U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing to examine the sourcing and use of minerals needed for clean energy technologies.
In her opening statement, Murkowski outlined the link between minerals and renewable energy technologies, the fundamental role that minerals play in modern society, and the need for strong domestic supply chains.
“Minerals are the fundamental building blocks for any modern technology, but they don’t just appear out of thin air,” Murkowski said. “As our energy sector transitions to greater use of renewables, we must acknowledge that these technologies are built from materials that come from the ground. Batteries don’t work without lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel; solar panels require silver gallium, indium, tellurium; and wind turbines are not just built from steel, but also aluminum, copper, and rare earth elements.”
During the hearing, Murkowski released a report compiled by the Congressional Research Service that compares global forecasts for minerals used in renewable technologies. One study, from the World Bank, projects that demand for certain minerals would increase by 1,200 percent under a scenario that aggressively reduces global greenhouse gas emissions.
“The United States is capable of being a leader in the development of the minerals needed for clean energy technologies. We have incredible high-grade deposits in states like Alaska, but we have also ceded production, manufacturing, and recycling to our competitors,” Murkowski said. “We have to find the political will to advance policies that allow us to rebuild a robust domestic supply chain. Until we do that, our nation’s ability to develop and lead the world in renewable energy will be limited.”
Daniel Simmons, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, testified that, “This Administration is very concerned about strategic vulnerabilities related to critical minerals…we need an increase in private-sector domestic exploration, production, recycling, and reprocessing of critical minerals. The federal government needs to do more to expedite and enable exploration, mining, concentration, separation, alloying, recycling, and reprocessing critical minerals.”
In late 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13817, directing greater federal engagement on mineral security. The Department of the Interior finalized a list of 35 critical minerals in mid-2018. In June 2019, the Department of Commerce released a strategy report with 61 recommendations to rebuild the United States’ critical minerals supply chain.
Allison Carlson, Managing Director for Foreign Policy Analytics, testified that, “Relatively scant attention is being paid to…China’s control of the raw materials necessary to the digital economy.” Carlson added that, “Operating in niche markets with limited transparency and often in politically unstable countries, Chinese firms have locked up supplies of these minerals and metals with a combination of state-directed investment and state-backed capital, making long-term strategic plays, sometimes at a financial loss.”
Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She has introduced legislation to reduce our nation’s foreign mineral dependence in multiple Congresses, including S. 1317, the American Mineral Security Act, in the 116th Congress.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States imported at least 50 percent of its supply of 48 different nonfuel minerals in 2018, including 100 percent of 18 of them.An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.