Electric vehicles are very useful in combating climate change. But EVs need batteries and batteries need minerals like nickel, cobalt and lithium. The US has some of these minerals underground and wants to excavate them urgently so that they don’t have to be so dependent on other countries, including China.
But here it gets difficult. Mining operators say they can speed up the digging process, but a number of regulatory roadblocks are standing in their way. And environmentalists and tribal groups remain extremely skeptical that all this mining can be done in a way that doesn’t ruin the land or spoil the water.
This more or less sums up the nearly 27,000 comments the Interior Ministry has received in the past six months since it opened published a request for information on ways to improve federal regulations, laws, and licensing practices for freestone mines. The department will have to go through these comments as it considers much-needed reforms to flesh out a very outdated law. And it will have to find a way to get through all of these competing interests and concerns as it seeks to support U.S. mining to meet the rising demand for EVs while protecting the environment.
It becomes an almost impossible task.
The Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ new tax and climate bill, will spend nearly $400 billion over the next decade on clean energy initiatives, including tax cuts for electric vehicles and financing for companies that produce clean cars in the US. And California said it would ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles from 2035, a move more than a dozen other states are expected to follow.
But the only EVs eligible for the $7,500 credit are those made in North America using batteries with minerals dug out of the ground in the US or from trading partners. These requirements are largely considered unfeasible by many observers due to the automotive industry’s heavy reliance on battery materials and components from China.
This fear is reflected in the comments made by major automakers in response to the Interior Ministry’s request for information. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents nearly every old automaker in the US, put it bluntly.
“The US has no significant throughput for EV battery materials and is dependent on other countries for refined feedstocks, exposing the US market to the risk of being affected by supply chains outside of US control,” the group said.
This will only get worse as demand for EVs grows, with the Alliance arguing that the lack of critical battery materials could outweigh the shortage of semiconductors in terms of impact on the economy.
The Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA), which represents EV companies such as Tesla and Rivian, says current mining laws do not reflect the urgency to ramp up domestic mineral supplies.
“If EVs accounted for 100 percent of new car sales — 17 million a year, in line with ZETA’s primary target — current lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) production would be only 0.05 percent of total domestic demand for EVs. battery packs,” the group said in its commentary.
Most of the anger has centered on the licensing process for new mining operations, with Ford calling it “long, expensive and inefficient.” A new mine in the US can take seven to 10 years to complete all permits and paperwork before going online. In Canada and Australia, that process takes only two to three years, notes Ford.
The US should streamline the permitting process to get new mining operations into production faster, the companies recommend. They also want more transparency from all involved agencies, and a stronger commitment to meeting deadlines and more money to fund geological surveys to find new mineral deposits. Making these changes could fuel “huge economic growth,” Ford claims.
Environmental groups see it a little differently. They largely support the government’s clean transportation goals, but worry about trampling current environmental regulations — and especially tribal lands — in the rush to extract as many minerals as possible.
“The green energy revolution cannot be built on dirty mining, outdated regulations and environmental injustice,” Samuel Penney, president of the Nez Perce tribe in Lapwai, Idaho, told the Department of the Interior. Affairs.
If the US is to meet its climate goals, it will need much more lithium, cobalt and nickel, the key ingredients in EV batteries. This also applies worldwide; the International Energy Agency estimates that in 2040 the world will need about 20 times as much nickel and cobalt as in 2020, and 40 times as much lithium.
It may just not be possible. An American Geological Survey estimates that to fully electrify its vehicle fleet, the U.S. would require 1.27 million and 160,000 metric tons of battery-grade nickel and cobalt per year, respectively — both of which will exceed total global production by 2021.
EV companies are already looking for ways to reduce their dependence on certain minerals, such as cobalt, which has been linked to human rights violations. But using less cobalt would cause a spike in nickel demand. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has almost begged the world’s miners to produce more.
The US currently has one working nickel mine, in Michigan. Funds are expected to be exhausted by 2026.
SOURCE – www.theverge.com