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The secret story behind the Green New Deal: Metals Needed for Carbon Neutrality in Short Supply

Solar panels, wind turbines, and electric car batteries are made from some of the most hard-to-get metals on earth— dysprosium, neodymium, manganese, cobalt, and lithium. According to UK scientists, the current annual global production of cobalt needs to double by 2050 to produce the electric vehicles required to just satisfy British climate targets. Another study found that if countries were to meet the Paris accord and keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, demand for cobalt and lithium would exceed the current supply by 2022 and 2023, respectively.

China leads the world in rare earth metal production (a group of 17 chemical elements), supplying 90 percent of the export market. The United States purchases 80 percent of its rare earth metals from China, despite having the resources to produce its own supply. These metals could be extracted profitably in the United States, but are not because of our restrictive and redundant environmental regulations.

Current Production, Reserves, and Prices for Major Metals

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, global production of rare earth metals in 2018 totalled 167 thousand metric tons, with China producing 72 percent of the world’s production. China also controls 38 percent of the world’s reserves, which total 117 million metric tons. China’s reserves are the largest at 44 million metric tons, followed by the United States and Brazil, each with 22 million metric tons, and Russia with 17 million metric tons.

Global production of graphite totals 896 thousand metric tons, with China supplying 71 percent. Graphite reserves total 307 million metric tons with China and Brazil each controlling 24 percent.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo produced the most cobalt in 2018 at 112 thousand metric tons—a 71 percent share of the 158 thousand metric tons produced. Cobalt reserves total 6.6 million metric tons, with the DR Congo controlling 52 percent. However, there are ongoing problems with environmental and child labor issues in the DR Congo; labor abuses linked to cobalt mining have been widely documented by human rights groups and by media organizations across the world.

Australia and Chile lead the world in lithium production with 27 million metric tons and 16 million metric tons, respectively, produced in 2018 from a total of 62 million metric tons. World reserves of lithium total almost 14 million metric tons with Chile controlling 58 percent.

Lithium prices set a record high in 2018 at $14,656 per metric ton—21 percent higher than in 2017. Cobalt prices totaled $72,923 per metric ton in 2018—30 percent higher than in 2017.

U.S. Dependence on Foreign Metals

China leads the world in producing and exporting minerals and metals, supplying many that are critical to U.S. manufacturing, technology and energy production, and national defense. Many critical metals are on U.S. federally-owned lands, including manganese, cobalt, nickel, graphite, aluminum, and several of the rare earth metals. The United States is 100 percent import-reliant for 18 minerals—14 of them are considered “critical” by the Department of Defense or the Department of the Interior.

The United States has a duplicative and inefficient system of regulatory permits and oversight that governs domestic mining. Generally, the U.S. mining industry is faced with a regulatory system that forces them to wait seven to 10 years to obtain a mining permit, compared to Canada and Australia where the process takes two to three years, which limits our nation’s ability to capitalize on our mineral wealth. The United States needs to retool our permitting process so that minerals from U.S. public lands can fuel our advanced energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing technologies, which would increase U.S. manufacturing and its position in the global economy and reduce our dependence on foreign imports.

Conclusion

The United States needs to develop its critical metals and remove its reliance on foreign imports, particularly from the Chinese, who are leaders in rare earth metals and graphite production. These metals are used in many technologies and in national defense systems. To become self-reliant the United States needs to modify its regulatory permitting system and oversight. The sooner we can remove our dependence on these critical metals from foreign interests as we did for oil and natural gas, the better our nation with be economically and militarily. Otherwise, we risk dependency on other international actors for minerals at much higher rates than the United States was ever dependent upon OPEC.


Further reading on the global supply of rare earth metals is available here.

Further reading on the environmental impacts of rare earth metal production in China is available here.

RELATED ARTICLE: Here’s Why Californians Pay Way More for Gasoline Than Everyone Else

EDITORS NOTE: This IER column is republished with permission. © All rights reserved.

Obama Keeps Telling Renewable Energy Lies

Imagine you wanted to get in your electric car and drive a considerable distance. It wouldn’t take long for your car to run out of power, so you would have to have another car, one using gasoline, to drive behind you to make sure you reached your destination.

That’s a description of “renewable energy”, wind and solar, in America today because they both require backup from traditional energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. And “renewable energy” based on “free” sun and wind power costs more to produce and purchase. Need it be said that the sun does not always shine consistently everywhere or at night and that the wind does not always blow?

Within twenty-four hours of one another I received a news release from the Governor’s Wind Energy Coalition celebrating the election of a new chairman and vice chairman, and read a CNN news article saying that “The White House wants to put more returning servicemen and women to work manufacturing and installing solar panels” as part of “his growing list of climate actions meant to combat global warming.”

That list was a twelve-page long, single-spaced White House fact sheet. The White House seems to think that the states can do something about “climate change”, but the climate is measured in decades and centuries, not whether it is going to rain next Monday which is something we call “the weather.” And just as you can do nothing about the rain, neither can you do anything to affect the climate decades from now.

The White House has a problem. There is no “global warming.” Even if you change the name to “climate change”, the Earth has been in a natural cooling cycle for the last eighteen years.

For the past 5,000 years humans have, as often as not, “done something” about the climate by moving somewhere else it was less of a bother and threat or found ways to adapt. Other than prayer, there was and is nothing humans can do about Mother Nature.

Most surely, getting veterans to manufacture solar panels is about as lame and stupid an idea as the President has proposed in the last 24 hours. Does the name “Solyndra” ring a bell? It was one of several solar farms that, along with wind farms went belly-up, leaving investors and consumers with nothing but the sunlight and passing breezes.

Indeed, the best news of late has been that the U.S. Senate has rejected a proposal to extend the federal wind Production Tax Credit (PCT) for another five years. The wind producers have benefitted from it for three decades. The federal subsidy to wind-energy producers expired along with other tax breaks at the end of 2013, but was retroactively extended through 2014 as part of the Cromnibus budget bill passed last December.

The PCT was intended to provide what was a then-new energy industry a helping hand, but it kept being extended and the industry benefitted as well from renewable energy mandates (REM) in 29 states and the District of Columbia. They require that a specific amount of electricity be purchased from renewable energy, wind or solar, producers. All that managed to do was drive up the cost of electricity to consumers. This is what happens when politicians get involved.

That’s a good reason to wonder why there is a Governors Wind Power Coalition in the first place. It consists of 23 Democratic and Republican governors from every region of the nation “working together to develop the nation’s wind energy resources”, but the nation doesn’t need wind energy which produces an unpredictable amount as opposed to traditional resources such as coal.

At the same time the President is talking about solar and wind power, his administration is pursuing a relentless “war” on coal that is forcing the primary source of electricity in America, coal-fired plants, to shut down. If that doesn’t sound like treason, then consider too that the U.S. is the greatest producer of oil and natural gas in the world and we have at least two century’s worth of known coal reserves. We have absolutely no need for wind or solar energy.

When Obama gave his State of the Union speech in 2014, solar power represented a pathetic 0.2 percent of the U.S. electricity supply according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. According to the Energy Research Institute, in 2013 wind power provided 1.6% of all the energy consumed in the U.S.

There isn’t a single good reason for either wind or solar power in an energy powerhouse like the United States. They are both costly, unpredictable, and a threat to a number of animal species. Neither the science, the cost, nor the recent history of “renewable energy” provides a single good reason to force Americans to pay for this “green” failure.

© Alan Caruba, 2015