kind of unconventional thinking that finds a 21st Century tech material in the mine tailings of the 1920s, turning a “waste stream” into a “work stream” in a world hungry for lithium.

    Achieving global (and domestic) decarbonization goals while at the same time strengthening our supply chains and reducing our over-reliance on critical minerals from China will require a comprehensive “all of the above” approach across the entire value chain, and,  ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has consistently  pointed out“we don’t have the luxury of time” anymore.

  • On National Miners Day, A Look at The Mining Industry’s Contributions to Sustainably Greening our Future

    “December 6 is National Miners Day… a fitting time to reflect on how much miners provide to allow for our modern way of life. (…)”   You might not recognize how mining plays a role in your daily life. Most people do not see the raw materials produced by mining, from metals and minerals to coal [...]
  • President Xi Jinping’s “Coronation” Adds Fuel to the Fire to Decouple Critical Mineral Supply Chains from China

    With pressures rising on critical mineral supply chains as nations rush to flesh out environmental initiatives before the COP27 climate change summit kicks off in Sharm El Sheikh next month, the stakes for the United States and its allies to “decouple” from adversary nations — in the new U.S. National Security Strategy, read:  China — may have gotten even [...]
  • As Clean Energy Adoption Reaches “Tipping Point,” the Challenge of Untangling Critical Mineral Supply Chains Looms Larger than Ever

    “Solar power, electric cars, grid-scale batteries, heat pumps—the world is crossing into a mass-adoption moment for green technologies,” writes Tom Randall for Bloomberg.  Citing Bloomberg research, he argues that “clean energy has a tipping point, and 87 countries have reached it.”  The mass-adoption of green technologies, as followers of ARPN well know, requires drastically increased amounts of critical [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • European Union to Step Up its Critical Minerals Game against the Backdrop of Surging Demand Forecasts

    The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent additional supply chain challenges have prompted the European Union — already grappling with strained supply chains in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — to step up its critical minerals game. During her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen announced [...]
  • Critical Minerals Go Mainstream: ABC News Clip on Critical Minerals in the Climate Fight

    For years, ARPN and others in the mineral resource policy realm have lamented a lack of public focus on the importance of securing critical mineral supply chains.  Fast forward to a global pandemic prompting lockdowns, resulting supply chain shocks, Russia’s war on Ukraine and rising resource nationalism in the Southern Hemisphere, and the issue has gone [...]
  • Closing the Loop – An Important Tool in Our All-of-the-Above Toolkit

    In a recent piece for The Hill, Adina Renee Adler, deputy executive director of Silverado Policy Accelerator, a Washington, D.C.-area based think tank, calls for the increased harnessing of circular economy concepts in service to U.S. critical mineral resource policy. Acknowledging bipartisan efforts to strengthen U.S. critical mineral supply chains in the past year, for which [...]
  • “Critical” Without the Label? – A Look at Boron

    While critical mineral resource policy is finally receiving the attention it deserves against the backdrop of increasing supply chain challenges, a look at the materials stealing the spotlight would have you believe the list of metals and minerals deemed critical from a U.S. national and economic security perspective is much shorter than it is. The [...]