Better Mining of Energy Minerals Sought in US Backed Effort

The U.S. and three other countries announced a partnership to encourage responsible mining of rare earths and other minerals used in car batteries, wind turbines and solar panels, as explosive demand for renewable energy is expected to drive a global rush of exploitation.

The Energy Resources Governance Initiative, whose other founding partners are Australia, Botswana and Peru, covers the 17 rare earth elements along with 14 minerals including copper, lithium, uranium and manganese. It seeks to “share best practices and encourage a level playing field,” the State Department said in a note Thursday unveiling the initiative.

The move, spearheaded by the department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, aims to lay the groundwork for cleaner mining of the minerals that will be crucial components in shifting to a greater reliance on renewable energy. That includes solar cells wind turbines and the batteries that will power the 130 million electric vehicles projected to be on the road in 2030, up from 5 million today.

“There’s this incredible bottom-up demand but that has incredible stressors on the demand for the minerals that allow those products to exist,” Francis Fannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for energy resources, said in an interview. “As clean and green as any technology is, it requires really big shovels at the beginning of their life cycles.”

It’s also a push to offer countries an alternative to China, which accounts for about 70% of global production of rare earths and has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars globally in mines producing cobalt, manganese, copper and other key minerals. The government in Beijing has suggested it could restrict the export of some rare earths as part of a trade dispute with the U.S.

The U.S. has sought to ramp up its own production and partner with other countries. The U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding with Greenland in June to boost investment in mineral exploration. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that seeks to cut what it called “the nation’s vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals, which constitutes a strategic vulnerability for the security and prosperity of the United States.”

Other countries that joined Thursday’s event included Argentina, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, the Philippines, and Zambia. The countries “discussed on shared challenges and opportunities for improving governance standards in extractive sectors to meet the anticipated demand for energy resource minerals,” the State Department said.


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