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Critical Minerals: Investment, Policy, and Supply Security. Can Seabed Minerals Change the Dynamics?

Tuesday, 7 May
Executive Dialogue
The need for critical minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and REE's (rare earth elements) has become increasingly urgent because they are essential for many renewable energy technologies, high tech devices, and the electrification of the transportation sector. The rapid investments and supply needs for renewables and green initiatives are responsible for much of the recent growth in mineral demand, especially the battery minerals lithium, nickel, cobalt, and graphite as well as focusing the major mining companies to expand their positions in copper. Electrification will greatly increase the use of copper. More copper will need to be produced in the next 20 years than has been produced by humans since the Bronze Age. Demand for lithium has tripled and nickel and cobalt increased 40% and 70% in the last five years. Supply security for these raw materials and processed metals is a major global concern. Copper was classified as a critical material by the US in 2023 because demand could well outpace supply that new mines and recycling won’t be able to fill. Critical mineral resources are concentrated within a short list of countries and mineral processing is dominated by China which raises major supply security questions. Major policy initiatives are being implemented by the US, EU, Canada, Australia, and others to strengthen and diversify critical mineral supply and mineral processing. The markets are responding with robust investments in new processing technologies that can break into critical mineral supply chains. All of this activity is happening within the established mining and mineral processing industries but it may not be enough. Production of seabed polymetallic nodules that are enriched in nickel, manganese, cobalt, copper, and REEs is poised to be a strong market disruptor that has the potential to upend the upstream critical mineral markets by diversifying the supply with high grade-low cost nickel, cobalt, and copper which could potentially strengthen the midstream and downstream supply chains. Tom will speak to the major moving pieces in the mining markets and new national supply chain security policies with respect to the critical mineral landscape and outlook and what it would take for seabed minerals to enter and disrupt this critical sector. If seabed mineral production begins as expected, many of the technologies developed to support deepwater oil and gas production will translate and be modified to support this to this emerging deep ocean mineral sector.
Tom Albanese, Former CEO - Rio Tinto Group
Dan McConnell, Consultant - Geomarine Resources PLLC

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