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  • Writer's pictureBrianna Hanson

A low carbon society requires vast amounts of metals and minerals

The 2015 Paris Agreement's goal to achieve a low carbon future sparked a global energy transition that trades fossil-fuels for a mineral-intensive energy system. Mineral sourcing and climate change are now linked: climate change simply cannot be tackled without a sufficient supply of raw materials to manufacture clean technologies.

While renewables shift us away from reliance on oil and coal, significant amounts of metals are required for solar energy, battery storage, LEDs, wind power, electric vehicles and motors, and carbon capture and storage among others. This includes (but is not limited to): aluminium, cobalt, copper, lead, silver, zinc, and lithium.

The International Energy Agency highlighted this challenge in a May 2021 World Energy Outlook Special Report titled “The role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions”. As seen in the figure below, electric cars require six times the amount of these mined minerals than a conventional car, and offshore wind farms need nine times more mined minerals than gas-fired power plants with similar energy outputs.

Source: International Energy Agency, May 2021

Mining is far safer, more ethical, and environmentally responsible in the U.S.

Many of the critical minerals highlighted in the IEA report are mined in countries with weaker governance and regulations than developed economies. Poor regulation can negatively impact workers, communities, and environmental systems.

Fortunately, significant quantities of the key minerals required for this transition can be found in the United States. Mining domestically expands the key minerals and metals resources needed for a low carbon society and it reduces dependence on foreign sources (for example, most rare earth minerals are mined in China).

Domestic mining has more regulation and oversight in place than ever before. Since the 1970s, environmental regulations at the state and federal levels in the U.S. have evolved and strengthened, often as a result from what we learned from historic mining impacts.

A complex and integrated permitting process includes federal, state, and local agencies: a typical U.S. mine will work with an alphabet of agencies to obtain necessary operating and environmental permits, often taking more than ten years. These agencies are responsible for issuing required permits and tracking environmental performance, monitoring emissions and water quality, and ensuring the protection of local ecosystems as well as miner health and safety.

Once a mine is in operation, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) conducts inspections of sites to ensure worker safety. Ongoing environmental safeguards are in place through state and federal agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, various states’ Department of Environmental Quality or Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the US Forest Service (USFS), to name just a few.

The U.S. has demonstrated high quality environmental, health and safety protections and is therefore an ideal candidate to supply the minerals for the sustainable energy transition.

Pathfinder Tonopah—Liberty Site Development

Pathfinder Tonopah, currently developing the Liberty Mine complex in Tonopah, Nevada, is working with state and federal agencies to develop a process plan that will ensure all resources are efficiently (re)used to prioritize responsible extraction of copper, molybdenum, and silver.

This focus on responsible mining is reinforced by using on-site solar energy in the extraction process. Pathfinder is developing a behind-the-meter solar generation project for mine site use, and a second solar array for injection into the grid. The Large Generator Injection Request (LGIR) process with NV Energy for the 100MW injection to the grid is in progress. This project is currently in the feasibility stage and is on track for a Large Generator Injection Agreement (LGIA) mid-2023.

Pathfinder recently completed a 5-year update for its Water Pollution Control Permit and has an updated permit through 2027. Having finalized 3-year plans for the mine and exploration permits, the next steps include desktop studies and gap analyses that will lay the groundwork to start the feasibility study later this year.

The Pathfinder geology team continues to review, compile, and file historical data for the project after discovering additional documents at site. This information is being compiled to inform updated geological sections and models.

After completing QEMSCAN work on samples of the supergene copper resources in Q4 2021, Pathfinder initiated test work on leaching characteristics of portions of the supergene copper deposit. Some of the test work includes examination of processes that utilize glycine to extract metals. Results from additional metallurgical test work are being used to develop flow sheets that will better optimize value recovery from the supergene resources and work toward an updated estimate of the total resources.

By developing responsibly mined critical metals, Pathfinder will contribute to the domestic sustainable energy transition, putting the U.S. on an independent path to a low carbon society.


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