U.S. Invests in Critical Minerals
The current push toward more battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and more renewable energy projects is creating more demand for certain metals. Battery minerals (lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese) have garnered the lion’s share of attention. Last year, the price for lithium hydroxide climbed 157% to more than $30/lb. Aside from the rising green energy tide, the risk of war has caused countries to seriously consider domestic supply lines of critical minerals. The U.S., Canada and the European Union have announced critical mineral programs and the U.S. has already started to take action.
The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory awarded Perpetua Resources a Technology Investment Agreement of up to $24.8 million under the Defense Production Act. (See U.S. & Canada, p. 6). The funding will be used to complete environmental and engineering studies to permit the Stibnite gold mine in Idaho, which will produce antimony as a byproduct while remediating legacy environmental issues. Antimony is a critical mineral for weapons systems. Should the project move forward, it will be a win-win for all stakeholders. As this edition was going to press, ioneer Ltd announced that it received a conditional commitment for a $700 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to finance the construction of the Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Nevada. The DoE loan, along with Sibanye Stillwater Ltd.’s expected 50% equity contribution in the Rhyolite Ridge project, would fund most of the preliminary capital expense for the project.
The term of the proposed Rhyolite Ridge loan, which will be made under the DoE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, is approximately 10 years at a fixed interest rate based on U.S. Treasury rates. DoE has more than $50 billion in remaining loan authority under the ATVM program. The DoE commitment demonstrates its strong support for the project and, if finalized, the loan would be the first, ever, by the agency to provide financing for the processing component of a project where lithium is extracted and refined on site. Jigar Shah, director of DoE’s Loans Programs Office, said Rhyolite Ridge is a major step toward bolstering domestic lithium production for clean energy technologies. “We are excited to further develop an environmentally responsible U.S. supply chain for critical materials,” Shah said.
Discussions with the DoE started in February 2021, ioneer submitted an application in October 2021, and it was deemed substantially complete in December 2022, which initiated a third-party due diligence process that has been ongoing since March 2022. The conditions are based on a revised Plan of Operations, which ioneer submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and is now in the National Environmental Policy Act approval process. The operation must avoid all direct impact and minimizes indirect impact on Tiehm’s buckwheat, a protected species of a flowering plant endemic to the region.
The important reoccurring theme with these investments is federal environmental permitting, which needs to be streamlined. The fact that the mining industry is finally seeing investment and support from the federal government is a step in the right direction as far as policy.
Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