Rocks Reads Roundup 11/28

Gritty, MP, Finland, Crystal X. Boring

Hello rocks readers! Some of this material is a little older because I didn’t send out a links roundup last week. Enjoy!

Lighthearted Gritty Crystals Content

This is just fun stuff with rocks I just thought you might like.

MP Materials going public updates

Remember two weeks ago when I wasn't sure whether MP Materials (the company that owns the Mountain Pass mine) was going public through a weird financial shenanigan backed kind of by SoftBank, but it seemed likely? It happened. MP Materials took over/"merged" with the Fortress-backed shell company's listing on the NYSE on November 18, you can track its stock now if you feel like it (I kind of don't have the headspace to be that attentive to stonks, honestly, but I guess some people like that).

The day before MP went public, news broke that the company would be receiving $9.6 million from the Department of Defense to support "value-add processing and separation capabilities to the Mountain Pass operations." As I think I've mentioned before here, the big challenge for domestic rare earth supply chains isn't really ore (insert pedantic "rare earths aren't rare" sound here); it's processing ore into industry-ready refined metals. MP currently exports most of its rare earths to China for processing.

A lot of the coverage of MP's NYSE debut unsurprisingly bought into the "plucky mine taking on Big China" narrative; honestly I think it's sort of anticlimactic? It does mean MP has to disclose more things publicly for the SEC which means we get a little more insight into the company's activities than before.

Other REE projects that got DoD money

The $9.6 million the DoD is giving to MP Materials was one of three REE-related DoD funding projects announced on November 17. All were issued under Title III of the Defense Production Act (we're still allegedly in a "national emergency" with minerals, remember?) and were relatively small–MP's was biggest, followed by $2.3 million to California's TDA Magnetics and $860,000 (I don' know why the press release phrased it as "$.86 million"?) to Texas' Urban Mining Company (the recycling firm mentioned in this newsletter a while back). TDA Magnetics seems to just be a manufacturer so that might be more like a stockpiling thing? Unclear.

Making the informal (cobalt mining in DRC), formal

(Above is a dumb deep cut joke from me, sorry)

The state-backed Congolese mining company Gécamines moved closer to making Entreprise Generale du Cobalt (EGC)–their initiative to further formalize artisanal cobalt mining by creatting a dedicated buyer and market specifically for artisanal miners–into a real, functional thing this week with the announcement of a trading agreement and partnership with commodities trading company Trafigura.

Artisanal mining–the practice of small-scale mining by individuals or small groups, typically with hand tools, absent safety precautions–has been at the heart of public outcry over labor exploitation in mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Up to a fifth of the cobalt mined in the country is thought to come from artisanal mines, and once stuff goes to smelters it's really hard to differentiate or track which cobalt came from where.

Initially a number of (western-backed) efforts to address the harmful qualities of artisanal mining in DRC related to basically getting it out of the supply chain–putting greater scrutiny on sourcing and auditing mines, stuff like that. But in the absence of any other professional development resources, all those out of work artisanal miners were essentially fucked–and most kept doing it.

(For a slightly more in-depth overview of artisanal mining in DRC this Washington Post op-ed is pretty good.)

This is to say that the shift–from industry, NGOs, and government–to construct more formal channels and eventually regulations to make artisanal mining maybe more accountable is kind of a step in a better direction. But it's still extremely messy. Gécamines is notoriously corrupt, and making a market for cobalt isn't the same thing as organizing a sector or guaranteeing health and safety for a generally-contingent class of workers. Trafigura getting involved in the project seems to be seen as a good sign–it means that the EGC isn't exclusively an arm of the state, there's more money coming into it, and Trafigura's support specifically focuses on what creating a formalizing artisanal mining sector could look like. The company was involved in a small pilot program working on exactly this issue in 2018.

That being said, in some of the other sectors they've worked in Trafigura has had its fair share of scandals and a lot of the corruption in DRC hinges on uh, multinational mining companies doing bribes and stuff. It would be cool if Trafigura was totally on the up-and-up here and this could actually support Congolese miners? I need to spend more time diving into the pilot project and the plans for EGC.

