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Energy in Transition Podcast: Critical Minerals with Dr. Michelle Foss, Baker Institute for Public Policy

In the latest episode of the Energy in Transition podcast — the final episode of a three-part series on critical and strategic minerals — Dr. Michelle Foss, Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, joined Council CEO Leslie Beyer for an in-depth discussion about the materials needs for a lower-carbon future, the hegemonic role of China, and the policies needed to support sustainable mining in the United States. 

“In the United States, we have a lot less mining than we used to have,” Foss said. “We have outsourced the industry and the businesses, and yet here we are trying to figure out how to supply our basic materials needs as well as materials needs for everything we can dream of.”

As a result of this outsourcing, the quality of critical minerals resources have changed. Foss said that over the past 150 years, the best locations have already been harvested, which means finding fields of minerals that will be financially sustainable is an issue.

“We have declining ore grades for all the major metals and minerals. It makes it a challenge to launch new projects, and the projects aren’t in the most convenient places. So you’ve got those two things working against you as an investor. It’s hard to see how we’re actually going to make all of this work.”

Ultimately, China has a strategic plan to be a major force in the electrification of transportation, and they are much more aggressive about mining minerals than the United States, Foss said.

“They want to control the supply chains and intellectual property,” she said. “It’s very, very clear from everything that we can see. The Chinese are very good at positioning themselves in ways that give them access to raw materials and control of supply chains in countries where they are doing business. It’s a powerful model, and that’s very difficult for us to deal with.”

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