The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) today sounded the alarms on the long-term viability of the clean energy transition. Concerning new data by SME demonstrates that the move to net-zero is slated to stall out in the next five years unless action is taken to meet critical mineral demands domestically in the U.S.
As the demand for renewable energy and sustainable technologies such as solar, wind, EVs, and more continues to increase, the demand for critical minerals necessary to create these technologies also increases, putting immense pressure on the global supply chain for these critical minerals. SME estimates there will be an increase in demand for minerals of three billion tons by 2040 – six times today’s demand – including a 70-90% increase in demand for nickel, cobalt and lithium. To meet this demand, SME estimates needing 359 additional mines to open across all commodities, but with the current process in the U.S. taking more than 10 years for a mine to receive all of the necessary authorizations to begin extraction and production, the U.S. is at risk of stalling in its ambitious net-zero goals.
“Given the importance of minerals to the development of clean technologies, the mining industry is the biggest champion and supporter of the clean energy transition,” said Dave Kanagy, CAE, Executive Director and CEO of SME. “We’re at a critical point in time to advance on the green energy transition as it relates to our net-zero goals, and so it’s essential that the U.S. takes action to support domestic mining and simplify the process to opening new mines. Given the considerable inflationary pressure put forth on the clean energy economy due to demand outpacing supply globally, the future of the clean energy transition is at stake if the U.S. doesn’t act now.”
Currently, 50% of the U.S.’s lithium and 61% of its cobalt are derived from foreign sources. The U.S. has the safest and most environmentally friendly mining industry in the world, due to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA). By contrast, foreign sources of minerals like copper, nickel, cobalt and lithium often depend on destructive and unsustainable mining processes. Relying on foreign sources for our minerals creates strategic vulnerabilities for economic prosperity and national security, as the U.S. remains dependent on unstable or adversarial nations for our supplies.
Unless action is taken, the price for lithium used in electric vehicle batteries can be expected to rise to 2.5x today’s prices. This level of cost increase will be seen across all industries, as minerals are needed beyond clean energy technologies, and whose impact will be felt everywhere. The more than 10-year time horizon to open a new mine will block progress, and make initiatives such as California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Program designed to achieve the state’s long-term emission reduction goals much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
There is no clean energy transition without mining, but it’s possible to get the minerals we need through safe and sustainable mining practices that will allow us to keep moving towards a cleaner future as a country. What we need is wide-sweeping support and action that empowers the U.S. mining industry to work on reasonable timelines with the support they need.