Finland has hella minerals, folks

Turns out Greenland isn't the only country pursuing a major metals play. The Finnish government created the Finnish Minerals Group in 2018 through a restructuring of the country's state-owned mine holdings. Its mandate is to "maximise the value of Finnish minerals" with a specific focus on developing "the Finnish value chain of lithium-ion batteries." Finland's geology apparently holds solid deposits of basically all the key metals used in lithium batteries–they were already Europe's top nickel producer prior to this new initiative. Most of the actual mining happening right now is being done by Terrafame, a firm partially funded by the state and partially by (surprise!) Trafigura. It sounds like they're focused on nickel right now with cobalt and lithium exploration underway.Terrafame also received approval to mine and refine uranium in Finland earlier this year.

It doesn't sound like Terrafame's mining directly affects Finland's indigenous Samí people, but other deposits in and around Samí territory are apparently being sized up by multinational mining firms. It's interesting that of all the critiques of expanding mining in Finland brought up in this article, the Samí aren't really mentioned.

The Pebble Mine isn't happening

Honestly, don't have much to add here. Disappointed that this update doesn't include the Army press relations officer name checked in this newsletter's first mention of the Pebble Mine, the incredibly named Crystal X. Boring, but still very good news. (Side note: of course I googled Crystal X. Boring and she seems...pretty wholesome? Like in addition to doing media relations work for the Army she's also getting a PhD in psychology focused on working with people with PTSD? So yes, with that name and that LinkedIn vibe I still believe she could very likely low-key also have superpowers.)

Rocks Reads Roundup, 11/14

too much colonialism and not enough reparations imo

Hello rocks readers! Have been dissociating and entering fugue states a lot this week, unable to pin down which of the several existential crises of the moment is most urgent. It's pretty bad! The dog helps, sometimes.

A small, non-urgent heads up that I'm looking into moving this newsletter off of Substack–Ghost seems like the most appealing option? Though it involves more overhead for me, I figure if I have to keep operating in the online patronage model of freelancing the more I can personally maintain my means of production the better off I'll be should major business pivots or pricing changes or platform controversies occur. Also the pivot to emphasizing marquee names and clearly only caring about resourcing those names on Substack is gross and makes me feel gross.

This probably won't happen for another couple of months and in theory should not interrupt subscriptions or payments as I'd just be moving you to a different CMS that also connects with Stripe under the hood, but uh moving to a self-hosted, open source service is likely to have some road bumps. Will update as things become more concrete.

Technically speaking, SoftBank I guess has or will have a major share in America's only rare earth mine when it goes public?

This is kind of complicated and finance-y, so I'm not putting one link in the header here. MP Materials, the company that currently owns the storied Mountain Pass mine in southern California, announced back in July that it was planning to go public through a merger with Fortress Value Acquisition Corp, a "special purpose acquisition company" (SPAC) created by Fortress Investment Group. A SPAC basically is a company made for the purpose of taking another company public? It sounds dumb but it means that right now people can buy shares of FVAC on the New York Stock Exchange and when the "merger" with MP Materials goes through, they'll have stocks in MP Materials and they'll maybe be rich or something because they got in on the ground floor (though the current owners of the mine and Fortress will also have a lot of shares–and yes, presumably Shenghe Resources Holding Co Ltd will retain its 9% stake in MP following the merger). There was supposed to be a shareholder vote concerning the merger on Friday, November 13. No press on the outcomes of that, but that's actually how it ended up in my Google Alerts.

Fortress Investment Group, the owner of FVAC, began as a private equity firm in 1998 and became the first publicly traded one on the NYSE in 2007. It was badly hit by the financial crisis but seem to have bounced back by 2014. In 2017, they were acquired by SoftBank. Over the post-crash and post-SoftBank years they've gained some public scrutiny for things like their growing influence on municipal governments through their holdings and for uh, buying Theranos' patents in fire sale in 2018 then using them to troll firms developing coronavirus tests earlier this year. They also showed up in the NYT Trump tax returns story!

It's not a huge leap for SoftBank to take an interest in mining tied to renewable energy and/or tech–they invested in that later-doomed Canadian lithium project, remember? But given how much attention most of their actions tend to receive, it's a little surprising that this wasn't bigger news. The fact it ran through a shell company and basically a hedge fund probably adds to that. In terms of some grand "what it means" to have SoftBank kinda sorta have a big role in US REE mining, I think it's more useful to read it in terms of broader finance interests in future energy tech than like another fractal in China-Japan REE politics, but partly I think this because spinning up that latter narrative feels too easy? IDK.

