American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Specter of Cartelization in “Battery Criticals” Segment Should Kick Efforts to Bolster Domestic Supply Chains into High Gear — A Look at Nickel

    As global leaders direct their focus towards the COP27 climate change summit kicking off in Sharm El Sheikh this upcoming Sunday, pressures on critical mineral supply chains – particularly those for the “battery criticals”underpinning EV battery and energy storage technology — continue to mount.

    While for some time, much of the “battery critical” focus was primarily on lithium, this has shifted. See our recent pieces on graphite and cobalt here and here, respectively. Now, with Indonesia’s investment minister hinting at the possibility of Jakarta pursuing the creation of an OPEC-like cartel for nickel (and other key battery metals) the spotlight is falling on nickel.

    As the largest nickel producer with the largest known reserves of the material, Indonesia is considered the “nickel capital of the world.”

    As the Financial Times reports, the country’s investment minister Bahlil Lahdalia declared in an interview that the Indonesian government is studying “the possibility to form a (…)  governance structure [similar to OPEC] with regards to the minerals we have, including nickel, cobalt and manganese” adding that he saw “the merit of creating OPEC to manage the governance of oil trade to ensure predictability for potential investors and consumers.”

    Observers were quick to point out that “any attempt to form a cartel to control global prices for nickel would be far from straightforward.”

    Writes Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com:

    “Unlike the oil resources of OPEC’s producers, the mining operations in Indonesia and other major nickel producers are controlled by various private companies or Chinese entities. Moreover, the biggest producers and holders of nickel deposits are a diverse group of countries with very different political and market conditions and unlikely to have common ground and interests in forming a cartel.”

    However, the looming specter of battery material cartelization – first introduced earlier this year by South American Lithium producers — should be reason enough for U.S. stakeholders to kick the buildout of domestic battery supply chains into high gear wherever possible.

    As recent U.S. developments suggest, efforts are already underway.

    The first recipients of federal funding disbursed under the 2021 infrastructure law to “supercharge” U.S. manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and the electric grid included the Tamarack Nickel Project in central Minnesota.  As ARPN has noted, the project had previously been awarded  $2.2 million  to fund an effort to achieve carbon capture by a process that mineralizes the carbon in rock – a process far more stable than methods that inject carbon, where it remains vulnerable to seepage and fracturing due to earthquakes.  Bringing the supply chain home could not only inoculate the U.S. from trade issues on the critical minerals front, but could also help reduce the industry’s — arguably large — carbon footprint.

    With talk of nickel cartels and resource nationalism on the rise, the establishment of a secure U.S. nickel supply chain can’t come soon enough.

  • Latest Tesla Deals with Chinese Suppliers Underscore Critical Mineral Supply Chain Challenges

    As pressures continue to mount, U.S. stakeholders are beginning to realize the urgency of building supply chains “that are safer, more secure and not beholden to a country that has multiple human rights violations, predatory lending practices, and vast national security complications.”  For now, however, too often, automakers still have to turn to Chinese suppliers to meet their material needs.

    Underscoring the extent of China’s chokehold on critical mineral supply chains, especially for the “battery criticals” lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and manganese, Tesla Inc. signed two new long-term contracts with two of its existing Chinese battery materials suppliers, according to Bloomberg.

    The company signed pricing agreements with Zheijang Huayou Co. and CNGR Advanced Material Co. for supplies, specifically ternary precursors used for energy storage, until the mid-2020s.

    As followers of ARPN know, China dominates not only the resource development segment of the EV battery supply chain, but also the processing segment for the battery criticals.  As Manhattan Institute senior Fellow Mark Mills told the Daily Caller News Foundation: “If you want to build EVs, one needs access to the entire suite of specialty chemicals, and the vast majority of those are produced in China – the issue is not the mining per se, but the refining wherein China utterly dominates most relevant chemicals. Or else one could wait 5 to 10 years – if you’re lucky – for non-Chinese refineries to be built.”

