Doe Run Vice President calls for domestic investment in critical and base minerals
Critical and base minerals are crucial to the United States’ ability to achieve a low-carbon and renewable energy future. Once the world’s top mineral producer, today, the nation relies on foreign imports for 50% or more of its supply of 47 mineral commodities, 23 of which pose a significant supply risk to U.S. manufacturing.
John Uhrie, vice president of exploration, research and technical development at The Doe Run Company (Doe Run), addressed this issue at the Resilient Supply of Critical Minerals workshop held by Missouri University of Science & Technology on August 2-3.
Experts predict the mineral requirements necessary to reach net-zero carbon goals by 2050 – to produce more electric cars, for example, and transition to more wind and solar energy generation – may be six-times what is required today. Many of these minerals can be found in the U.S. but are processed elsewhere.
“If the U.S. is to regain its position as a leader in mineral extraction, processing and manufacturing, we need a shift in how regulators approach permitting, research and development,” said Uhrie. “The current regulatory approach is stymieing domestic growth and promoting the export of raw materials only to have them processed under less stringent environmental standards elsewhere.
“The U.S. has the natural resources, technological wherewithal and human capital necessary to reduce the nation’s dependence of imported metals required for our electrification needs. But inconsistent energy policies and a lack of information sharing across regulatory agencies results in a regulatory landscape that hinders the development and advancement of cutting edge, leapfrog technologies. We see this firsthand.”
Uhrie gave the example of lead concentrates. Produced in Missouri, lead concentrates are exported because the U.S. no longer has domestic access to primary lead processing. The U.S. imports about one-third of domestic demand for lead in order to produce lead batteries and other products, losing the economic value of producing the metal domestically. Lead is not alone in this scenario. There are also no domestic primary smelters for zinc or nickel.
“Doe Run has novel lead metal processing technologies in development for both primary and secondary metal production that could be commercialized under the right conditions,” said Uhrie. “Our hydromet technologies are not only capable of lead metal production with significant elimination of air emissions, but also can produce antimony and tin from recycled batteries and recover cobalt and nickel from complex concentrates. But we need better cooperation among the industry and regulators to reduce the unpredictability and uncertainty that hinders investment in these innovations.”
To help the U.S. reclaim its position as a global leader in mineral extraction and processing, Uhrie calls for increased attention in four key areas:
People: Investment in collegiate mining and metallurgy programs to train the next generation of the mining workforce.
Permitting: Establish a clear, consistent and transparent path to the permitting of new mines and processing facilities, which currently takes up to 10 years, compared to just two years in Australia and Canada.
Processing: Revitalize U.S. mineral processing and recycling.
Permission: Redefine the industry’s relationship with regulators to work in greater collaboration toward sustainable mineral and metal production.
Doe Run’s six mines in the Viburnum Trend produce 5 million tons of ore a year, producing lead, copper and zinc concentrates. The company’s Resource Recycling facility, recycles approximately 8.5 million lead batteries each year, returning the metal to use in new batteries. Lead batteries are the most recycled consumer product in the world. They represent the standard for a circular economy product, with each lead battery produced containing more than 80% recycled materials.