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Expanding Domestic Critical Mineral Supply Chains

Over the past two years, Congress passed significant legislation to secure America’s mineral supply chain. The Energy Act of 2020, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act authorized and funded more than $8.5 billion for critical minerals activities at the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior (DOI). These programs are beginning to take shape but require sustained congressional appropriations funding as the agencies carry out their intended purpose.

Meeting U.S. clean energy, economic, and national security goals will necessitate deployment of next-generation low- and zero-carbon infrastructure. These projects require increased levels of critical mineral content that we currently primarily source from abroad. The following initiatives, authorized in the bills mentioned above, will help address the research, resource assessment, and workforce development needs of a domestic supply chain. As Congress looks to support critical mineral supply chains, it can consider providing appropriation funding to continue support for these important programs, along with support to existing agency efforts to deploy a safe and secure critical minerals supply chain:

  • DOE Research and Development – The United States is a world leader in scientific research and innovation. An important example of progress in this area is DOE’s rare earth and critical mineral recovery program from unconventional resources like coal waste and ash. Below are DOE R&D programs that Congress can consider funding to help build out U.S. supply.
    • DOE’s Critical Minerals and Materials Crosscutting Initiative carries out research, development, demonstration, and commercialization activities across DOE’s programs to develop alternatives to, recycling of, and efficient production of critical minerals and materials. This supports the following two programs authorized by BIL, CHIPS and Science Act, and the Energy Act, in addition to others:
      • Carbon Materials Science Initiative, authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act (42 USC 18911(e)). Establishes a new research initiative to expand the fundamental knowledge of coal, coal-wastes, and carbon ore chemistry useful for understanding the conversion of carbon to material products.
      • Additional Research Activities, including the newly authorized activities in the Energy Act of 2020 (30 USC 1606). Subsections (g) and (h) of the Act were funded by the BIL and include a program for R&D on critical minerals, the creation of a Critical Materials Consortium for multidisciplinary critical materials research, and a Critical Materials Supply Chain Research Facility. Central to the execution of these activities is also the Critical Materials Institute. We encourage DOE to continue instituting these programs as soon as possible.
  • USGS Resource Assessments – We can’t mine what we don’t know we have. DOI’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has significantly ramped up geologic mapping efforts in the past decade to better understand the resource potential that lies under American soil and in above-ground deposits such as mine tailings. Congress can consider funding for the following:
    • The Energy and Mineral Resources and Core Science System mission areas conduct the critical mineral mapping work at the USGS, including through the following programs:
      • Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), which was codified in the Energy Act of 2020 (30 USC 1606(d)), tasks USGS to comprehensively map and assess domestic mineral resources within 10 years. This effort will leverage new authorities, along with existing efforts at USGS, to understand our domestic deposits and resource potential.
      • National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, which was reauthorized by BIL (43 USC 31c), also maps the subsurface estate in partnership with state geological surveys and has recently been expanded to evaluate mineral potential on abandoned mine lands and mine waste.
  • Workforce Development – A domestic workforce for mining and mineral processing is key to a robust U.S. supply chain. Without an available workforce to operate the components of a domestic supply chain, offshoring and increased reliance on countries like China is inevitable. BIL included programs to support the development of a domestic mining workforce, including the following:
    • The Critical Minerals Mining Research and Development Program – Two grant programs authorized by BIL (42 USC 18743(b)) and the CHIPS and Science Act (42 USC 19067) provide awards for research on critical mineral mining and processing and to support the training of the next generation of mining engineers. DOE and National Science Foundation (NSF) will coordinate on specific components of this program to be addressed by their respective institutions. Funding for the DOE grant program could come from the previously mentioned DOE Critical Minerals and Materials crosscutting initiative.
    • The Education and Workforce grants program at DOI authorized by the Energy Act of 2020 (30 USC 1606(k)(3)). This program establishes a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education to fund new critical minerals education, research, and training efforts.
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