Lithium Mining - Thacker Pass
A Federal District Court judge in Oregon (9th Circuit) declined to block (February 27) a lithium mine at Thacker Pass, the second recent judicial decision on this matter. As a result, Thacker Pass will finally move forward to construct its mining operations.
Thacker Pass -- received approval to move forward from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in January 2021, and had originally planned to begin operations in 2023. The company now expects “Phase 1” mining operations to begin in 2026.
Thacker Pass, owned by Lithium Americas, is estimated to be the largest known lithium resource in the US. The company’s goal is to reach a total production capacity of 80,000 tonnes per annum of battery-quality lithium carbonate over two production phases.
General Motors recently purchased $650 million in shares of Lithium Americas, to become the single largest company shareholder, with the company also planning to purchase all Phase 1 production in 2026.
Mining & Bristol Bay Alaska
Specifically, waters in Alaska's South Fork Koktuli River and North Fork Koktuli River watersheds cannot be used as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material for the construction and routine operation of a 2020 Pebble Limited Partnership mining plan, or for similar future plans. The Final Determination follows the EPA's Alaska region recommendation (December 1).
EPA says that scientific analysis supports a decision that mining the Pebble Deposit could result in unacceptable adverse effects on salmon fishery areas. The total economic value, including subsistence uses, of the Bristol Bay watershed’s salmon resources has been estimated to be more than $2.2 billion, an industry primarily benefiting Alaska Natives.
The company pushing for a permit – Pebble Limited Partnership – says that mining could create 850 jobs and $150 million in annual State and local tax revenue. Mining in the location would have produced gold, molybdenum, and copper which is critical to the renewable energy industry.
While lawsuits against the EPA's Final Determination are likely, any mining will nevertheless be put on hold until any cases are adjudicated, which could take years.
Lithium Company Loan
The Department of Energy announced a conditional commitment loan to Rhyolite Ridge LLC for its development of on-site processing in Nevada of lithium carbonate mined at the location in a partnership with mining company Sibanye Stillwater.
The Department says that the site could potentially support the development of enough lithium for 370K electric vehicles each year. The Rhyolite Ridge lithium deposit is one of two known large lithium-boron deposits in the world and is estimated could operate for 26 years.
Among the conditions for the loan, the project must minimize its impact on the endangered Tiehm’s buckwheat including completing an environmental impact statement and enable monitoring of the site in support of the plant's protection efforts.
This loan follows a smaller ($102 million) but similar materials loan closed in July, 2022 for a subsidiary of Syrah Resources to expand current capacity to domestically produce graphite-based active anode material (AAM) for lithium-ion batteries. Syrah Resources is an Australian-based company, and its facility in Vidalia, Louisiana will be used for expanded production financed partly through this loan.
Rare Earths/Battery Input Production Facilities
The Energy Department awarded (October 20) through a competitive process, $2.8 billion to 20 companies to build and/or expand commercial-scale production and processing facilities around the United States covering the extraction and processing of minerals, and the production of needed battery inputs critical to the future of US domestic battery manufacturing. Funding was provided under the 2021 Infrastructure Act.
In addition, the Department of Defense awarded (June 2022) through a DOD program a $120 million contract to Lynas Rare Earths, a company based in Australia, to build a build an industrial scale, domestic separation and processing facility for Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE) such as dysprosium, yttrium and terbium.
The facility will be located in Hondo, Texas and will process both light and heavy rare earth elements by 2025. DOD is also already helping to support the processing capacity of MP Materials at the company’s Mountain Pass, California mine.
MP materials is expanding, with a plant to build a new facility in Ft. Worth, Texas. The facility will process material from the Mountain Pass mine with a focus on the production of neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets. In addition to EVs, such magnets are critical inputs to products such as robots, wind turbines, and defense missile systems.
Without Federal support, Tesla confirmed that it is planning to build its own lithium processing facility in Robstown, Texas, about 20 miles from the ports of Corpus Christi where, presumably, unprocessed lithium materials would be imported. Production from the facility will feed Tesla's growing manufacturing locations.
Graphite Production Federal Loan & Grant
The Federal Government via the Department of Energy closed a $102 million loan (July) for a subsidiary of Syrah Resources to expand current capacity to domestically produce graphite-based active anode material (AAM) for lithium-ion batteries. Syrah Resources is an Australian-based company, and its facility in Vidalia, Louisiana will be used for expanded production financed partly through this loan.
In addition, the company was one of 20 companies awarded grant funding (October) included in 2021 Infrastructure Act to foster US manufacturing growth of battery materials and related input production. With both loan and grant funding, Syrah’s factory in Louisiana is expected to produce up to 45,000 metric tons per year of material by 2025.
Graphite is a critical material for EV batteries, which require more graphite than any other battery material by mass including the lithium itself. The United States, however, currently has no graphite mines. A graphite mine and processing facility is under development by Westwater Resources in Alabama, with commercial quantities expected to be produced by 2023.
China produces nearly all of the world’s coated spherical graphite being used today by global auto and battery makers, through both the import of graphite material and domestically-mined production. China currently processes most of Syrah’s mined materials via imports from the company’s Mozambique mine.
Titanium Mine in Georgia
The Army Corps of Engineers reversed (June) an earlier decision to permit titanium mining near Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia claiming that Twin Pines Mining failed to properly consult with the Muscogee Creek Nation, and the company will have to reapply for a permit.
However, an August agreement between the Army Corps and the company placed the final permitting decision in the hands of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, which opponents fear will result in permitting approval. To date, no decision has been made.
Environmentalists have cited environmental concerns and the potential impact of mining on wetlands, but the company disagrees with environmental concerns.
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Federal Laws Affecting Mining
This is a document of the National Mining Association providing a summary of Federal laws that affect mining in the United States.
Status: while no significant legislation is under consideration to revise mining laws, some regulatory updates are under consideration with respect to water and mining cleanup.