US faces tough choices in 2022 over metal mines for electric vehicles

FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden tours General Motors 'Factory ZERO' electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit
FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden visits the Hummer EV production line as he tours General Motors’ ‘Factory ZERO’ electric vehicle assembly plant, flanked by UAW President Ray Curry and General Motors CEO Mary Barra , in Detroit, Michigan, USA on November 17, 2021. REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst / File photo

December 22, 2021

By Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) – The United States has enough reserves of lithium, copper and other metals to build millions of electric vehicles (EVs) of its own, but growing opposition to new mines could force it to rely on imports and delayed national electrification efforts. car.

The tension underscores the dilemma the United States faces as it enters 2022, a year that US policymakers hope will see breakthroughs across a range of institutions. electric vehicle facility from Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and others.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signaled that he prefers to lean on allies for EV metals, part of a strategy designed to placate environmentalists. That means U.S. automakers will have to compete with international rivals for supply amid a global rush to electrification.

However, U.S. metal imports could increase greenhouse gas emissions by increasing transportation from overseas mines to processing facilities, mostly in Asia, thereby reducing some of the behind building more electric cars.

A Reuters analysis found that proposed US mining projects could produce enough copper to build more than 6 million EVs, enough lithium to build more than 2 million EVs, and enough nickel to build more than 60,000 EVs.

Estimates are based on the mass of minerals used to make the Tesla Inc Model 3, the world’s most popular electric car, according to a study by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Other types of EVs use different amounts, depending on the design.

James Calaway, executive chairman of ioneer Ltd. “If we don’t start building some mining projects this year, we won’t have the raw materials domestically to support electric vehicle production,” said.

In August, Biden issued an executive order aimed at making half of all new car sales by 2030 electric.

Washington has so far issued confusing guidance to its mining industry. For example, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is poised to label a rare flower found on several acres in ioneer’s Nevada lithium mine as endangered, a step that could prevent back to permitting. At the same time, the US Department of Energy is deciding whether to lend this company more than 300 million USD to build the mine.


Other proposed mines face resistance from indigenous groups, ranchers or environmentalists, highlighting broader tensions in the United States as the resistance to living near the mines conflicts with the ability of electric vehicles to mitigate climate change.

In early 2022, federal judges will rule in two separate cases on whether mine approvals former President Donald Trump granted Lithium Americas Corp and Rio Tinto Plc should be overturned. .

In Minnesota, state regulators are weighing whether the license granted to PolyMet Mining Corp, controlled by mining giant Glencore Plc, should be revoked or re-issued. PolyMet’s mine will become a major nickel producer like the only US nickel mine scheduled to close in 2025.

In North Carolina, Piedmont Lithium Inc’s failure to keep local landowners on track with its development plans could cost the company the necessary local zoning approvals.

Biden himself in October took steps to block Antofagasta Plc’s Twin Metals copper and nickel mine project in Minnesota for 20 years. The proposed underground mine would become a major U.S. supplier of copper for electric vehicles, which use twice as much red metal as vehicles with internal combustion engines.

Despite that step, the White House is still working to emphasize its support for a number of EV mining projects, including the lithium mine proposed by Lithium Americas – despite objections from Native Americans. – and a geothermal lithium project in California partly funded by GM.

The administration has also touted a Tesla lithium supply deal with Piedmont, though that deal was permanently suspended earlier this year.

Many mining projects have strong backing from labor unions, a constituency the president has worked hard to cultivate and which some at times clash with environmental groups hoping to block mining projects. new mine.

Tom Conway, head of United Steelworkers, a union that represents some US miners, said: Biden’s EV target “means union jobs that pay well for people working in operations. responsible mining.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Houston; Editing by Matthew Lewis) US faces tough choices in 2022 over metal mines for electric vehicles

Bobby Allyn

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