Full Title: U.S. Mineral Production Potential Unlikely to Satisfy Clean Energy Demands
Author(s): Philip Rossetti
Publisher(s): R Street
Publication Date: February 28, 2023
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Our analysis found that although the United States has sufficient production market forces to satiate a large share of domestic copper and lithium demand, undue barriers to entry restrict production far below this potential—and below the scale that would be needed to supply a global clean energy transition. Our study also revealed that for a net-zero emission, clean energy transition, the United States would be import-reliant for copper, cobalt, nickel and lithium by 74 percent, 99 percent, 98 percent and 100 percent, respectively, at current U.S. production levels. However, if major U.S. projects that are currently proposed for copper (such as Pebble and Resolution) and lithium (such as Thacker Pass and Rhyolite Ridge) were to enter operation, some of these projections could change significantly.
The likelihood or timing of major mines entering the market in the United States is uncertain, though, and our own analysis of proposed mines found that practically every major project relevant for clean energy has been delayed over issues of permitting, leasing and litigation. This is problematic because, absent increased domestic production, the United States will remain reliant on foreign suppliers—a fact that is creating its own potential challenges. While friendly nations are poised to be major suppliers of minerals needed for clean energy transitions in the United States, especially for copper and lithium, supply chain concerns are complicated by the fact that Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are dominant in ownership of refining capacity globally. U.S. policies focused on permitting and recycling could mitigate concerns related to mineral scarcity and overreliance on foreign suppliers but may not be enough to eliminate foreign dependency.
Overall, this study finds that the United States could be a major producer of key minerals needed for clean energy technology, but production is still well below what would be needed for the most ambitious clean energy transition scenarios. Thus, as clean energy demand rises, policy discussions focused on remedying potential mineral scarcity will become increasingly important.