The World Economic Forum would like you to "engage" on the "opportunity" of deep sea mining and all of those words said out loud together summons a deadly ancient curse

"Manufacturers have much to lose if they pass up the current opportunity for engagement" is the opening subheader in the WEF's briefing paper, released in conjunction with the announcement of their new "Deep-Sea Minerals Dialogue", which I think just means the WEF will convene a lot of rich people to talk about how they think this kind of mining should be regulated with like, some environmentalists in the room?

The air of finality in this initiative's framing–"minerals from the deep sea could enter supply chains within a decade"–is frustrating and telling. You'd think if anyone could pull levers of power to stop deep sea mining outright it would be the people involved with the fucking World Economic Forum, but instead they're trying to build some middle ground for stakeholders to establish "responsible" extraction (another eyebrow-raising line in the same paragraph: "They have done so – in the context of mining on land – for many years.").

Corporate reparations in the Congo or the lack thereof

The Financial Times published a thorough essay reflecting on the role of corporate mining interests in the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the possibilities and challenges of obtaining financial reparations from them (will send u a PDF if you hit the paywall). It traces the history of Umicore, today a "materials technology" company from its origins in Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK), a company created by King Leopold II to extract copper, cobalt, tin, and eventually all sorts of other minerals from the Congo (we can thank them for the uranium used in the first atomic bombs!). The firm's role in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba is a little murky–they were certainly the economic force contributing to destabilizing the newly-independent Congo, but whether they specifically knew or collaborated with American and Belgian operatives to bring about Lumumba's murder is not as certain. In addition to the attention to the UMHK story, it's a good reminder of just how much of Belgian industry emerged from the colonial project of extracting value from the Congo (including the foundation of the Belgian airline industry?) and how the twentieth century model of flipping and merging corporations gives a lot of companies a kind of plausible deniability when discussions of reparations comes up.

The only conventional uranium mill in America is now processing rare earth ore

Utah's White Mesa Mill makes fuel rods for nuclear power plants (and, occasionally, vanadium). In April they announced their intention to enter REE processing; on November 3 they announced success in their pilot program. (Weirdly overlooked, what else could have been happening on that day LOL.) The press release only describes the ore produced as "monazite sands from a North American source"–not sure why the cagey phrasing, as the KUER story notes that Energy Fuels, the company that runs the mill, had informed the Utah DEQ that they planned to import monazite sands from Georgia.

The mill has been a subject of scrutiny from environmental groups and members of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in the nearby White Mesa community since its operating permit was renewed in 2017, specifically over the mill's threat to local groundwater and air quality and its apparent pivot to radioactive waste storage. Pursuing rare earth processing is just another way to keep the mill open, they argue, and are probably right. It’s pretty bad!

"The lithium dream is not dead. In fact, it’s bigger than ever."

For those maybe disappointed by that TNR piece on Bolivia's election of Luis Arce from the other week, this story from Maddie Stone will delight you with its level of detail and acknowledgment that Arce's vision for lithium development does in fact have a more neoliberal bent than Morales'. Bolivia is in a weak bargaining position when it comes to working with international partners on lithium projects since lithium prices remain low in our pandemic-stalled industrial economy. But good to watch, and good to assess pragmatically.

Thanks for reading, and take care.

Rocks Reads Roundup, 11/8

I'm too tired to come up with a Biden-related geology pun

Hello rocks readers and I hope you were able to take some time to celebrate the fact a very, very harmful and cruel man had a very, very bad day yesterday. I had pretty much resigned myself to things going the other way back in July, so I was mostly relieved by the possibility of being wrong. Really hope I continue to be wrong, because I'm guessing things are going to get real ugly and real dumb for the remainder of the year.

Medium-Warm Election Take

I wish I had more exciting post-election mineral takes for all of you but honestly? I'm a) still watching to see if this doesn’t go sideways and we stay under overt fascism and b) it's probably not going to be an issue dramatically transformed by a new administration, policy-wise. Folks, we are still very much On The Rocks for the foreseeable. (See what I did there?)

Of course there will be change. Certain overtly harmful environmental policies implemented under Trump will probably be halted by a Biden administration, and that will affect some mining projects. The recent opening of the Tongass National Forest for mining and logging, for instance, will likely be abandoned, which would threaten the long-stalled Bokan Mountain rare earth mining project. The "Critical Minerals Strategy" and national emergency declared by Trump will likely be abandoned. The tone of federal policy will probably change to a slightly less sinophobic one.

