Cooper Metals – Biden looks to Australia, other allies for EV metals
“It’s not that hard to dig a hole,” one of the sources said. “What’s hard is getting that stuff out and getting it to processing facilities. That’s what the US government is focused on.”
Under the approach, the United States would rely on Canada, Australia and Brazil – among others – to produce most of the critical raw materials needed, while it competes for higher-value jobs turning those minerals into computer chips and batteries.
Securing the full supply chain from metals to batteries does not require the United States to be the primary producer of the raw materials, one of the sources said.
A full strategy will be finalised after a year-long supply chain review involving national security and economic development officials.
Biden officials want to ensure the administration’s EV aspirations are not imperilled as domestic mines face road-blocks from environmentalists and even some Democrats.
“It rings hollow when I hear everyone use this as a national defence argument, that we have to build new mines to have a greener economy,” said US Representative Betty McCollum, a Democrat who has introduced legislation that would permanently block the Twin Metals copper mine proposed by London-listed Chilean mining giant Antofagasta in Minnesota.
“President Biden is focused on seizing the electric vehicle market, sourcing and manufacturing the supply chain here in America, and creating good-paying union jobs,” Ali Zaidi, the deputy White House national climate adviser, said.
“Building American-made EVs and shipping them around the world will include leveraging American-made parts and resources. This includes responsibly pursuing, developing and mining critical minerals and materials used for EV batteries.”
Mr Zaidi also said the administration is invested in a strategy that includes recycling in the supply chain.
While US projects from small and large miners alike will feel the impact, the pain from any blocked projects will fall disproportionately on smaller, US-focused companies. Many large miners also have global projects that could benefit from the administration’s plan.
“We can no longer push the production of the products we want to places we cannot see and to people we will never meet,” said Mckinsey Lyon of Perpetua Resources Corp, which is trying to develop Idaho’s Stibnite mine to produce gold and antimony used to make EV battery alloys.
The US government in April became the largest shareholder in mining investment firm TechMet, which controls a Brazilian nickel project and a Rwandan tungsten mine and is a major investor in a Canadian battery recycler.
Washington also funds research into Canadian cobalt projects and rare earths projects in Malawi, among other international investments.
The State Department’s Energy Resource Governance Initiative (ERGI) is one of the main programs Washington plans to use to help allies discover and develop lithium, cobalt and other EV metals.
To be sure, Washington is not ignoring domestic mining.
The US Department of Energy has awarded grants to help old coal mines find ways to produce rare earths. US officials have also funded MP Materials, which owns the country’s only rare earths mine, though it relies on Chinese processors.
But the bulk of Mr Biden’s approach is designed to sidestep battles with environmentalists and save capital for other fights, according to one administration source.
During a visit to a Ford Motor plant in Michigan on May 18, Mr Biden called for government grants for new EV battery facilities. He mentioned Australia’s lithium reserves during the tour, but not large US supplies of the key battery mineral.
However, Republicans say Mr Biden’s EV plans will be impossible to achieve without more US mines.
“These ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ extremists have made clear they want to lock up our land and prevent the mining of minerals,” US Representative Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, told a House Natural Resources Committee forum held the same day as Mr Biden’s Michigan visit.
Mr Biden’s approach comes with risks, including angering political supporters within the labour movement who want the administration to have an openness to resource extraction and the attendant jobs.
“Let’s let Americans extract these minerals from the earth,” said Aaron Butler of United Association Local 469 union, which does work for Rio Tinto Ltd’s proposed Resolution copper mine project in Arizona and endorsed Mr Biden in the elections. “These are good-paying jobs.”
Many of the skills workers would use to build mines, including concrete and electrical work, can also be used to build EV metal processing plants.
The National Mining Association, an industry trade group, has been lobbying the White House and Congress to support domestic projects, arguing that the coronavirus pandemic showed the importance of localising supply chains.
Mr Biden’s White House is now quietly working to enlist labour support as it tries to build a case that its green policies are creating jobs, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections that could determine whether the strategy wins congressional backing, according to two organised labour sources familiar with the campaign
Biden officials have reached out to unions across the country asking for specific job-boosting projects the administration can take credit for, the labour sources said.