With high gas and electricity prices battering Europe, UK and EU governments announced winter support, including temporary caps on prices for domestic and business consumers. EU measures unveiled on 14 September included solidarity payments, windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies’ excess profits and a €180/MWh cap on inframarginal producers. Industry groups welcomed the measures ut also called more more support at the next Energy Council meeting on 30 September. European Aluminium warned that Europe’s aluminium industry “is facing eradication” as 50% of capacity of the energy-intensive sector could shut before the year-end.
In a tense geopolitical climate, critical materials security in the world outside China and Russia continues to dominate government priorities and inspire a raft of new legislation.
Hot on the heels of the UK Critical Minerals Act, highlighted in The Crucible August issue, the European Union in September launched its own Critical Raw Materials Act, aiming to level the international playing field in raw materials supply and to build a resilient supply chain within Europe. The raft of proposed measures includes incentivising and simplifying project permitting in Europe, a coherent EU-wide regulatory framework for strategic materials storage and recycling, and tackling commodity underpricing that has resulted in manufacturing moving out of Europe. You can read more in the blog by the European Commissioner Theirry Breton.
Mineral Security Partnership meets
In the penultimate week of September, the US convened a ministerial meeting of the Mineral Security Partnership, an ambitious collective of likeminded producing and consuming countries that aim for collaboration in critical minerals supply chains.
The MSP has the potential to shift the benefits balance between producing and consuming nations, the meeting heard. One of its aims is to support projects that adhere to high environmental, social, and governance standards. “We want to make this a race to the top, not a race to the bottom” said US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken told participants. “Too often, the relationship between minerals-producing and minerals-purchasing countries has been extractive and characterized by abusive working conditions. Often, it’s left behind environmental degradation and devastated communities,” Blinken said.
“We want to break this cycle through meaningful collaboration and consultation with local communities near mining sites, and especially with groups that have historically been neglected. And we aim to make sure that minerals-rich countries benefit from all stages of the value chain, from extraction to processing to recycling.”
US works to onshore strategic manufacturing
In August, the Inflation Reduction Act was passed in the US, providing $369bn for domestic green energy capacity and tying EV subsidies to domestic sourcing. Benchmark Minerals examines what this means for the US battery raw materials supply chain.
Also signed into law in August was the CHIPS and Science Act, which provides $52.7bn worth of subsidies for US chip manufacturers to invest on R&D, onshore their supply chain and cite manufacturing in the US. This includes $39bn in manufacturing incentives, including $2bn for the legacy chips used in automobiles and defence systems, $13.2bn in R&D and workforce development, with $1.5bn for wireless technologies and $500m for international information communications technology security and semiconductor supply chain activities. It also provides a 25% investment tax credit for manufacturing of semiconductors and equipment.
The US also put curbs on exports of advanced US-made chips and chip design software to China and Russia to safeguard intellectual property not just for commercial but geopolitical reasons. China responded by accusing the US of violating free trade principles.
While the CHIPS Act may not be enough to boost the international competitiveness of the US, which makes only 12% of global semiconductor chips, the act has already led to tens of billions of investment commitments by US chip manufacturers to build production facilities in the country. What it is likely to do is increase the localisation and security within the US semiconductors supply chain.
DoD invests in antimony studies
The US Department of Defense has awarded two grants worth $200,000 to Perpetua Resources to study the potential for military-grade antimony production from its Stibnite Gold Project in Idaho. Read more about antimony’s critical mineral status in Project Blue’s article in this month’s Crucible.
While not an antimony producer now, Stibnite site had historically produced more than 90% of the antimony used by the U.S. during WWII and was influential in establishing the military specitication (Mil-Spec) for antimony trisulfide. Antimony trisulfide is produced from high purity antimony ore feedstock and is used in small and medium calibre munitions, mortars, artillery, mines, flares, grenades, shoulder launched munitions and missiles.
The two studies will be completed within 12 months. The first will test existing samples of antimony trisulfide ore from the Stibnite project for development into antimony trisulfide to Mil-Spec. The second will study alternative processing opportunities to develop Mil-Spec antimony trisulfide from high purity antimony metal. After the completion of the proposed programs under phase 1 finding, phase 2 funding could be made available for more advanced stage pilot-scale testing within the next year.
Pensana becomes a Polestar partner
UK-based prospective rare earth producer Pensana, featured in the August issue of The Crucible has partnered with Volvo’s electric vehicles spin-off Polestar on its project to create the first truly climate-neutral car by 2030.
Pensana joins the list of partners which include Swedish copper and zinc Boliden, fossil-free steelmaker SSAB, biobased chemicals producer Sekab and fasteners manufacturer Bulten, Norway’s zero-carbon aluminium producer Hydro, German electric powertrains manufacturer ZF, and others. Each partner will focus on certain processes bringing together world-class research and innovative thinking to the Polestar 0 project’s zero carbon goal.