June 30, 2022
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The global demand for minerals is growing exponentially as governments commit to advancing energy technologies capable of addressing the climate challenge. Electric vehicles (EVs), solar arrays, wind turbines and transmission lines are all driving demand higher and faster than ever before.
The International Energy Agency recently issued a stark warning about the future energy transition: 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.
To date, the U.S. has mostly ignored our rich domestic reserves and the need for a national strategy to shore up our domestic supply chains, looking instead to imported minerals from foreign producers. Instead, we should be ramping up domestic minerals production under world-class environmental standards to win the energy transition, utilizing our more than $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves that exist here in the U.S. Minerals such as copper, lithium, antimony and tellurium are available on American soil and are essential to our energy transition.
Copper is an irreplaceable element for advanced energy technology, including EVs, wind turbines and solar panels. According to the IEA, copper, which provides the arteries and veins of an electrified world, will see its demand double in the coming years. EVs require four times more copper in the manufacturing process than gas-powered vehicles. A single wind turbine requires 4.7 tons of copper and the growth of offshore wind is expected to account for nearly 40 percent of future copper demand. As solar technology advances, the IEA expects solar will require 68 times the amount of copper it currently uses by 2040. To deliver the future of advanced energy, the U.S. needs a strong and stable supply of copper.
Freeport-McMoRan is a company ready to support this need and continues to produce copper across seven domestic mines, with its newest project on track to exceed 200 million pounds of copper a year in 2021. Taseko’s Florence Copper has developed a copper recovery process that is expected to produce an average of 85 million pounds of copper per year over 20 years, all with minimal environmental impact. Rio Tinto’s Resolution Copper Mine and Hudbay’s Rosemont Copper Mine are two proposed copper mines that have been tied up in permitting delays but stand ready to supply future copper needs.
Lithium is essential for producing the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs. So essential, that by 2040, lithium demand could grow to more than 40 times what it is today. Despite an estimated 7.9 million tons of lithium on U.S. soil, approximately 87 percent of all lithium is sourced from Australia, Chile and China. The U.S. is currently home to only one large-scale lithium mine, Silver Peak, in Nevada. To produce EV batteries at scale, we need to stand up more lithium projects here at home. In Nevada, Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass project could produce an estimated 60,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium per year. And in Arkansas, Standard Lithium’s Lanxess project could produce 29,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year. These are just two of a number of exciting projects advancing across the country.
While the importance of its role in various technologies is not as well-known as copper and lithium, antimony is among the most important inputs to our economic progress and future energy applications. This critical mineral has applications in everything from EV batteries, wind turbines and solar panels to semi-conductor chips, iPhone screens and energy-efficient windows. As of 2020, the U.S. had zero domestic producers of antimony, while China and Russia dominated the global market. Currently, only one proposed mining project, Perpetua Resources’ Stibnite Gold Project, in central Idaho, offers hope for decreasing America’s foreign reliance on antimony. Once approved, Perpetua Resources’ mine could rank in the top 10 antimony producing mines globally, and supply 35 percent of U.S. demand within six years.
Another unsung hero of advanced energy technologies is tellurium, which is essential to solar panels. The rare mineral feeds into semiconductor chips and is a key element of solar photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The U.S. currently imports more than 95 percent of its tellurium supply from countries including China and Canada, but Rio Tinto plans to extract the metal from its copper processing at its Kennecott mine in Utah. Rio Tinto says the mine will produce 20 tonnes of tellurium a year, creating a new North American supply chain.
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.