Dwindling US Battery Metal Reserves May Force Imports Due to New Mine Opposition

As the shift towards electric vehicles (EVs) gears up to full speed, rising opposition towards new mines in regards to the environment has started to become louder in recent months. The United States has plenty of reserves of copper, lithium, and other important metals to build millions of EVs, but looming concerns surrounding existing and future mines may end up delaying this transition. 

The tension between environmentalists and miners won’t be going anywhere as we head into 2022, when US policymakers are expecting groundbreaking moves from big names such as Ford Motor Co, General Motors, and more. 

Just earlier this year, President Joe Biden danced around the idea that he prefers to rely on outside allies to supply EV parts in an effort to calm down environmentalists. For U.S automakers, this choice could result in stressful competition with international suppliers as everyone seems to be ready to go electric. Biden also issued an executive order to ideally create half of all new vehicles electric in 2030. 

Choosing to import metals rather than getting them from the US is somewhat counterproductive from an environmental standpoint. It could end up boosting greenhouse gas emissions when shipping overseas to the US processing facilities, which defeats the purpose of building EV’s in an effort to combat these climate issues. 

An analysis done by Reuters found that “proposed U.S. mining projects could produce enough copper to build more than 6 million EVs, enough lithium to build more than 2 million EVs and enough nickel to build more than 60,000 EVs.”

Those estimates were made based on the volume of minerals used to make the world’s most popular EV, the Tesla Model 3, according to a study by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Other EV models and companies may use a different volume depending on their make and design. 

James Calaway, executive chairman of Ioneer Ltd, a lithium-boron supplier, said “If we don’t start getting some mining projects under construction this coming year, then we will not have the raw materials domestically to support EV manufacturing.” 

Many states have chosen to or are on the fence about opposing future mining projects and reversing decisions already made regarding building new mines. Washington is one of the places still figuring out how to balance regulating mining and the environment. For example, the U.S Fish and Wildlife are adamant about labelling a rare flower that lives on Ioneer’s Nevada lithium site as endangered. Simultaneously, The U.S Department of Energy is deciding if they are going to lend the company over $300 million to build the mine. 

Conflicting Agendas

That is just one recent example of the confusion surrounding wanting to combat climate change while also not wanting to build new mines to create necessary materials to build EV’s in an effort to combat climate change. 

In Minnesota, state regulators are debating whether or not to revoke or reissue permits to PolyMet Mining Corp, which is controlled by giant miner Glencore. In early 2022, judges will decide whether or not to reverse mines that were already approved by Former President Donald Trump to Lithium Americas (TSX:LAC) and Rio Tinto PLC (ASX:RIO)

Even Biden chose to block Antofagasta Plc’s (LSE:ANTO) Twin Metals copper and nickel mine project in Minnesota for 20 years this past October. The future underground mine would have been a major copper supplier towards EV’s in the US. 

Despite that decision, the White House is working towards showing its support for the mining industry, including Lithium Americas’ proposed lithium mine, and a California geothermal lithium project funded in part by GM. 

Biden’s EV goal “means good-paying union jobs for working people in responsible mining operations that will both supply battery minerals and protect the environment,” Tom Conway, head of the United Steelworkers recently said.

It will be a long-lasting challenge trying to balance what is best for the environment and what needs to happen for the economy in order to support the mining industry and green transition. 


By Matthew Evanoff

I specialize in the mining industry, focusing on top global mining stocks. My reporting covers the latest industry news, company/project developments, and profiles of key players. With a degree in finance and economics from the University of Toronto, I've contributed to a wide range of industry publications. Beyond my professional pursuits, I have a keen interest in global business and a love for travel.

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