Critical Mineral Alliances are forged
For a healthy, prosperous, and exciting future for humankind Critical Minerals Alliances 2023 - September 12, 2023
Last updated 9/14/2023 at 2:21am
Data Mine North launched the first edition of Critical Minerals Alliances in 2021 with the hopes that this annual magazine would play some small role in helping to build alliances "that are not crippled by irreconcilable differences between organizations and individuals that do not always see eye-to-eye but strengthened by a spectrum of ideologies with a common goal – a healthy, prosperous, and exciting future for humankind."
Today, the alliances envisioned by the Data Mine North team are beginning to coalesce, and these partnerships are developing cohesive strategies for sustainably mining, refining, and recycling the elements of 21st-century innovation.
These critical minerals alliances range from international partnerships between nations like Australia, Canada, and the United States, to community and state groups like those being forged at the Salton Sea – an area of Southern California known as Lithium Valley.
The community and state partnerships that have come together in support of establishing a lithium battery supply chain in California's Lithium Valley is a prime example of the critical alliances that can be formed around American minerals projects that put the environment at the fore.
Controlled Thermal Resources' plan to utilize zero-carbon geothermal energy below its Hell's Kitchen project on the shores of the Salton Sea to power the extraction of lithium from the hot brines that generate that steam and then convert this raw product into green battery-grade lithium needed for America's EV revolution is something even So-Cal residents and the state's governor can get behind.
"The future happens here first – and Lithium Valley is fast-tracking the world's clean energy future," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a visit to the So-Cal lithium project.
Bridging the chasm
The one North American battery materials alliance to rule them all is Li-Bridge – a group assembled to span the wide chasm that lies between the present and ambitious visions of a green energy future where electric vehicles are charged with low-carbon energy.
Convened by the U.S. Department of Energy, Li-Bridge is a public-private partnership committed to accelerating the development of a robust and secure domestic supply chain for lithium-based batteries.
"While the U.S. has all the pieces to achieve these goals, they are fragmented. The Li-Bridge alliance will bring these pieces into a cohesive whole," said Venkat Srinivasan, director of the Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science at Argonne National Laboratory.
Li-Bridge and other critical minerals alliances uniting around the globe are beginning to bridge the wide gulf between the fossil-fueled 20th century and the envisioned clean energy future.
Even with the hard work being done by the local and national energy transition alliances already formed, there is much more bridge-building yet to be done.
International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol said the IEA team is "encouraged by the rapid growth in the market for critical minerals, which are crucial for the world to achieve its energy and climate goals," but "major challenges remain."
"We see an urgent need to bring together governments, industry, investors and other stakeholders to collectively address questions that will have a profound impact on the future of energy security and global efforts to reach net-zero emissions," he added.
Australia, Canada, and the U.S. are addressing this at the international level through an alliance to better define the critical minerals these countries have to offer.
Under the tri-national Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative, these countries merged geological, geophysical, and mineral resource information into a single dataset that is expected to enhance critical mineral discovery.
"Geology doesn't stop at the border and neither does our data," said U.S Geological Survey scientist Anne McCafferty. "Scientists will now be able to look at geological and geophysical data seamlessly across both Canada and the United States, as well as make direct comparisons to Australia."
America's heavy dependence on countries like China for critical minerals and an overall lack of knowledge about many of these elements essential to clean energy, high-tech devices, and military hardware was a primary driver behind the formation of CMMI.
Geopolitical chess pieces
The geopolitical ramifications of America's reliance on imports for critical minerals came to the fore with China's gallium and germanium export restrictions.
While the markets for this pair of tech metals are minuscule in comparison to the economies of the U.S. and China, they have tremendous economic leverage due to their uses in high-tech and green energy products.
Gallium serves as a primary ingredient in semiconductors used in next-generation smartphones, telecommunication networks, LEDs, thin-film solar cells, and medical devices.
Germanium is a powerful ingredient in fiber optics, night vision devices, triple-layered solar panels, and transistors for classic and quantum computers.
China produces 98% of the world's gallium and is the source of 54% of the germanium that America imports.
Analysts and foreign policy experts see China's export limitations on this pair of metals as a counter to the U.S. and other Western nations imposing restrictions on the exports of computer chips and related technologies to China.
"Gallium and germanium are chess pieces in a geopolitical game of enormous proportions," Christopher Ecclestone, a mining strategist at the consulting firm Hallgarten & Company, told Washington, DC-based Foreign Policy.
Rallying critical minerals alliances
While China's dominance in the production of gallium and germanium makes these tech metals critical pieces in the geopolitical chess match between China and the West, putting these pawns into play may have unintended consequences.
"The export controls on gallium and germanium are already putting pressure on countries to consider alternatives and will continue to erode China's market dominance for critical materials," penned Sarah Godek, a Stimson Center research analyst who specializes on China.
If China's export restrictions have the desired effect – limit the West's ability and drive up the cost to produce the chips that go in electronics ranging from toys and home appliances to vehicles and military hardware – they will also likely rally citizens and businesses to get behind critical mineral alliances aimed at further eroding China's tech materials dominance.
Geopolitical ramifications aside, diversifying and shortening critical minerals supply chains is better for the planet, especially when those minerals are produced in countries with strict ESG standards.
This is why the Data Mine North team is proud to present Critical Minerals Alliances 2023 – the third edition of an annual magazine that encourages the formation of critical mineral "partnerships that are not crippled by irreconcilable differences but strengthened by a spectrum of ideologies with a common goal– a healthy, prosperous, and exciting future for humankind."