REALCLEAR ENERGY: Critical Mineral Supply Chains: America’s Pathway to a Circular Economy and Responsible Mining
March 14, 2021
Opinion Editorial by David Foster, distinguished associate with the Energy Futures Initiative, and retired USW District #11 director; and Mark Ritchie, president of Global Minnesota and former Minnesota Secretary of State, 2007-2015
Last week, the White House announced its new initiative on rebuilding domestic supply chains in six critical areas over the next year and in four specific sectors in the next 100 days. The latter group includes pharmaceuticals, critical minerals, semiconductors, and large storage batteries. Two of these—critical minerals and large-scale batteries—are deeply connected. In addition, critical minerals and large-scale batteries play an increasingly strategic role in successful execution of any ambitious climate policy.
In the last year, an explosion of global announcements by auto companies and governments have supercharged the timetable to reach vehicle electrification. Great Britain announced a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. France announced an $8 billion euro recovery investment in electric vehicles (EVs), while VW moved its targets forward to invest $86 billion and produce 60% electric vehicles by 2030. Then, GM committed to an accelerated 2025 timetable for plant conversions to produce EVs. A month later, Mary Barra, the CEO, announced that all of GM’s light duty vehicles would be electrified by 2035. A few weeks later, Ford announced it was meeting the 2030 target in its European operations. Even the iconic Ford F150 pick-up will have an electric version in mid-2022.
All these decisions have created significant opportunities for American manufacturers but only if we manage the supply chain risks and adopt new standards and practices for natural resource extraction in the U.S. No single link in the vehicle supply chain is more important than the minerals needed for battery production. Ignoring this issue and failing to perfect environmentally sustainable mining practices in North America today will sow the seeds of another energy dependency crisis as serious as the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s.
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