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Lithium Mining in the USA Could See High Growth Potential

In May of 2018, the US Department of Interior published a list of 35 minerals that are "critical to the economic and national security of the USA." Publishing this list was the 1st step in a multi-agency strategy in order to implement Trump's initiative to stop our dependence on foreign materials, and mine / produce our own.

The full list - along with some of their uses are as follows:

Aluminum (bauxite) - used in almost all sectors of the economy

Antimony - used in batteries and flame retardants

Arsenic - used in lumber preservatives - pesticides - and semiconductors

Barite - used in cement and petroleum industries

Beryllium - used as an alloying agent in the aerospace and defense industries

Bismuth - used in medical and atomic research

Cesium - used in research and development

Chromium - used primarily in stainless steel and other alloys

Cobalt - used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys

Fluorspar - used in the manufacture of aluminum - gasoline - and uranium fuel

Gallium - used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs

Germanium - used for fiber optics and night vision applications

Graphite (natural) - used for lubricants - batteries - and fuel cells

Hafnium - used for nuclear control rods - alloys - and high-temperature ceramics

Helium - used for MRIs - lifting agent - and research

Indium - mostly used in LCD screens

Lithium - used primarily for batteries

Magnesium - used in furnace linings for manufacturing steel and ceramics

Manganese - used in steel making

Niobium - used mostly in steel alloys

Platinum group metals - used for catalytic agents

Potash - primarily used as a fertilizer

Rare earth elements group - primarily used in batteries and electronics

Rhenium - used for lead-free gasoline and superalloys

Rubidium - used for research and development in electronics

Scandium - used for alloys and fuel cells

Strontium - used for pyrotechnics and ceramic magnets

Tantalum - used in electronic components - mostly capacitors

Tellurium - used in steelmaking and solar cells

Tin - used as protective coatings and alloys for steel

Titanium - overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or metal alloys

Tungsten - primarily used to make wear-resistant metals

Uranium - mostly used for nuclear fuel

Vanadium - primarily used for titanium alloys

Zirconium - used in the high-temperature ceramics industries

The Department of Interior deemed these minerals as "critical" for a number of reasons, mainly within US industry and military uses. Lithium, for instance, is the primary ingredient in most modern day smartphone batteries and would be a game changer if the US could create its own supply.

Currently, there is only one active commercial lithium mine in North America: a brine mine in Nevada owned by Albemarle which was also the first Lithium mine founded in globally. Albemarle now has other Lithium mines as well in Chile and a JV in Australia with China which is an open pit hard-rock mining operation. At one point, the US controlled the entire industry now only controls less than 5% of the worldwide production. Chile and Australia currently make up over half the worldwide production.

Mining lithium via underground brine thus far has proven to be a cheaper process than from hard rock. This caused Lithium mines in North Carolina to shut down as their processes proved to be inefficient compared to others. Other countries (e.g. Chile) have a huge advantage over other countries in that their brine is more mineral rich. They also have a much better climate and higher altitude which is easier on machinery and workers than other parts of the world. Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile is the 2nd largest producer of Lithium globally and is located in Chile, it also has the lowest cost to produce Lithium worldwide.

Lithium’s surge in demand has made a worldwide “white gold rush” with many amateur and mining operations testing and drilling the viability of mining lithium in the US. A number of lithium claims have been staked in Nevada in an existing brine operation. Other operations are focusing on geothermal brine and hard-rock mining in California and North Carolina. Lithium Americas is looking into using a new technology to extract lithium from hectorite clay in Nevada as well.

We still don’t know how exactly the Trump administration is going to go about reducing US dependence on Lithium and other minerals but one thing that is clear is that if they want it bad enough it’s going to happen.