US hopes to expand strategic minerals initiative

Afghans laborers collect salt from Salt mines in Namak Aab district of Takhar province, Afghanistan, 13 August 2013. According to media reports, Afghanistan has nearly one trillion dollars in untouched mineral deposits including lithium, iron, copper, cobalt and gold, referring to US government estimates. [Jawed Kargar/EPA/EFE]

The US State Department hopes to expand a strategic minerals initiative aimed at ensuring supply chains for metals critical for batteries and wind and solar power as demand for green energy keeps growing despite the coronavirus, a top diplomat said on Tuesday (2 June).

Ten countries, including Canada, Australia and Brazil, joined the United States last year to form the Energy Resource Governance Initiative, or ERGI, in which Washington will share mining experience to help countries discover and develop minerals such as lithium, copper and cobalt.

ERGI, part of an effort to reduce the world’s reliance on China for the high-tech materials, is also meant to provide advice to help ensure industries are attractive to international investors.

Despite slower growth this year, construction delays and supply chain disruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic, overall global renewable power capacity will grow by 6% in 2020, the International Energy Agency said late last month.

Next year, renewable power additions are forecast to rebound to the level reached in 2019.

“We are very much looking to expand ERGI to include other governments as well as governmental institutions,” Frank Fannon, the top US energy diplomat, said in an interview.

China in focus as West debates critical minerals challenge

Western powers will attend talks in Brussels next week on curbing China’s dominance of rare earths and other critical resources and EU officials will present their vision to create entire green supply chains.

Fannon said he has had conversations about ERGI with the European Commission. Increased participation in the group could include emerging-economy countries around the world, as well as Japan and other developed countries in Asia with strong energy demand, he said.

Fannon participated in a workshop on Tuesday with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which said in a report that the attractive prices of renewables relative to fossil-fuel power generation could help governments embrace green economic recoveries from the pandemic.

The other ERGI members are Botswana, Peru, Argentina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, the Philippines and Zambia.

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