It is essential to the production of iron and steel. It is a key component of certain widely used aluminum alloys. It’s considered a Critical Mineral by the U.S. Government, “essential to the national defense,” under the terms of the long-standing Defense Production Act. And, perhaps most importantly today, it is one of the five battery criticals, with the other four being lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel.
We’re talking about manganese. It’s certainly not the first metal that comes to mind when we think of EV batteries, and maybe not even the second or third one. It is, however one of the two battery criticals (the other is graphite) for which the United States is currently 100% import dependent.
In the battery segment, manganese serves as a stabilizing component in the EV battery cathode by virtue of its density increasing property. Its addition improves driving range and decreases the combustibility of the battery pack.
The 12th most abundant element is primarily sourced from South Africa, Australia, Brazil, India and Gabon. As is the case for many critical minerals, China dominates the processing segment with 95% of the chemical refining of battery grade material occurring there. (For an overview of China’s overall battery supply chain dominance followers may wish to refer back to our post from last October featuring a handy graphic by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.)
Automakers, including Tesla and Volkswagen, have stressed the potential for manganese-based batteries going forward. With demand for manganese from the battery segment expected to surge ninefold by 2030 according to BloombergNEF, and automakers seeking raw materials deals and pushing for the acceleration of the development of domestic critical mineral materials, prospects for U.S. production are increasing in the context of efforts to reduce supply chain reliance on China.
Efforts to do so are currently underway. Just this week Nevada Silver Corporation, a U.S.-based mineral development company announced that its Minnesota-based subsidiary North Star Manganese received the required permits to commence drilling at its Emily Manganese Project. Located in the Cayuga Iron Range of Central Minnesota, the Emily District “may contain the largest and highest-grade manganese deposits in the Northern Hemisphere” according to USGS. Drilling has begun and the company has already constructed a processing plant on site.
Further down the development path is the Arizona-based Hermosa Project, owned by major global manganese miner South32’s U.S. subsidiary, which the company calls its first “next generation mine” based on a design that uses automation and targets carbon-neutral mining operations in support of South32’s goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Hermosa is “multi-Critical,” hosting not only manganese, but what may be the world’s largest zinc deposit, which is a key material in solar and wind power systems.
With the green energy transition accelerating and demand for EV technology surging, the days when manganese flew under the radar are a thing of the past. Expect to see and hear more about the material going forward, because, as Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s Simon Moores phrased it last year, manganese represents an “EV supply chain bottleneck that can no longer be pushed into tomorrow by battery and automakers,” and it is encouraging to see that there are domestic developments to improve the supply picture.