Our Clean Energy Future Depends on Critical Minerals

Here’s how critical minerals contribute to our clean energy future, as well as how to extract these materials thoughtfully.

Air Date: June 24, 2021

Moderator: Martin Durbin, Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Christopher Guith, Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Dan Byers, Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Sanjay Gupta, Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Small Business Administration

As America continues to work toward a clean energy future, critical minerals are playing an increasingly important role in our country’s economy. With rising demand for these minerals, including lithium and various metals used in renewable energy sources, government policy and business operations must also adapt.

Leaders in the political and business spheres discussed the importance of critical minerals at a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce panel. They also shared how to extract and utilize these materials thoughtfully.

Modernizing Supply Chains, Investing in Research, and Funding Entrepreneurial Innovation

As electric vehicles and other clean energy products become more commonplace, rates of critical mineral use are only expected to increase, according to David Turk, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.

“We need to not only get our act together for the reality of today, we’ve got to do it quickly and we’ve got to prepare for the future,” Turk advised. “This administration certainly hit the ground running when it comes to critical minerals. To boost our economic competitiveness, to meet our climate goals, we need a robust strategy.”

This robust strategy from the Biden administration includes investing in research and development on next-generation batteries and U.S.-sourced critical mineral extraction, modernizing associated supply chains, and financing private sector commercial projects.

“We want to get this capital into the market,” explained Turk. “We want to stimulate these new industries, these new jobs, these new entrepreneurs out there.”

Developing Domestic Sources for Critical Mineral Extraction

Representative Pete Stauber of Minnesota’s 8th district agreed on the importance of developing sustainable, domestic sources for critical mineral extraction. The congressman cited his home state’s Duluth Complex, one of the largest undeveloped mineral deposits in the world.

“We have three or four companies in line to mine these critical minerals that are going to be important strategically for our national security, as we transform into [the use of] … alternative energies,” Stauber stressed. “We have the ability to bring this to fruition.”

Stauber added that developing critical mineral extraction sites at home is crucial to eliminating supply chain dependency on foreign nations.

“It is a win-win-win if this administration allows us to go forward following the process and employ our men and women in the mining community … to extract these minerals in a safe, responsible, and environmentally-friendly way.”

Sustainability and Reliability Go Hand-in-Hand for Clean Energy

As one of the largest manufacturers of energy platforms worldwide, General Electric (GE) is working to support the transition to clean energy. Roger Martella, GE’s chief sustainability officer, noted that doing this requires sustainable, reliable sources of critical minerals.

“Sustainability … and reliability of our supply chain have to go hand-in-glove,” Martella said. “[The minerals] are central to our products and they’re essential to solving these global challenges.”

He added that these supply chains must not only be sustainable and reliable but also ethical.

“Human rights has to be first and foremost in our thinking on this,” stressed Martella. “We can’t afford to get access to minerals if we’re not doing it in a way that [is] respectful of the rule of law [and] human rights.”

Developing the Lithium-Ion Battery Supply Chain

With the increased need for critical minerals such as lithium, over 200 lithium-ion battery “mega factories” are being planned between now and 2030. Of these, 156 will be in China, while only 14 are planned in the United States.

Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, noted that the global batteries arms race is not simply a matter of America versus China. Rather, it reflects a race against the technology shift from gasoline to electric power.

“Every country, every continent in the world, will need their own lithium-ion battery cell capacity as a central cog in this supply chain,” explained Moores.

“The good news is, with the U.S. stepping up, you now have the world’s three major economic regions — the U.S.A., the European Union, and China — all putting lithium-ion batteries at the top of their geopolitical agenda,” he added. “That means they’re mainstream — they’re here to stay.”