This week’s news adds urgency to the question of mineral supply. Gold demand – at least from ETFs – looks set to crush records in the wake of the corona-crash. The revelation that lithium will likely drive buildouts of 5G cell towers puts more pressure on producers to supply that go-to battery metal.
These two metals are opposites when it comes to U.S. supply vulnerability. Gold is one of the few commodities in which America’s remained a world-leading producer: It’s No. 4 in the world, after China, Australia, and Russia.
But lithium is a different story. There’s just one lithium mine on U.S. soil. Everything else is imported.
Shortfalls like that prompted a diverse range of proposed solutions. In early May, Reuters revealed that President Trump is forging a legal framework for mining the moon. NASA’s mineral probe on board the upcoming Mars mission could suggest similar initiatives for that planet.
At the same time, some lawmakers are looking inward rather than outward. Recognition of supply vulnerability for tech like 5G and electric vehicles led to a raft of “made in America” mining legislation in recent years. Republican congressmembers recently introduced a bill to speed permitting of mines for critical metals.
But what exactly does “made in America” mean? The Pentagon’s reversal on funding a California mine for rare earth metals shows the pitfalls for these programs. The company running the mine is partly owned by a Chinese firm. It’s a minority stake, but enough to make officials skittish.
As the world retreats from globalization, we’re struggling to deal with its legacy. Most large minerals firms have complex ownership, often including international investors. Can they play a role in securing U.S. access to critical minerals?
…Or do we need a new generation of companies, themselves made in America?
This is a big opportunity for the winners. The U.S. holds massive, known resources of nearly every metal imaginable. It just takes the will – and the funding – to extract them.
In the case of rare earths – where America used to be one of the largest producers on Earth – the Pentagon appears willing to pony up at least $100 million as a first funding round.
The re-awarding of this financing over the coming weeks will be telling. It should give us clues to what kind of companies will lead the renaissance for American critical minerals supply.
Keep walking the path,
Editor, International Speculator