Battle for Rare Earth Minerals

Every one of us has seen countries fighting to gain supremacy over Oil and Oil reserves.

But soon this will become history as the fight for Oil and Coal will be replaced with Critical Resources Minerals or Critical Raw Materials (CRM). These new age minerals include Cobalt, Titanium, Copper, Aluminum, Boron, Sulfur, Lithium, Phosphate, Iron, Manganese, Silicon, Nickel, Zinc, Graphite.

CRM which is green and environment friendly is the future of this planet. CRM is available in few countries but again the game will be for countries who can explore these regions, invest and control in the coming years by controlling the supply chain. These minerals will typically be used in the form of batteries globally since these batteries will be the source of charging energy. So everything will depend upon the performance of batteries for each activity.

US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia have largely controlled the Petro World since most of the world’s oil and coal reserves are found here. But now with the transition from petro economies to electro economics the geopolitics have changed.

China is the leading player as it does not have sufficient rare minerals reserve in its own country but it controls majority of them by signing agreements and directly controlling these crucial minerals in the countries having reserves of minerals.

Congo has about 85% of Cobalt but due to unstable government and internal rivalry it does not control much of its reserves. China has control for about 60% of Cobalt by signing agreements and investing money in Congo. China actually controls about 80% of the CRM trade globally.

Electricity will be the main carrier of energy consumption by 2050 and will eventually replace all oil and coal resources used till now.

About 115 countries have already pledged to switch to green fuel and replacing existing vehicles by Electric Vehicles (EV) by the year 2050. Again these EV’s will use rechargeable batteries using a nickel metal hybrid which involves CRM.

For EV’s to make happening the governments should create atmosphere by encouraging manufacturers and consumers to produce and use electric vehicles and not many countries have succeeded mainly due to red tapism and bureaucracy and also lack of technological knowledge.

China in particular has succeeded because of its government initiative starting from the year 2010. It has grown to dominate the entire chain right from upstream mining of battery raw materials to midstream production of battery grade chemicals to downstream production of Li-on battery cells and other end products.

Chinese government supported mining and processing firms and mega battery manufacturing facilities with low interest loans and by building industry around electro economy and electric mobility. The industrial plans have set targets for EV’s and identified various policies and funding required to meet these goals. Various other measures include purchase subsidy, tax holidays, production mandates, quality control, licensing, road access parking, charging incentives, government private partnership for electric taxi and other ride hailing fleets.

India must device polices to attain self sufficiency in these minerals in the coming years otherwise it will simply be a transition from oil dependent to cell dependent as per report published by Niti Aayog in Dec 2020. India needs to act fast on exploration, excavation and setting up CRM chains through adequate downstream investments.

Local production and self-reliance are a must for India and needs firmer strategies. Currently India aims to generate about 30% of energy from renewable sources by 2030 and will become 30-40 % EV nation which is not a very good sign.

No one country can alone control the entire supply chain and as a result Supply Chains Resilience Initiative (SCRI) between Quad (Australia, India, Japan & USA) countries have joined hands in Sep 2020 to set up a working committee on CRM and technologies. Going forward India needs to take stricter and firmer nation wide government policies to promote electro culture otherwise it will lag behind.

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