President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his plans to increase domestic mining, saying U.S. tech industries are too dependent on China for cobalt, lithium and other critical rare earth minerals, the Washington Times reported. California Gov. Gavin Newsom joined President Biden virtually at the press conference to announce “Lithium Valley,” in California’s Imperial Valley which contains some of the largest underground lithium deposits in the world, located near the Salton Sea.
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Gov. Newsom announced back in January he would be developing the state’s lithium reserves in the Salton Sea region, and create a Lithium Valley Commission. “We have what someone described as the Saudi Arabia of lithium here in the state of California down in Imperial County near the Salton Sea,” Newsom said during “The California Blueprint” budget proposal for 2022-2023.
This is a huge undertaking. The Institute for Energy Research reports that China controls the processing of most all the critical minerals–rare earth, lithium, cobalt, and graphite. Of the 136 lithium-ion battery plants in the pipeline to 2029, 101 are based in China.
Flash Forward to Tuesday February 22, 2022: The governor and President discussed “new investments and actions to support California’s clean energy sector – outlining historic progress to sustainably develop lithium resources, a critical component of the advanced batteries needed for zero-emission vehicles, clean electric grids, and other renewable energy technologies.”
“The promise of Lithium Valley in California is a game changer in the nation’s transition to clean energy and zero-emission vehicles, representing what could be a critical breakthrough in the fight against climate change,” said Gov. Newsom. “California is a global leader in clean energy, and today’s announcement represents promising potential for new economic opportunity, community benefits, and good jobs right here in California.”
Why are the President and governor so interested in Lithium? The short answer is, Climate Change: With California politicians moving to kill off oil and natural gas extraction because of “climate change,” and legislating all Californians transition to an all-electric grid, electric cars, and a goal of 1.5 million Zero emission vehicles on California roads by 2025, more lithium-ion batteries will be needed – a lot more.
But Electric cars have a dirty little secret: Every electric vehicle, and most hybrid vehicles, rely on large rechargeable lithium-ion batteries weighing hundreds or thousands of pounds. Typically made with rare-earth minerals – cobalt, nickel, and manganese, among other components – these batteries are very expensive, costing thousands of dollars. And they aren’t green or environmentally friendly, requiring ingredients sourced from polluting mines around the world, and they contaminate soil and water. These rare-earth minerals are mined in China and in the Congo where Cobalt is mined, children are used as slave labor.
“Through a series of regulatory mandates, Executive Orders and high-profile laws, California has begun to transform its economy through energy policy,” the California Business Roundtable reported in 2019. “However, unlike other states and economies that rely on a more diversified energy portfolio, California’s policies are leading to an over-reliance, if not complete dependence, on electrification including increasing generation from intermittent sources. This shift will require a significant investment in battery technology—currently dominated by lithium-ion—for a range of transportation and other applications, including storage technology not currently available.”
California’s Cobalt mines were once productive, but have been blocked by environmentalists. The same has happened with copper mines in Arizona and Alaska.
The other serious issue in mining is that it consumes a tremendous amount of water and energy.
Politicians like to call electric and hybrid cars “green,” but this is disingenuous because of the massive amounts of energy and water used to mine. Then the minerals are exported across the ocean on tankers, and transported in trucks and cars to destinations using diesel fuel and gasoline.
And, once Lithium is mined in the United States, it has to be shipped to China for processing.
The real dirty secret about electric cars is that they are being pushed on the U.S. and Europe hard – by China, which has the most lithium resources and it has been buying stakes in mining operations in Australia and South America where most of the world’s lithium reserves are found, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
“A single electric car contains more cobalt than 1,000 smartphone batteries; the blades on a single wind turbine have more plastic than 5 million smartphones; and a solar array that can power one data center uses more glass than 50 million phones,” the Manhattan Institute reported.
“As recently as 1990, the U.S. was the world’s number-one producer of minerals,” the Manhattan Institute reported. “Today, it is in seventh place. Even though the nation has vast mineral reserves worth trillions of dollars, America is now 100% dependent on imports for some 17 key minerals, and, for another 29, over half of domestic needs are imported.”
The 2018 book “Groundbreaking!” by Ann Bridges and Ned Mamula addressed America’s dependence on China for these necessary minerals. They explained that America could be held hostage over critical minerals used in all advanced technologies due to the decades-long shunning of domestic mining, pushed for decades by environmentalists. “Groundbreaking! describes the all-too-real consequences of misguided policy decisions and environmental alarmism, and recommends 21st-century solutions to sustainable self-reliance by leveraging the wealth right under our feet.”
“Groundbreaking!” continues: “By importing 100% of key minerals from China, Russia, and third world dictatorships, we face an ongoing risk of losing the technology behind everything from smartphones to “green” technology. The recent requirements put into place by our legislators and regulators literally require tons of minerals for batteries and magnets to run electric cars and trucks; to support advancements in medical equipment such as dental drills and MRIs; and to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines for alternative energy sources. Additionally, the advanced weaponry and defensive equipment for our troops requires critical minerals, too, yet we are reliant on getting that gear from countries who at best could be called allies, and at worst are outright hostile to America’s values.”
So why now all the interest in “Lithium Valley?” The Department of Defense wants to stockpile Lithium, and there aren’t many places they can contract with to achieve this. But this may take a while. “According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States imported 78 percent of its cobalt, and all of its graphite in 2019. It could take 20 to 30 years for the United States to catch up with China,” the Institute for Energy Research reported.
As for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s involvement, his claim that manufacturing jobs are coming back to California is a good thing, and will be true – eventually. Surely he’s posturing by saying we will do this in 4 years, when it takes a mine at least 10 years to come online. Investors may think it will be as prosperous as Silicon Valley, but it takes anywhere from 10 to 30 years to earn back the original investment. Gov. Newsom’s 4 year timeline is just the preliminary stage.
This is good, long-range planning, and long overdue, made complicated by decades of environmentalist demands and government acquiescence.
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