The Biden administration-driven transition from fossil fuels may be hobbled by the difficulty of procuring critical minerals, many of which are mined and processed by China, the authors of a think tank analysis warn.
“China is the dominant supplier for multiple critical minerals and is likely to remain so. In the case of minerals it does not supply—such as cobalt—China has near-monopolistic control of refining capacity through its state-owned enterprises,” states the March report, which was authored by Phil Rossetti and George David Banks for the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum. The projected demand may require more of some minerals than can be found in total reserves.
“Increasingly, scholars are questioning the mineral requirements that would be needed to reach either 100 [percent] renewable or clean energy targets,” the CRES Forum’s analysis states.
The warning comes at a crucial time for global mineral markets: the benchmark prices of lithium, lithium carbonate, and lithium hydroxide have rapidly increased in recent months, as detailed at Benchmark Minerals.
For example, the benchmark price of lithium has increased more than ninefold to 1045.90 a ton in March 2022, from hovering at just 115.80 per ton in September 2020.
In dollar terms, battery-grade lithium carbonate was reportedly trading around $76,700 per metric ton in March 2022, up from $13,400 per metric ton in March 2022.
The costs of electric vehicles (EV) will likely increase as a result, Zach Schumacher, a North American metals price expert with Argus Media, told The Epoch Times. The estimated average transaction price for a new electric vehicle was $56,437 in November 2021, according to Kelley Blue Book.
The prices of other key minerals—including the rare earth metal neodymium that goes into wind turbines—have also trended sharply upward in recent months and years.
“Lithium is not the only raw material directly correlated to the EV market witnessing higher costs, so parsing out precisely how much of the increased costs for vehicles in the coming months originates from lithium alone could prove fairly difficult. Nickel, stainless steel, semiconductor and labor costs are among other costs that have all also risen compared to levels from recent years,” said Schumacher, who added that the prices of consumer electronics could also rise.
The report notes that EVs are six times as mineral intensive as vehicles that use conventional internal combustion engines, citing a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Renewable energy sources also are more mineral intensive than their hydrocarbon-based alternatives. Wind turbines, for example, need roughly nine times as many minerals as natural gas plants, according to the IEA report.
“Policymakers should also understand the energy security implications of policies that lean heavily on mineral-intensive products for abating greenhouse gas emissions, as scarcity of materials could raise prices as well as create dependency on foreign suppliers that could have an interest in manipulating the market,” the report states.