    Amidst the global push towards net zero carbon emissions, demand for EVs will continue to soar, in the U.S. fueled in part by the adoption of an ambitious climate agenda by the Biden Administration, further driving up demand for critical minerals.

    The question becomes whether the net zero transition deepens dependency on Chinese and foreign-sourced Critical Minerals – or galvanizes a push to provide new sources of supply in the U.S..

    Thankfully, positive policy developments that could help reduce our over-reliance on China are underway.

    U.S. President Joe Biden in March of this year invoked the Defense Production Act to encourage domestic production of the metals and minerals deemed critical for electric vehicle and large capacity batteries, including nickel, and the Administration has acknowledged that “the need to domestically produce more metals is rising as EV’s go mainstream, but that new mines must not harm the environment.”   The development followed the adoption of a broader “all-of-the-above” approach to supply chain security on the part of the Biden Administration in 2021, and may be strengthened with the adoption of provisions contained in the Inflation Reduction Act just passed by the U.S. Senate.

    The package would require that by 2024, 40% of the minerals used in EV batteries would have to be extracted, processed or recycled in the U.S. or by a free trade partner — a requirement that increases to 80% by 2027 – and 100% for battery components by 2029. According to John Adams, U.S. Army brigadier general (ret.), the sourcing requirements for the battery criticals could be key to addressing “emerging energy security vulnerabilities before they are intractable crises.” 

    On the supply side, the mining industry is ready to meet this challenge and has increasingly been harnessing advances in materials science and technology to help develop domestic critical minerals supplies while maintaining and advancing responsible mining practices.   A case in point we recently highlighted was  Tesla’s  deal with Talon Metals Corp, developing a new nickel project in Minnesota, which Elon Musk singled out“due to plans to make the electric vehicle battery metal in a way it considers more environmentally friendly.”

    As we outlined, this is the mine site for which the U.S. Department of Energy recently announced a $2.2 million award to fund to a Rio Tinto-led project to achieve carbon capture by a process that mineralizes the carbon in rock – a process far more stable than methods that inject carbon, where it remains vulnerable to seepage and fracturing due to earthquakes.

    These are positive developments, but more must be done. Until then, there will be more announcements of automakers signing deals with Chinese companies — certainly not an ideal scenario at a time when tensions between the U.S. and China are mounting over Taiwan.

  • New “Critical” in the Crosshairs — NGOs Call on Automaker to Terminate Nickel Investment Plans in Indonesia

    Already burdened with increasingly volatile supply chains in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, rising geopolitical tension and Russia’s war on Ukraine, automakers’ drive towards net zero emissions is facing an additional challenge as environmental, social and governance pressures on the industry increase. The latest case in point concerns one of the new materials on [...]
  • 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. The infographic [...]
  • 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 Hits Critical Mineral Supply Chains: A Look at Nickel

     While in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, concerns over how the war would impact global supply chains were mostly focused on oil and natural gas, it quickly became apparent that the ramifications of drawn-out hostilities would stretch far beyond the global oil and gas sector. With Ukraine considered the “breadbasket of Europe,” Russia’s invasion [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Nickel and Zinc “Only Two New Additions” to Draft Revised Critical Minerals List — A Look at the Government’s Reasoning

    This week we continue our coverage of the just-released draft revised Critical Minerals List, for which the US Geological Survey (USGS) began soliciting public comment last week — this time via Andy Home’s latest.  In a new column for Reuters, Home zeroes in on the “only two new additions” to the draft list. (As ARPN outlined [...]
  • Two For Four — New Critical Minerals Draft List Includes Two of Four Metals Recommended For Inclusion by ARPN in 2018

    With the addition of 15 metals and minerals bringing the total number up to 50, this year’s draft updated Critical Minerals List, for which USGS just solicited public comment, is significantly longer than its predecessor. This, as USGS notes, is largely the result of “splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries [...]