But when it comes to federal funding for critical minerals research, like the Department of Energy's coal waste REE extraction work? That stuff all started under Obama. Ernest Moniz, Obama's secretary of energy, is rumored to be returning under Biden and he's probably going to keep supporting critical minerals work that happened under his watch. Whether there will be more of it or more attention to it is kind of going to depend on how much Biden can actually get done with regard to climate policy, I think. I could totally see opening up certain slag-mining projects or other weird post-mining gleaning for energy-critical materials as a concession to conservatives in economically deteriorating coal regions who otherwise might not support a Green New Deal (or Moniz's preferred, kinda more neolib Green Real Deal created at his organization the Energy Futures Initiative–and yes, insert joke about capitalist realism here).

At the level of industry, a Biden administration that revives subsidizing renewable energy could boost mineral demand and could heighten anxieties about China's outsized role in the supply chain. It might also increase investment in battery recycling and e-waste processing businesses. But setting up and getting a mine operational is going to stay hella slow, so I don't think that rocks-related stuff is going to radically transform come 2021. Then again, I still am far from an expert on this stuff and I was (let's hope) pretty wrong about how the election itself was going to play out, so we'll see.

OK, enough exhausted election takes and back to minerals reads. There's fewer links this week because, well, everything. But! Cute update for Lanthanide Heroes who paid a little more for the newsletter: your (first but likely not last) enamel pins and cool rocks will be going out soon. Here is a picture of the pin!

(Check out Substack finally getting alt text!! Way to meet the minimum requirements!!)

The pin is a little (1 inch) celebration of monazite, a mineral rich in rare earths and also thorium which is one reason a lot of rare earth mining is hella toxic–it's often of monazite deposits. It's a silly little thing but I'm really pleased with how it turned out, so I kind of want to do more mineral-specific enamel pins (spodumene’s probably next even though it’s not a lanthanide just because it’s hella cute).

The run on these was pretty small (100), so if you really really want in on one now's the time to upgrade your subscription. I'll be sending out a separate form for getting mailing addresses from people. Thank you again for your support and I hope you enjoy the pin as much as I do!

Did you also not finish Planetary Mine? Read this then join my book club to finish it

Thea Riofrancos' review of Planetary Mine is great, especially if you are like me and found the many many pages of Planetary Mine dedicated to state debates and Marxism sommelier notes (this term makes sense to me I am not sure it makes sense to anyone else?) hard to get through which is why maybe you still haven't finished it. Not only did it motivate me to pick the book back up, it gave me some hope and inspiration by highlighting the many movements happening worldwide to challenge extractivism.

"Congolese communities living near the stolen mine received no compensation as their plight was not taken into consideration in the US court proceedings."

In the Eastern District of New York, hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group were ordered to pay $135 million in restitution to shareholders who lost money on–and I guess literally lost, more on that in a second–a Congolese copper and cobalt mine made by firm subsidiary OZ Africa. This ruling extends out from a series of cases that, according to the DOJ, were "the first time a hedge fund has been held to account for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act." As the header for this indicates, it's not much of a victory for anyone in DRC. UK watchdog group RAID has a good rundown of some of the ins and outs of the case, including how the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the investment arm of the World Bank, apparently did not participate in the case despite being a shareholder in Africo Resources Ltd, the firm that lost money on/lost the mine.

The very short version of this longer-running corruption case is that OZ Africa did a lot of bribes in a process of basically treating mines as financialized commodities. (The much longer version is that most of the bribes and things were coordinated with Dan Gertler, a name you might recall from The Panama Papers.) Where Africo Resources and the copper mine comes in is actually pretty wild, and I would recommend the legal filing for a good read. Apparently Africo "indirectly"–I don't 100% understand how this works, but whatever–held development rights on the Kalukundi Mine, a copper and cobalt mine in Katanga province. A former employee filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company in DRC and won, and a DRC court gave the former employee the right to auction the rights off to satisfy the judgement against the company. But nobody...nobody told the Canadian company with the indirect rights to the mine that this was happening. Then when they did find out and fought to get the mine rights back, they were actually transferred to Gertler who then worked with OZ Africa to basically buy out Africo. The mine was sold to a Kazakh company and remains undeveloped. It's fucking bonkers and I am probably not doing the story total justice here but that's partly because you should go read it.

