The Trump administration is opening more than $ 42 billion in Energy Department loans for projects that increase the country’s supply of key clean energy minerals, despite repeated attempts by the president to cut funding to the program.
In nine advice released yesterday, the Department of Energy’s Office of Loan Programs (LPO) urged companies to apply for loans for the production, processing and recycling of “critical minerals” that are essential for electric vehicles, renewables , advanced nuclear, hydrogen fuel cells and carbon capture, among others.
These thirty-five minerals, deemed critical to national security by the Interior Ministry, come largely from Chinese suppliers. DOE loan guarantees could support the recovery of lithium from geothermal brines for use in electric vehicle batteries, the refining of uranium for use in advanced nuclear technologies, or the recovery of rare earth minerals at from coal by-products, for example.
Energy ministry officials said in a press call that the guidelines were intended as an “industry roadmap” and did not change existing rules for granting loans. But special attention will be paid to critical mining projects, which have not yet obtained loan guarantees from the ministry, they added.
Under President Trump, the loan office has kept a relatively low profile, with a small handful of grants for carbon capture and nuclear projects.
Trump’s annual budget demands sought to eliminate the office, which under President Obama was a frequent means of funding successful clean energy projects – as well as bankrupt solar power maker Solyndra. Over $ 42 billion in lending capacity remains at the disposal of the LPO.
The new directions are expected to be welcomed by President-elect Joe Biden, whose administration will ultimately make decisions about which projects to receive loans, given the multi-year lead times. Transition Biden did not respond to inquiries on E&E News.
Biden, batteries and reviews
Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence market research, who testified before Congress in support of launching a US-based battery supply chain, predicted that ” Federal aid for EV and battery space “would take place under Biden.
“These loans would provide the financial foundation for the future domestic auto industry and ensure that the United States gains ground that it has historically lost to China,” he wrote in an email to E&E News .
“The importance of building a national supply base for essential minerals to power a lithium-ion economy in the United States is above party politics,” he added.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and a leading proponent of US production of critical minerals, praised the guidance, adding it “would help to ensure that reasonable support is available to assist domestic producers, refiners and recyclers. “
However, some environmental groups and environmentalists remain cautious about what the development of a national source of clean energy minerals could entail.
The Center for Biological Diversity criticized the guidelines and said it hopes Biden will pursue sweeping reform of mining regulations for public lands, where essential minerals are often found.
“There is no doubt that essential minerals are important for the future of our renewable energy transition, but we need mining reform, not more donations to mining companies,” said Randi Spivak, director of the group’s public lands. “It just gives the mining companies another form of subsidy. “
The guidelines would also make loans available for the recovery of minerals from fossil fuel farms, she noted, which could “try to breathe new life into these highly polluting technologies.”
Tristan Abbey, former director of energy and environment at Trump’s National Security Council, said the DOE guidelines were “one of the first and best steps the federal government could take,” unless adopt new legislation.
“The Biden team will have to decide to what extent ‘mine’ remains a four-letter word in the center-left political lexicon,” he added in an email to E&E News.
The new guidelines also respond to the wish of some mining companies who have campaigned for inclusion in loan guarantees.
Last May, the president of a Canadian company, Lithium Americas Corp., told senators at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that federal loan guarantees for lithium processing “would strengthen the confidence ”of private investors and reduce the cost of capital. for projects. A subsidiary of the company, Lithium Nevada, plans to open a lithium mine in Nevada in the first quarter of 2021 which would be the largest in the United States.
Lithium Americas has not responded to E&E News inquiries at press time.
But another lithium mining company with a potential project in Nevada, Australia, ioneer Ltd., applauded the news of the advice.
“US production of these essential minerals is not only good news for jobs here in the United States, but also for urgently addressing climate change,” said James Calaway, president of the company.