Supply Chain Disruptions Shift American Mineral Sourcing Inward

Date: October 28, 2021

Source: News Room

Over the course of the Covid-19 Pandemic, disruptions to supply of workers, revenue and lockdowns have all played roles in creating bottlenecks for a variety of global supply chains. Different countries have applied restrictions of varying severity at different times, making importing and exporting goods a much more complicated endeavor for companies across the globe. One of the commodities that has been impacted by this has been rare earth metals. Rare earth metals are mined in many places across the globe, with China being one of the largest suppliers. Covid-19 restrictions have made it much harder for firms to get those minerals into the United States.

Shortages of many of these minerals have greatly impacted the ability of manufacturers to supply solar panels, cars and electronics. Because of this, there is now a significant push to find new ways to source rare minerals. One firm, Rio Tinto, is looking to extract many of these minerals, including tellurium, which is used in solar panels, from sludge which is a byproduct of its copper mining operations. The firm is also hoping to recover other minerals from a different byproduct of copper mining called "tailings".

These moves by Rio Tinto come after the Biden administration has put pressure on US firms to find US based sources of 35 minerals that the administration has deemed important for US national security. Many of the minerals, including tellurium, are key for an increase in production of renewable energy. In order to prevent a bottleneck in solar panel production, a stable source of tellurium must be found soon.

The Biden administration has had to walk a tough line of reducing supply chain woes while also sticking to campaign promises surrounding climate policy and environmental protection. It will be interesting to see how the administration sticks to its sustainability goals while also loosening mining regulations.

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