What about 2024?
With 2024 upon us, I thought I would look quickly at a couple of areas I shall be keeping an eye on in the coming year.
On a macro level, the materials involved in the energy transition (as part of the wider transition to a lower carbon economy) are some of most important. It is becoming clear that the energy transition also requires a materials transition, i.e. that, in order to achieve Net Zero, whether by 2030 or 2050, “business as usual” in no longer an option in the world of commodities and, in particular, that of metals.
Here, therefore, are two areas I will be looking at over the coming year (and, probably, years!)
Developments on the Inflation Reduction Act (“IRA”)
As noted in my previous letter, the IRA funding “pie” has not only been cut into so many slices of different sizes, but also allocated to so many different US government agencies and/or departments. In 2024, without appearing too pessimistic, it will be interesting to see the extent of any further administrative dysfunction to which this lead, especially in addressing the energy transition. I have already described, for example, the confusion arising from copper being on the Department of Energy’s list of critical materials, but not the Department of the Interior’s list. And the fact that it probably never will be, given Interior’s hardly helpful stance regarding a number of substantial copper-related projects. This is only one example. There also still remain a number “definitional” problems, not least those affecting the relevant tax credits. E.g. what qualifies as “domestic content”. I could list more, but most of you already know what they are.
There is, however, I believe, one thing Interior is looking at that merits a “watching brief” going forward. And that’s the department’s revisiting the General Mining Act of 1872. No, that’s not a typo: 1872 is correct! Incredibly, this is the last time federal mining law was written. With its remit on mining policy (especially on federal land), Interior is seeking to change the act. Indeed, on 12 September the department issued a press release entitled “Biden-Harris Administration Report Outlines Reforms Needed to Promote Responsible Mining on Public Lands.”1 It is recommending “modernizing” the 1872 law and “administrative actions”, such reforms to include “over 60 steps to improve permitting, environmental and community.” (Interior’s wording, not mine.) I think here, the really important word is “permitting”. Any improvements on that front would be more than welcome, not least if it meant the process of obtaining them being speeded up. So, keep an eye on what’s happening on this front.
While this is for 2024, what happens under the IRA in 2025 should Mr Trump get in to power, is another matter.
Gallium and Germanium
While lithium will remain high on my watch list, both gallium and germanium will also stay up there for me.
OK, news around Chinese export licenses for of gallium and germanium introduced in August 2023 has not been worth of a headline for some while now. However, I do think it may be worth keeping an eye on some of the actions that are currently being planned by the private sector here in the US to address (take advantage of?) these restrictions. Having written Roskill’s 2011 industry report and outlook on gallium, it remains a subject somewhat close to my heart!
In this regard it will be interesting to see what happens down at Nyrstar’s zinc operations in Tennessee. Whereas, ‘til now, any production there of these metals has been heavily dependent on the price of zinc, with the two metals potentially providing a new revenue stream, we could see the situation change. Not least because, by Nyrstar’s own estimates, the 40 tons of gallium and 30 tons of germanium it hopes to make each year “could fill as much as 80% of the U.S.’s needs.”2
While any success will be contingent upon many factors, two factors will be especially important: first, just how China reacts to any perceived threat to its virtual monopoly of the two metals’ production (remember rare earths); and, second (this is a propos my thoughts on the IRA above), having been asked for funds by Nyrstar, just how constructively (or not) the Departments of Energy, Commerce and Defense work with each other. I shall try to keep you posted on any interesting on “G ‘n’ G” developments.
With that, I should, for another month, bid you à bientôt from Cleveland Heights.
And I remain, as always
©2024 Tom Butcher
Tom Butcher is Director of ESG at Van Eck Associates Corporation (“VanEck”). The views and opinions expressed herein are the personal views of Tom Butcher are not presented by or associated with VanEck or its affiliated entities. Please note that VanEck may offer investments products that invest in the asset class(es) or securities mentioned herein. This is not an offer to buy or sell, or a recommendation to buy or sell any of the securities/financial instruments mentioned herein.
1 Department of the Interior: Biden-Harris Administration Report Outlines Reforms Needed to Promote Responsible Mining on Public Lands, 12 September, 2023,
2The Wall Street Journal: Tennessee Zinc Smelter Is at the Center of U.S.-China Trade Fight, 24 November, 2023,