Critical minerals (CMs) are essential to our lives. They provide the building blocks for modern devices we use every day, such as smart phones, computers, and medical equipment. They are also key inputs for clean energy technologies, such as solar panels, batteries, and electric vehicles, that will help the nation reach its goal of a net-zero economy by 2050.
As we move toward our clean energy transition, global demand for CMs is set to skyrocket by 400-600 percent over the next several decades. Demand for minerals, such as lithium and graphite used in electric vehicle batteries, will increase even more—by as much as 4,000 percent. The United States, however, is increasingly dependent on foreign sources for many of the processed versions of these CMs. Globally, China controls most of the market for processing and refining for cobalt, lithium, rare earths, and other minerals.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) is collaborating across the agency and with the country’s National Laboratories to develop pathways that will increase our ability to produce CMs domestically. We have the enormous opportunity to reinvest in the nation’s manufacturing base to create good-paying, high-quality jobs for American workers; increase the global presence of U.S. clean energy technologies while protecting the environment; support environmental and social justice stewardship; and strengthen our domestic CM supply chain by making it more resilient, robust, diverse, and competitive.
For starters, FECM’s research, development, demonstration, and deployment portfolio is focused on technologies that enable the cost effective and sustainable extraction of CMs from carbon ore, acid mine drainage, and produced water from natural gas and oil operations. We will scale these technologies to small- and large-scale pilots and larger field demonstrations to create domestic CM supply chains across the United States. Collectively, these efforts will help revitalize domestic manufacturing and refining capabilities and will ultimately create new jobs in the CM, metallurgical, and environmental sectors.
As we move forward, under FECM’s Carbon Ore Rare Earth and Critical Minerals (CORE-CM) Initiative, we awarded $19 million to 13 projects—across Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, and various other basins—to support the production of CMs and rare earth elements in traditional fossil fuel-producing communities across the country.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is helping unlock even more potential. In February 2022, we issued a request for information for the design, construction, and operation of a first-of-its kind critical minerals refinery, which is supported by a $140 million investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law helping move ideas from the lab to the commercial stage.
These are just a couple of examples regarding our efforts to advance the domestic production of CMs. To follow our progress, visit FECM’s Office of Resource Sustainability website and read the Multi-Year Program Plan for the Division of Minerals Sustainability. You can also sign up to receive news alerts to hear about future FECM funding opportunity announcements and project selections.