Our government officials demand we convert to renewable energy. And soon. Yet, this switch requires an exponentially larger supply of critical minerals. A supply that is not readily available and is years (perhaps decades) from existing. We’ve basically been given a destination with a makeshift roadmap filled with obstacles, hurdles, and barriers along the way.
It doesn’t make any sense.
Senator Cortez Masto of Nevada summed it up perfectly at a critical minerals event hosted by U.S. Chamber of Commerce last month. She is “baffled” by all the cries for clean energy while numerous roadblocks for mineral production continue to mount. So are we, senator.
By its own admission, the White House acknowledges that demand for critical minerals will “skyrocket to 400-600%” over the next few decades. Every single aspect of a transition to renewable energy—electric vehicle (EV) batteries, storage, solar panels, wind farms—will require a substantial increase in mineral resources, not only here, but abroad.
China is the undisputed leader in critical minerals used in electric vehicle batteries, solar panels, and wind-turbine magnets. They account for 63% of the world’s rare earth mining, 85% of rare earth processing, and 92% of rare earth magnet production.
We are woefully behind.
We are home to just one active lithium (key ingredient for electric vehicle batteries) mine, which barely produces enough to power 80,000 EVs annually. We have just one nickel mine up and running. The only cobalt mine opened its doors last fall only to suspend activities earlier this year. There is zero graphite and zero manganese mining.
All five of these minerals are the most used when it comes to various renewable energy components. Yet, we import the vast majority of them. Some from openly hostile nations (i.e. China) and others from countries known for poor working conditions and child labor (i.e. Democratic Republic of the Congo). This puts the U.S. at the mercy of not just our allies, but corrupt and/or inhospitable countries, placing our national security at risk.
A recent Johns Hopkins University study paints a rosy picture of achieving the renewable dream of sufficient mineral production. But conditions would have to be ideal, and meeting such targets would “require extraordinary technological and financial cooperation” among multiple global players, including those with fragile democracies. Essentially the fate of a net zero world rests upon everyone going full speed ahead and playing nicely in the sandbox.
It would also help if America’s hands weren’t tied behind its back.
Read the full Real Clear Energy article here.
Kristen Walker is a policy analyst for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal