The Geopolitics of the Global Mineral Supply Chain - The Road to Autonomy

The Geopolitics of the Global Mineral Supply Chain

Mark P. Mills, Senior Fellow Manhattan Institute, Faculty Fellow Northwestern University School of Engineering, and Partner in Montrose Lane, an Energy-Tech Venture Fund joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss the geopolitics of the global mineral supply chain.

The conversation begins with Mark discussing his review of the book Unsettled by Physicist Steven Koonin in the Wall Street Journal and how it led to the Manhattan Institute’s Facebook page being temporarily suspended. Grayson raises the point about debates and how debates were instrumental in the founding of The United States.

Shifting gears, Grayson asks Mark about his time as a physicist at Bell Northern Research and at the RCA David Sarnoff Research Center.

RCA was then the company of consequence. RCA was the company that did as much for communications as Apple and Google and Cisco and others of the modern era did back then.

– Mark P. Mills

With everything becoming more efficient, crypto mining farms popping up everywhere, and more electric vehicles coming online daily, Grayson asks Mark if the world has enough electricity to support the increased energy demand. We currently produce enough, but that could change in the future.

The single most important thing about electricity is not how you make it. That is derivative. It’s how you make it to support the two objectives which is: As I need it at scale, the price matters, because the more of it you use, you want it to be cheaper, not more expensive. And, I want to have the electricity when I need it.

– Mark P. Mills

Mark goes on to discuss the history of the energy grid and how the grid is a series of networked grids. With the colonial pipeline having been recently hacked, Grayson asks Mark how secure the electric grid is today and what can be done to secure the grid from potential cyber-attacks.

The electric grid is remarkably secure, currently.

– Mark P. Mills

Staying on the topic of resources and what is need to ensure that energy can continue to flow uninterrupted, Grayson asks Mark what happened in 1990 that led The United States to lose its position as the world’s number-one producer of minerals. This was caused by regulation and the political environment at that time. Sensing an opportunity, China expanded its mining and refining capabilities.

China is the world’s biggest refiner of critical minerals.

– Mark P. Mills

The United States is 100% dependent on the importation of 17 key minerals and imports over half of its needs for another 29 minerals. These minerals are needed for electric vehicles. At this time, The United States does not have a secure supply chain for electric vehicles.

This raises the question of how can The United States transition to an all-electric vehicle future when the supply chain is controlled by a geopolitical foe, China?

If your energy system is dependent on a handful of supply chain routes and a hand full of supply chain suppliers, if anything happened that took that handful out, there is a massive impact. You do not have optionality. You do not have optionality at any price.

– Mark P. Mills

The supply chain for minerals is volatile with Chile, China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo controlling the mineral supply chain and mineral refining. With a lack of new mines coming online and limited access to copper and minerals, Mark explains what the economic impact would be on the economy.

Every single feature of the minerals world relevant to energy is on track to rising, not declining prices.

– Mark P. Mills

After focusing on the economics of minerals and the impact of the supply chain, Grayson and Mark discuss mining minerals and how minerals are mined.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Mark discuss why the geopolitical issues of the mineral supply chain are not broadly discussed. Securing the mineral supply chain for electric vehicles is the only way to ensure the adoption of electric vehicles.

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Recorded on Thursday, May 13, 2021