We are living in the most mineral-intensive time in human history. Electric vehicles (EVs), handheld electronics, computers, solar panels and wind turbines all depend on a wide range of minerals for their construction and operation. Over the holidays, many of the holiday gifts we unwrapped simply wouldn’t be possible without the materials produced by the mining industry. Looking at what’s in store for 2024, supporting and advancing domestic mining must be at the top of the list of resolutions if we’re going to keep pace with the mineral and energy-hungry technologies of today.
While analysts and researchers are telling us to expect sky-high demand for minerals over the next several decades, there are several actions we must take if mining in the U.S. is going to live up to its true potential and meet rising mineral demands with U.S.-mined minerals.
To bolster domestic production of critical minerals, and benefit from the opportunity to reduce our dependence on mineral imports from geopolitical rivals, we need to invest in the entire mining ecosystem. From increasing certainty for the investment community, to streamlining regulatory processes, to educating and expanding the mining workforce, 2024 needs to be the year of action on U.S. mining.
Energy Technologies Require Increased Mining
New energy technologies require a vast array of metals and minerals, and the demand for these elements will only continue to grow in 2024 and beyond as they are widely deployed. According to recent research by the International Energy Association for its Sustainable Development Scenario, demand from energy technology producers will quadruple by 2040. When it comes to looking at the demand for specific minerals, the numbers are even more drastic.
- Lithium is expected to grow 51-fold by 2040.
- Cobalt and graphite could grow between six- and 30-fold each over the next 16 years.
- Copper, manganese and nickel — minerals critical to the construction of wind turbines and solar panels — is expected to grow by 68-fold, 92-fold and 89-fold, respectively, between 2020 and 2040.
For the U.S. to continue to make progress toward energy and mineral independence, we need to shore up our domestic mineral production efforts. We have the expertise and mineral resources on American soil, but we need commitment from Congress to give the U.S. permitting process a serious makeover and the administration to ultimately allow the process to proceed as intended. Countries with comparable environmental and safety regulations can permit a mine in only a few years. Why does it take the U.S. upward of 10 years?
It’s Time, Legislators, Support the Mining Industry
To meet the rising demand for minerals, and to support EV production alone, we will need an additional 388 new mines around the globe. (For comparison, numbers from 2021 show that in the U.S., there were 270 metal mines in operation.)
To build and bring those new mines online, we are going to need dedicated focus and substantial help from legislators. We’ll need investments and funding, training and workforce development, stronger supply chains and more. U.S. mines and miners are ready to step up to this challenge. The bipartisan Mining Schools Act of 2022, which includes the addition of government funded technology grants, is a start and a good example of the suite of support that will be needed to meet the workforce demands.
We have the technology, strong environmental safeguards and the highest of safety standards, but we need improvements to the mine permitting process that will allow us to keep up with the pace and demand.
The Opportunity for True Commitment
We will only be successful if Congress gets serious about meeting growing demand with U.S.-mined materials. Even with some of the mine permitting actions in 2023, we still need commonsense, comprehensive permitting reform. There is no way to meet the demand for new mines without it. Until then, we can expect to remain dependent on imports and weather the unstable supply chain as we fall behind at this opportune and advantageous time in mineral history. And we may ultimately miss out on the desired expansion of new energy technologies because of lack of U.S.-mined materials.