energy insights

Biden Welcomes Lithium Mining, Urges Better Standards

Committed to making electric vehicles the new shining star of the American road, President Biden has thrown out the welcome mat for a new industry of lithium mining, refining and battery manufacturing.

In late February, the Biden administration released a statement recognizing lithium, cobalt and other elements used in electric vehicles as critical building blocks to modern technology and he called them essential to the nation’s national security and economic prosperity.

“As the world transitions to a clean-energy economy, global demand for these critical minerals is set to skyrocket,” the administration said in a statement titled Securing a Made in America Supply Chain for Critical Minerals. “The U.S. is increasingly dependent on foreign sources for many of the processed versions of these minerals. Globally, China controls most of the market for processing and refining for cobalt, lithium, rare earths, and other critical minerals.”

Increasing domestic mineral supplies will shorten the supply chain

The president in October 2021 called for expansion of domestic mining, production, processing and the recycling of critical minerals.

But, there was a “but” in his statement. Sympathetic to environmental trepidation, Biden said he supports the industry, but only if it shows a “laser focus on boosting strong labor, environmental and environmental justice, community engagement, and Tribal consultation standards.”

That means environmental and not-in-my-backyard battles raging over proposed lithium mines across the country are likely to continue, especially if mining remains unchanged.

U.S. miners as well as producers from Canada, Australia and even China are looking to mine the country’s bountiful lithium supply, but they’re facing snags. A huge project at Rhyolite Ridge has been stopped by a desert flower and attempts to open a lithium mine at Thacker Pass is drawing fire from tribes, ranchers and environmentalists. Others are meandering through a labyrinth of environmental impact studies, hoping to avoid similar roadblocks

Still only one U.S. lithium mine

Keep in mind that although the United States could emerge as one of the world’s leading EV manufacturers and consumers, the country currently has only one lithium mine, leaving the nation almost totally dependent on foreign sources for the central component electric vehicles need for power.

As Russia’s war in Ukraine rages and oil prices continue to climb, the Biden administration is hoping electric vehicles will vault further into the mainstream, and a key to future progress will be that robust lithium supply chain that the Biden administration envisions.

Energy capacity has been a battleground for decades, whether it’s coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind and now lithium batteries. If lithium is to become a free-standing, U.S. mined commodity for a thriving American EV industry, it will need more than a proclamation from the White House. The adoption of domestic lithium mining the president is calling for will only be possible through more innovative and environmentally focused approaches.