2023: More minerals, more solutions
Deaths at an Indonesian smelter, Zimbabwe's lithium ban, BYD in Thailand
Climate technologies require enormous amounts of metal. I’m Ian Morse, and this is Green Rocks, a newsletter that doesn’t want dirty mining to ruin clean energy.
About this time last year, I remarked that 2022 would be the year that every mining story would mention the energy transition. Whether about iron ore or rare earth elements or actually rare tellurium — which are all important to popular climate technologies and prevalent military and fossil fuel industries — news media had begun to dangle the material needs of an energy transition in the background.
With any luck, 2023 will see the public asking more questions about alternatives. Already, reporters are exploring truly innovative climate solutions in the context of ballooning demand for materials. These don’t always appear as mining or recycling stories; sometimes they’re just neat ways of making transport more accessible, altering diets, telling stories, or repairing electronics. Or designing lightbulbs and rethinking waste as I wrote recently.
It seems more and more materials are wrapped into the climate conversation. Green Rocks has historically received its scope of minerals from national ‘critical minerals’ lists, which are skewed toward the interests of conventional national security. But these exclude important materials tangled up in climate policy, such as phosphorus (fertilizers), sand (construction), and gold (electronics and finance).
So, Green Rocks is keen on widening the horizon of materials included in the climate conversation. Sound off in the comments (or privately by replying to this email) with your ideas for coverage this year.
Recent News in Mining for the Climate
Bolivia was meant to decide the winners of a contract to use new technologies to unearth its vast lithium deposits, but alas we continue the wait. In the meantime, check out my report on the companies and technology under the microscope in Mongabay’s double hitter on the country’s lithium development.
Armed men stole 13 containers from a Chilean port, 12 of which were filled with copper worth roughly $4.4 million.
A strike at a nickel smelter in Indonesia over dangerous conditions and low pay escalated into clashes with police, burnt trucks, and the deaths of two workers. Meanwhile, the government is considering plans to slow development of nickel smelters to ensure the sustainability of its ore and mulling a copper concentrate export ban.
The Indonesian Supreme Court sided with 37 residents of Sangihe Island who sued a planned gold mine, alleging the ministry in charge never should have issued mining permits on a small island.
Carmaker Stellantis became the first to invest directly in a manganese source for its batteries — from Element 25’s Western Australia source and a planned US processing plant.
The 2022 KnowTheChain benchmark report found that almost all of the 60 companies it assessed producing information and communications technologies had failed to confront labor issues in their supply chains. A similar Clean Energy Council report suggested solving transparency issues with stronger domestic supply (in Australia) and certifications.
Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on the export of raw lithium ore to stop artisanal miners taking it out of the country. Artisanal miners say they were not consulted over the ban, saying that it will likely boost smuggling of minerals outside the country.
Chile refused permits to a copper-iron project which environmentalists worried would threaten marine life.
Some mining companies are monitoring their tailings facilities from space.
Families of men killed at Barrick’s gold mine sued a London industry association for certifying the gold as “responsibly sourced”, adding to a lawsuit against Barrick directly for its responsibility in the killings. Then, in December, clashes between private security and “armed protesters” left one man dead.
Indigenous nations in the Amazon urged Canada, where 75% of mining companies have headquarters, to regulate mining more strictly to crack down on human rights abuses.
Namibia restored the export license of a Chinese lithium company while a corruption watchdog continue to investigate the company.
As Indonesian officials continue to hint at deals with Tesla, An investigation from an Indonesian NGO found that a deal with Tesla may quickly introduce devastating pollution into its supply chain. BHRRC got responses from Huayou Cobalt and Vale, but not Tesla.
Environmental groups published leaked videos of seabed miner The Metals Company dumping its waste into the ocean during a trial run.
A Swedish state-owned company announced it had found Europe’s largest rare earth elements deposit.
Western Australia has designated land for “green” industrial projects worth $70 billion that include iron ore processing and hydrogen production.
Plans to build a manufacturing plant for EV maker BYD in Thailand have raised concerns about potential water shortages for farming durian.
The US is considering funding a dozen mineral projects outside its borders to feed its EV production dreams.
Colombia is preparing to launch a national mining company, as the president also vows to block projects that threaten water sources.
Amid political instability, protesters in Peru have interrupted operations and damaged property at a Glencore copper mine.
Relevant: Last month’s Green Rocks, The Road to Copper
The US granted a conditional, $700 million loan to a company developing a lithium mine in a patch of the Nevada desert, where the US also recently sided with conservationists to list a native flower as endangered.
An investigation uncovered police raids and backdoor dealings between a Congolese official recently arrested on corruption charges and Ivanhoe Mines, a Canadian firm with an outspoken founder.
That founder has sealed an investment deal with Saudi Arabia’s state-owned miner to develop battery material resources. The Saudi firm has separately set up a partnership with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund to invest in mining projects.
Indonesian government accused of putting lives at risk with zinc mine permit (The Guardian)
Climate change action could set off a copper mining boom: how Zambia can make the most of it (The Conversation)
The dream of the clean car (Tagesschau)
How Critical Are Your Minerals? New Federal Strategy Doesn't Look Very New (MiningWatch Canada)
Miners warned commodities boom could harm environment, communities (Reuters)
Clean Power at a Steep Price (Sierra Magazine)
Electric Cars Are Taking Off, but When Will Battery Recycling Follow? (New York Times)
Investing in battery metals: ‘It’s a re-education’ (Financial Times)
The mineral monopoly: will low-carbon technology be controlled by a few countries? (Sustainability by numbers)
Over Half the World's Energy Transition Minerals Are on Indigenous Lands (Earther)
Indigenous youths lured by the illegal mines destroying their Amazon homeland (Mongabay)
Fate of Thacker Pass lithium mine permit to be decided soon, with 1872 Mining Law a focus (The Nevada Independent)
How old batteries will help power tomorrow’s EVs (MIT Tech Review)
Deep seabed mining plans pit renewable energy demand against ocean life in a largely unexplored frontier (The Conversation)