Senator Lisa Murkowski (R), Alaska continues to push Federal legislation to encourage domestic extraction of minerals for electric vehicles and other technologies.
Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently held a seventh hearing on her “American Mineral Security Act , S. 1317. Murkowski is arguing that reliance on foreign minerals is the nation’s “Achilles’ heel” as the Trump administration slaps more tariffs on China which is a major supplier of rare earth elements to the United States.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States imports at least 50% of 48 elements and 100% of 18 of those. China is a top supplier of most “critical minerals” — elements both vital to emerging technologies and vulnerable to supply disruption. The most prominent elements of are those in lithium-ion batteries, the power cells for electric vehicles (EVs ).
“The modern, advanced lithium-ion battery is perhaps the most important technology of the 21st century,” NAATBatt International Chairman John Warner said at the hearing, and China controls 60%-75% of the world’s battery manufacturing. Even electric automaker Tesla Inc.’s Nevada Gigafactory will have to rely on imports for its raw materials, like lithium and cobalt.
The committee’s ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is also focusing his attention on rare earth elements by introducing legislation aimed at increasing funding into Rare Earth research. His “Rare Earth Element Advanced Coal Technologies Act,” S. 1052, would increase funding for research into extracting the elements from acid mine drainage generated by abandoned coal mines.
Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of West Virginia University’s Water Research Institute, has led the team finding high concentrations of valuable minerals in acid mine drainage, which is West Virginia’s top pollutant and a drag on coal company profits.
Drainage acts as “free acid,” causing metals to leach out of the water, Ziemkiewicz said, essentially skipping several steps in typical mineral processing. Currently, rare earths come exclusively from China, which Manchin argues “should raise national security concerns.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever be price competitive with China knowing they’ve got this much of a jump,” Manchin said, but price supports and strategic mineral stockpiles could be good ways to develop a U.S. rare earth industry.Go back to previous page