An important update from the Energy Transition landscape…
In May I profiled Perpetua Resources, one of America’s few producers of antimony, a critical mineral that is integral to all aspects of the energy transition. From electric vehicles (EVs) to lithium-ion batteries to wind towers to solar panels and anything using an integrated circuit in between, the U.S. – and the world – needs antimony and will require orders of magnitude more of it if this transition is to ever truly move beyond the multi-trillion dollar spending bill stage and into reality.
On August 9, Perpetua announced that it has entered into a strategic supply agreement with fellow U.S. company Ambri, Inc., to supply antimony for its nascent development of liquid metal batteries (LMBs). The full development of LMBs is likely to become crucial to the ability of wind and solar power to play larger roles in electric grids, for a variety of reasons:
- They hold their charge for longer periods of time than comparable capacity lithium-ion batteries;
- They are not as affected by external temperatures as lithium-ion batteries;
- They don’t have the issues related to exploding and catching fire that has been an issue with lithium-ion technology; and
- Perhaps most importantly, they don’t rely on massive new quantities of an array of critical minerals that are not currently in production or even on the books to be produced.
Indeed, Ambri’s LMB technology relies on just two mineral elements: Antimony and salt. Thus, instead of having to solve for the need for enormous new quantities of an array of critical minerals like lithium, cobalt and nickel, LMB tech must solve for new volumes of one mineral, antimony, since salt tends to be in plentiful supply all over the globe.
In the U.S., Perpetua Resources and its’ Stibnite Mine operation in the mountains of central Idaho represent one of America’s largest potential antimony resources. Even better, the strategic supply agreement between Perpetua and Ambri is entirely consistent with the stated goals of the Biden administration. As the CEO of Perpetua, Laurel Sayer, noted in the company’s release, this deal helps with the Biden goals in two ways: Increasing domestic production of one of several critical minerals while also avoiding any supply chain entanglements with China or other adversarial nations.
“This agreement is a meaningful step in support of the current administration’s goal of achieving 100% clean electricity in the U.S., while prioritizing the domestic manufacturing of battery technology,” said Laurel Sayer, CEO of Perpetua Resources. “Perpetua continues to show how a modern mining company can not only be an essential part of the clean energy value chain, but also be key to the solution to the world’s climate challenges.”
However, the Biden administration still must shift its own bureaucratic inertia into a higher gear in order to speed up the timing of domestic supply development. As I reported in May, Perpetua has already been engaged in the environmental permitting process with the federal government for years now, and still apparently has years to go. Its target date for first production from the Stibnite mine was recently extended from mid-2025 into 2027 due to more delays in this permitting process.
The good news is that, as Perpetua VP of External Affairs McKinsey Lyon told me Friday, that timing lines up well with Ambri’s goal for starting up its commercial manufacturing operations. The bad news is that it points to an ongoing weakness in meeting Biden’s aggressive goals for moving this energy transition forward.
The President recently set a goal of the U.S. having up to 50% EVs in its auto manufacturing mix by 2030, and wants to set similarly aggressive goals related to converting power grids to renewables. At the same time, Biden has said he wants to move the U.S. away from critical mineral supply chains dominated by China, Russia and other adversarial nations.
The plain and simple fact of the matter is that the U.S. must be able to exploit its own abundant mineral resources in mining operations and other recovery methods if it is to ever shift its supply chains and enable this energy transition to become something more substantial than a cool-sounding, media-promoted narrative. Biden’s combination of goals can never be achieved so long as these permitting processes take the better part of a decade to complete.
None of this means the transition won’t ultimately become a reality. What it likely means is that, when you hear the President or others in the government throw out goals for the transition that sound aggressive and overly-optimistic, know that that same government’s bureaucratic processes represent the single biggest obstacle to the ability of the industries involved to meet those goals.
That’s just reality.