American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • The Most Critical Non-Critical? A Look at Copper

    In a new piece for Metal Tech News, Shane Lasley zeroes in on the U.S. government’s failure – at least to date – to afford critical mineral status to copper, which is not only a key mainstay metal but an indispensable component in clean energy technology, and supply scenarios in the face of surging demand as the world accelerates the push towards net zero carbon are challenging at best.

    Laments Lasley:

    “The case for copper’s criticality is backed by commodity analysts who predict global copper production will need to double by 2035 to meet demands driven by global net-zero emission goals. Building that level of capacity in just 12 years, while at the same time not losing any output from existing mines, is a highly unlikely scenario.


    Despite the growing consensus that it is going to require extraordinary measures to ensure that there is enough copper to achieve global net-zero carbon emission goals, the U.S. Geological Survey has remained steadfast in its refusal to add this metal to America’s critical minerals list.”

    USGS Director Dave Applegate has publicly stated that while copper is considered an essential mineral, copper does not meet the agencies criteria for elevating the material onto the critical minerals list, an assessment that, in Lasley’s eyes, “seems to ignore the forecasts that demand will outstrip supply over the next two decades.”

    Lasley points to the Copper Development Association’s (CDA’s) commissioning of an analysis mimicking USGS methodology employed for the 2022 Critical Minerals List, which the association maintains was based on out-of-date data.  The CDA-commissioned analysis concluding that copper does meet the “critical” criteria when basing the assessment on “the very latest available data.” 

    As followers of ARPN well know, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has called for the designation of copper as a critical mineral on several occasions, and has submitted public comments to USGS to this effect.

    However, USGS has remained steadfast in its refusal to re-consider copper’s status even though the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has statutory authority to add copper to the Critical Minerals List without waiting for the next official update of the entire list, and has rejected a formal request by a broad coalition including federal lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle and more than 70 trade associations and unions to do so.

    The U.S. Department of Energy, meanwhile, recognized the growing importance of copper and included it into its critical materials list as part of its 2023 Critical Materials Assessment. While agreeing with the USGS notion of a diverse and relatively low-risk global copper supply, the department’s inclusion of copper was prompted by a longer-time view that declining ore grades and growing competition for available resources might change the outlook so that “identifying and mitigating material criticality now will ensure that a clean energy future is possible for decades to come.”

    USGS may have rejected a direct broad-based push to include copper into the overall government Critical Minerals List, but a congressional push is still underway, and the recent DOE elevation of copper’s status may provide a boost for U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani’s (R-Ariz.) Copper is Critical Act, which would do so with or without USGS consent.

    As copper demand in an increasingly net zero world continues to grow, ARPN will watch the push to add the perhaps most critical non-critical to the official U.S. government list with great interest.

  • DoD Once More Invokes Defense Production Act Title III Authority for Projects to Strengthen Domestic Critical Mineral Supply Chains for Lithium, Nickel

    Against the backdrop of surging demand for critical minerals and increasing geopolitical tensions, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is forging ahead with its efforts to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base. The Department is stepping up its efforts to award funding for projects to encourage domestic development of the Battery Criticals (lithium, graphite, cobalt, nickel and manganese), and what ARPN has dubbed the “Defense Criticals” – a new category of critical minerals effectively created by designating airbreathing engines, advanced avionics navigation and guidance systems, and hypersonic systems and their “constitutent materials” as priority Defense Production Act (DPA) materials via Presidential Determination. (see ARPN’s latest post on the issue for more background)

    ARPN outlined several of these DoD-funded projects to strengthen critical mineral supply chains in an earlier post. This past week, DoD added two more projects to the list.

    On September 12, 2023, DoD announced that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Industrial Base Policy, through its Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization (MCEIP) office, has entered an agreement with Albemarle Corporation to support the expansion of domestic mining and production of lithium.

    Per DoD’s announcement, “[t]he $90 million agreement, entered into under Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III authorities and utilizing funds appropriated by the Inflation Reduction Act, will help support Albemarle’s planned re-opening of their Kings Mountain, N.C. lithium mine to increase domestic production of lithium for the nation’s battery supply chain. Albemarle estimates that Kings Mountain will be operational between 2025 and 2030.”

    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.

    A second award announcement made on the same day aims at strengthening the nickel supply chain, and was also made through the Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization (MCEIP) office of the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Resilience:

    The $20.6 million agreement with Talon Nickel (USA), LLC – also entered into under DPA Title III authorities — uses funds appropriated by the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act to advance nickel exploration and mineral resource definition of the Tamarack Intrusive Complex in northeast Minnesota.

