In the United States, a controversial nickel mining project in Minnesota
An underground nickel mine could open in Minnesota to meet growing demand for electric vehicles. President Joe Biden supports the project as part of US energy security. But it has raised concerns: “It will destroy our lands” say opponents of the project.
As the demand for nickel for electric vehicle batteries continues to grow, the metal is becoming increasingly coveted. This allows cars to have more autonomy.
But the United States produces less than 1% of the world’s nickel supply, and American electric car manufacturers rely on supplies from countries like Russia or China, which have not really wanted since war in Ukraine.
The demand for nickel will be such that countries such as Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Brazil and New Caledonia, which are considered close to Washington’s politics, will not have enough. It is true that the automobile lobby of American manufacturers is insatiable in the face of its global competitors.
The President of the United States in Detroit in front of an assembly line of GM electric cars.
Therefore, President Joe Biden placed nickel on the list of strategic minerals for the energy security of the United States. He wants his country to relaunch nickel research and mining. A decision that is part of the climate plan commitments announced on August 17. It provides a transition to all-electric vehicles in circulation in the United States.
President Biden specifically identified the “Tamarack Nickel” project as an important part of this strategy.
For powerful American mining companies, and in particular Freeport-McMoran or Phelps Dodge, the opportunity was great. But also for another giant, Australian, Rio Tinto.
Seizing the opportunity, an early mining company, Talon Metals, wants to turn 40 acres of farmland into the largest nickel mine in the United States – but some are concerned about the environmental impact. Talon Metals is associated with Australian giant Rio Tinto.
Talon recently launched its Nickel, Copper and Cobalt mining project. It is located in Tamarack, Minnesota, a town of about 100 people 210 kilometers north of Minneapolis, in one of the poorest populated and poorest regions of the United States.
The purpose of “Nickel Tamarack” is to provide a nationally sourced, made-in-USA nickel for use in the electric vehicle industry. Metallurgical company Talon has drilled nearly 500 boreholes and is said to have found “one of the best nickels in the world”. It promises the creation of 300 local jobs and of course tax benefits for local communities.
“This is a world-class deposit”said Todd Malan, director of external affairs and head of climate strategy for Talon Metals, in an interview with CBS News.
With successful drilling, Talon Metals expects to open the mine in 2026, when the only operating nickel mine in the United States is scheduled to close. The company already has an agreement to supply nickel to Tesla. The project has not yet been approved by the state of Minnesota.
According to Talon, the future mine area has a resource of 8.6 million tons containing 148,000 tons of nickel at a grade of 1.73%, excluding by-products, mainly copper and cobalt.
The Thousand Lakes region in Minnesota near Tamarack
In the region, adversaries are on the move. “Where’s the science that says it’s safe and won’t pollute?” said Melanie Benjamin, who heads the Mille Lacs Association of Ojibwe, whose tribal lands are less than four kilometers from the proposed mine site.
Mélanie Benjamin worries about pollution affecting the fragile wetlands where indigenous tribes have fished and hunted and harvested wild rice for generations.
Talon Metals is under pressure from Minneapolis environmental groups and Tamarack residents who are also concerned about possible sulfuric acid runoff from the mine into now-protected waterways.
In response, industrialist Talon Metals said it would process the nickel out of state and that the deep underground mine posed little risk to the environment.
“We fully understand the context and the story”said Todd Malan of Talon. “We understand how important this environment is.”
But many find it hard to believe the mining company’s promises.
“Asking Talon Metals or asking any mining company how they take care of the community’s environment is like asking the fox how he takes care of the hen house”concludes Tamarack resident Thomas Anderson, in response to CBS News.
An opinion that however risks not being heavy in front of the mining companies driven by the energy transition and the needs of an American automotive industry in the complete transformation towards all-electric. The nickel rush has just begun.
TESLA-branded electric vehicles in a company parking lot in California
LME Nickel on 11/28/2022 at 1:30 pm GMT: $25,317/tonne – 0.39%