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Only 5% of Lithium-ion bat­teries are recycled in the U.S. | Pixabay

As the Biden admin­is­tration moves toward its goals of carbon neu­trality by 2050, they need to remember one key com­ponent to going green — critical mining of rare-earth ele­ments. These 17 min­erals present in the Earth’s crust are nec­essary to all key energy tech­nologies of the future including solar, wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles. 

As demand for cell phones, microchips, and electric vehicles increases, the worldwide rare earth industry is expected to nearly double from $8.1 billion in 2018 to $14.4 billion in 2025, according to Zion Market Research. These ele­ments drive our modern economy and are a nec­essary com­ponent of any com­pre­hensive energy plan. 

According to Deloitte Insights, because the market is trending toward green energy, many U.S. mining com­panies will need to focus on renew­ables and decar­bonization if the United States is to stay rel­evant in the energy and critical mining markets. Despite having rel­a­tively abundant reserves, most critical min­erals are not mined in the United States. Moreover, the United States is cur­rently vir­tually absent from the global supply chains for the min­erals we do have. However, there is a strong need for supply chain sta­bility as demand for critical min­erals is growing. 

The Trump admin­is­tration declared the sit­u­ation a national emer­gency and signed an exec­utive order to begin a process of ramping up gov­ernment-backed mineral pro­cessing. The National Emer­gencies Act allowed the U.S. Department of the Interior to fund domestic mineral pro­cessing. The increase in funding was intended to spur pro­duction in order to sta­bilize the domestic supply chain and decrease our depen­dence on foreign nations. 

According to the Biden Admin­is­tration, they are planning on giving $2 trillion to develop a clean energy economy and achieve a domestic carbon-free sector by 2025. At the beginning of March, Pres­ident Biden ordered a review of critical mineral sup­plies in the United States. That review will likely show that the United States is at least a decade away from being self-suf­fi­cient. As the United States makes the tran­sition, com­panies will need to more heavily rely on imports from Africa, Canada, and China. This is fine for the time being, however, from a national security and political stand­point, it would be wise for the United States to strive to produce what we can and not have to rely on other nations to shift to the green energy of the future. 

The struggle for dom­i­nance over China in the pro­duction of critical min­erals has become more apparent in recent years, as China has become the world’s largest pro­ducer or con­sumer of rare-earth metals, which are used for electric vehicles, smart­phones and com­puters, weapons and defense systems, and other tech­nologies needed for green energy.  China con­trols more than 80% of the world’s pro­duction of rare earth min­erals, according to the U.S. Geo­logical Survey.

The U.S. will need to establish a stable domestic supply chain in addition to other green ini­tia­tives like mine recla­mation, lithium recy­cling, and mine trans­parency — all of which will play important roles in pre­serving this portion of the economy. Many of these solu­tions are bi-par­tisan and sup­ported (to an extent) by nearly everyone in the industry.

To com­plement the mining of critical resources, the recy­cling industry will need to cul­tivate a stronger domestic market to meet rising demand. The Trump admin­is­tration made some progress toward expe­diting per­mitting in July 2020, when it rewrote the way agencies review projects under the National Envi­ron­mental Policy Act (NEPA). But Biden is expected to either undo those changes or wait on the outcome of pending lit­i­gation. This is par­tic­u­larly prob­lematic for the pro­duction of lithium in the United States. 

 Lithium-ion bat­teries are expected to be the storage solution as things go electric. According to the Department of the Interior, the United States only has 10% of the world’s esti­mated 73 million tons of lithium, which means that for the United States to be more energy inde­pendent in the future, we need to better mine what we have and focus our efforts on recy­cling to pre­serve our resources for the future. This was high­lighted by the Advanced Recy­cling Research and Devel­opment Act of 2020, the BATTERY Act of 2020, and the Battery and Critical Mining Recy­cling Act. This leg­is­lation high­lighted the fact that only 5% of Lithium-ion bat­teries are cur­rently recycled in the United States.

 In order to decrease the stress on importing, America will need to lean into recy­cling to become more energy inde­pendent. In addition to recy­cling, mines will likely need to reduce their emis­sions and use of energy and water in pro­duction and commit to mine recla­mation once the project is finished.

America’s green energy future relies on clean domestic mining for critical min­erals. This is the key way to lower the barrier to entry for green energy, and having a steady supply chain will make this tran­sition more affordable for civilians.

 

Reagan Linde is a junior George Wash­ington Fellow studying pol­itics and art.