The United States must move much faster in the race for critical minerals

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The United States needs a more robust strategy in the race to supply essential minerals that will be crucial to achieving one of its clean energy goals.

The United States has recognized that it depends on China for imports of critical metals and minerals needed for energy transition, supply chains and national security.

Yet as the administration considered supply chain issues and vulnerabilities to its demand for critical minerals, China is heading to Africa and South America to strike alliances and lend money. to African countries rich in mineral resources, while Russia is supposed to provide shadow “security services” in some African countries with a mercenary organization linked to the Kremlin.

In the global race to secure critical minerals, the United States is currently losing to China.

The United States imports more than half of its annual consumption of 31 of 35 critical minerals, according to the Department of Energy noted early in President Joe Biden’s term. America has no domestic production for 14 of these critical minerals and relies entirely on imports to meet its demand.

As of early 2021, the United States was importing 80% of its rare earth elements (REE) directly from China, with the remaining portions coming indirectly from China via other countries, the DOE said.

In 2020, China accounted for 85% of global production of refined rare earth products, with other Asian countries (Malaysia, India and Vietnam) and relatively minor European operations accounting for the rest, Wood Mackenzie noted in an analysis of ETRs in October 2021.

“China has also consolidated its domestic rare earth industry into six state-owned companies, giving it greater control over the sourcing and pricing of rare earth exports globally,” said analyst Ross Embleton. of WoodMac, and David Merriman, materials manager for batteries and electric vehicles.

According to Roskill, a commodity research firm of Wood Mackenzie, China accounted for 54% of global rare earth element mining in 2021 and 85% of global refined REE supply. For comparison, North America accounted for 18% of REE mining last year, and ZERO refined supply of these elements.

“The geographic concentration of rare earth mining and refined production has long raised concerns about the potential for supply disruption and the large end-use markets they serve,” Embleton and Merriman said. by WoodMac.

Around 90% of neodymium (NdFeB) magnet manufacturing currently takes place in China, despite efforts to diversify mined and refined supply.

“This raises geopolitical concerns,” they note.

After a 100-day review of critical supply chains and critical minerals, the White House and the Administration decided establish a task force comprised of federal agencies “to identify potential sites where critical minerals could be produced and processed sustainably and responsibly in the United States while meeting the highest environmental, labor , community engagement and sustainability”.

While the United States works in task forces, China and Russia move into mineral-rich African countries to access their reserves in legislations with low environmental standards, cheap labor and few regulations, Ariel Cohen, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and founding director of Risk Advisory International Market Analysis, Remarks at Forbes.

China lends money and works with African nations under its Belt and Road Initiative, while Russia is reportedly moving in with the Wagnerian group, a private military group suspected of having links with the Kremlin. Russia denies any state involvement in the group or its activities in Africa, most recently in the Central African Republic and Mali.

In addition to seeking to extract mineral resources at home, the United States and the West should develop strategic critical mineral reserves, similar to the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), for use in times of supply disruption, Cohen said.

Shortages of rare earths and key minerals for the energy transition could be imminent, given the high mineral intensity and promises of net zero emissions. The United States must act faster to secure key minerals domestically and from allies such as Australia; otherwise, US clean energy goals and high-tech and automotive supply chains could hinge on China.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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