    The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Resilience, through its Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization (MCEIP) office, entered an agreement with Talon Nickel (USA), LLC (Talon) to increase the domestic production of nickel.

    The $20.6 million agreement, entered into under Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III authorities and using funds appropriated by the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, to advance nickel exploration and mineral resource definition of the Tamarack Intrusive Complex (TIC). Here, the company seeks to leverage its Advanced Exploration System (AES) — a proprietary suite of geophysical mapping tools that has already completed a successful pilot program and allows the company to rapidly identify and demonstrate economically recoverable nickel materials.

    A key battery critical, nickel is also an essential building block for the production of high-temperature aerospace alloys and stainless steel.  A “relatively benign supply profile” kept nickel off the U.S. Government’s first List of Critical Minerals in 2018. However, the metal’s increased usage in EV batteries, and the USGS’s expanded criticality criteria to include materials with only a single domestic producer along their raw materials supply chains – identified as having a single point of failure – led to nickel’s incorporation into the 2021 update to the U.S. Government Critical Minerals List.    The United States’ only primary nickel mine in operation, the Eagle Mine in Michigan, is nearing the end of its life cycle.

    While, as ARPN previously outlined,  increased domestic production for critical minerals alone may not suffice to fully solve our nation’s critical mineral woes – hence ARPN’s support for an all-of-the-above approach to mineral resource security — there are promising domestic resource development projects that can go a long way to significantly reducing vulnerabilities in the short to medium term, and ARPN will continue tracking these DoD-funded projects as they begin to bear fruit.

  • Defense Production Act Key Vehicle to Reduce Supply Chain Vulnerabilities for Critical Minerals

    The global push towards net zero carbon emissions against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions and associated supply chain challenges has undoubtedly directed stakeholder attention to the need to reduce vulnerabilities associated with an over-reliance on metals and minerals from adversary nations, especially China. Of course, the challenges of detangling supply chains and decoupling from [...]
  • Washington Post Editorial Board Calls for All-Of-The-Above Approach to Mineral Resource Security

    In another indication that awareness of the acuteness of our nation’s critical mineral woes has gone mainstream in recent months, the Washington Post’s editorial board weighed in with some thoughts on how to curb the risks associated with U.S. over-reliance on Chinese minerals. In a new opinion piece published last week, editors argue that while the environmental [...]
  • WSJ News Explainer: Looming Copper Shortage Threatens Green Tech Transition

    While lithium remains the poster child of the green energy transition, stakeholders and media have started to pay closer attention to the other four “battery criticals” graphite, cobalt, nickel and manganese (for more ARPN coverage click on the respective metal) — and rightfully so. However, one of the key components of 21st century renewable energy technology, copper, often continues to fly under the radar [...]
  • Wonder Material Graphene — New Sourcing Partnership Could Further Goal of Decoupling From China

    Graphene has long been heralded as a wonder material – almost from the time Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov used scotch tape to peel individual layers of the material off a chunk of graphite in 2004.  What sounds like a 6th Grade science fair experiment won the physicists the Nobel Prize in 2010. In the dozen [...]
  • Securing the Supply Chain for Graphite — the “Unsung Player” in Battery Supply Chain –“Herculean Task,” But One That Must Be Prioritized In Push Toward Net Zero Carbon

    Even before the Biden Administration announced the “most aggressive” plan to curb tailpipe emissions to date with new vehicle pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month, automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers were facing difficulties getting both the parts and raw materials needed for their electric vehicle (EV) components. The newly proposed rules [...]
  • As Biden Administration Doubles Down on EV Adoption Push, U.S. Must Double Down on Comprehensive “All-of-the-Above” Critical Minerals Strategy

    The Biden Administration has announced the “most aggressive” plan to curb tailpipe emissions to date, with new vehicle pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and announced by the White House last week. If finalized, the proposed rules would require automakers to reduce carbon emissions by 56% in their 2032 models compared to 2026 models.  The expectation is [...]
  • Critical in Spite of “Relatively Benign Supply Profile?” A Look at Nickel

    When it comes to the metals and minerals underpinning the green energy transition, and specifically the EV battery revolution, much of the spotlight has fallen on lithium — and for good reason, as we will discuss in a forthcoming post.  However, as ARPN’s latest review of the “battery criticals” against the backdrop of the just-released latest iteration of [...]
  • Bolstering the Domestic Supply Chain for “Battery Criticals” – A Look at Cobalt

     In this post, we continue our review of the “battery criticals” (lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese) against the backdrop of the just-released 2023 iteration of the USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries.  Next up:  cobalt. With the material accounting for up to 20% of the weight of the cathode in a typical lithium-ion EV battery, cobalt was considered the highest [...]