Reliability of the Critical Minerals Supply Chain is Dependent on International Cooperation

A new report lays out the challenges and policy options associated with sourcing and processing these critical minerals.


Dec. 12, 2023

News Type

Press Release

💡 What’s the story? 

Decarbonizing the transportation sector—which emits about 30 percent of US carbon dioxide each year—will require unprecedented growth in electric vehicle sales. As demand increases, so will demand for batteries and the minerals such as manganese, lithium, and cobalt that are key components in those batteries.

A new report from Resources for the Future (RFF) lays out the challenges and policy options associated with sourcing and processing these critical minerals. The authors argue that, to increase the reliability of mineral supplies, the United States needs to focus not just on increasing domestic production, but on stabilizing supply chains through international efforts. 

⛰️ What are the challenges?

The authors show that large quantities of several critical minerals are extracted and exported from so-called “fragile regions” and from countries without environmental and labor safeguards, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. China, which has significant capital investments in extraction facilities in many of these fragile countries, also processes about 60 to 75 percent of the world’s cobalt, lithium, and manganese.  

The authors state that such concentration of the critical minerals supply chain in fragile countries or geopolitical rivals can create concerns about critical mineral availability or affordability. Disruptions of global critical mineral supply chains could raise prices around the world.  

Moreover, it takes a lot of time for new supplies to enter the market. In the meantime, high and volatile critical mineral prices have the potential to slow electric vehicle adoption.  

Author Perspective

“To prevent price volatility, the United States will have to look outward rather than inward—we’re highly reliant on imports and don’t have enough raw materials or processing facilities to support mineral independence anytime soon. We can’t continue to rely on just one or two countries and hope that prices stay stable enough for us to meet emissions-reduction goals. Cooperation with other nations to diversify where we get our minerals from is key.”  

—Beia Spiller, Fellow and Director of the RFF Transportation Program

🚗 What about policy options?

The paper authors emphasize that international cooperation will be essential. As an example, they point to partnerships such as the Mineral Security Partnership, which funds and supports mineral mining, processing, and recycling for projects that keep high environmental, social, and governance standards internationally. 

Such partnerships complement measures that aid domestic critical mineral development, as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act have already begun to do. However, getting a mine up and running can take nearly a decade, with risks of harm to nearby communities. The authors emphasize that domestic extraction will need a clearer permitting process and early engagement with affected communities to find and mitigate risks.  

Author Perspective

“Critical minerals are vital to decarbonizing the transportation sector. People and governments around the world are still trying to figure out the best possible ways to make sure that access to critical minerals is stable and reliable and creates as little environmental harm as possible. While the specifics still aren’t clear, getting electric vehicles on the road will require global thinking and cooperation.”

—Michael Toman, Senior Fellow

For more, read the report, Policy Challenges for Accessing Critical Minerals to Electrify Vehicle Transport, by RFF Fellow Beia Spiller, former RFF intern and Colorado School of Mines PhD student Sangita Gayatri Kannan, and RFF Senior Fellow Michael Toman. 

RFF is expanding its body of work on critical minerals and transportation. Watch this space in the coming months for more related research.  

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please see our media resources page or contact Media Relations and Communications Specialist Annie McDarris.

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