Tanzania gets closer to opening its first rare earth mine

More of a "thing to watch" story–an Australian mining company is inching closer to receiving approval for a rare earth mine in Tanzania. Described by Peak Resources Ltd. (mining company names, folks, you can't make them up) as "one of the world’s largest and highest grade undeveloped neodymium (Nd) & praseodymium (Pr) rare earth projects." Honestly, given how slow all mining things move I still take that with a grain of salt but in general rare earth mining development in African countries is something I think is worth keeping an eye on.

Thanks for reading! I am exhausted and anxious but glad for the energy of yesterday. Take care.

Rocks Reads Roundup, 10/25

Bolivia! Congo! China! Microbes! The ocean deep!

Hello readers! I'm completely spiraling these days, I imagine you might be as well.

I'm going back to the "every link has a header" format that I tried in the very first links roundup because I've found myself referring back to articles or notes from previous weeks and I realized it's probably a pain in the neck to cross-reference a dense bullet-pointed list. Also, it breaks up the email a little bit more so people can give it a skim-read more quickly? If you have strong preferences let me know.

In addition to the links roundup, I'm trying to decide if I should actually send out a review of an abysmally bad book on strategic metals (The Rare Metals War) that I read this past week–part of me does not want to give it any more undeserved attention and part of me wants to uh release all my vitriol about it. I’m also currently reading a pretty good if not political-economy oriented rocks book (The Book of Unconformities) and right before the shitty book I read a novel that has a subplot about rare earths (Waste Tide) so it might make more sense to put those books in conversation than just complain about the really shitty one.

Also: movie night?

Subscriber question: would you be interested in an online watch party of a minerals-adjacent movie (or movies, we can do this as a series if it goes well)? Part of this is I just low-key want to re-watch Pacific Rim 2 (which has a major plot point around rare earth elements and is dumb as hell), but also like maybe this would be fun for people to join? This would either be on one of the various known streaming platforms (which I've never used if anyone has recs) or uh, using a kind of shitty web app my partner made for group pirated movie watching and a Discord channel. Let me know if that sounds like fun. If you'd rather we watch like, real movies that actually offer meaningful information we can do that too, but first let me have my weirdly soothing in troubled times garbage action movie.

Bolivia update–it's still not about lithium, but everyone wants it to be

I'm guessing you caught the good news from Bolivia this week (fuck, that was only on Monday?), but in case you didn't: Luis Arce, Evo Morales' former economic minister, overwhelming won the presidency in national elections held nearly a year after a hideous far-right coup. Honestly, one of the few pieces of good news this year!

Kate Aronoff's coverage in *The New Republic* of the election disputed the lithium conspiracy theories but also presented Arce's election as a promising sign for lithium policies, though the piece doesn't really get into the weeds of what that policy is. Arce worked with UK firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence to develop his "lithium first industrial strategy"; most of what's published in English is uh, extremely thin like this press release from Benchmark. But there's at least some industry voices who seem to be pretty cool with Arce, which 1) once again makes it seem like the coup wasn't really about lithium, 2) maybe suggests YLB under Arce will be more willing to effectively collaborate with multinational firms for development. The election doesn't change the fact Bolivia's lithium is still hard to mine, so making the country a game-changing actor in the lithium industry isn't going to happen quickly. Ultimately, I'm more inclined to view the MAS win as a good sign for democracy and indigenous peoples of Bolivia than a lithium bellwether.

The #CongoIsBleeding hashtag

It's unclear to me what made the #CongoIsBleeding hashtag (often accompanied with #NoCongoNoPhone) take off recently–renewed global attention to African continent news thanks to the Nigerian #endSARS protests seems likely, maybe the announcement of a new iPhone was a hook (though they've been going out of their way to emphasize how not-reliant on DRC they want to be), or maybe it was boosted because the NGO Friends of the Congo's annual Congo Week took place this past week (least likely despite Friends of the Congo generally doing good work; the hashtag seems to date further back and has recently picked up more steam). The biggest circulation of late seems to be via otherwise #endSARS-oriented accounts or accounts promoting pan-African struggle and also bots, but I did see posts that look like they were made by actual Congolese people. Which makes me unsure if I should talk about all the stuff that weirded me out about the hashtag. I don't really want to shit on efforts to get the English-speaking world to learn a little about what's going on and has been going on in DRC, especially if it is actually coming from people in DRC.

But like many social media campaigns, it offers a very simplified and limited narrative that makes me uneasy. The rhetoric of a lot of these tweets was largely indistinguishable from the kind of language used in early-2000s western NGO campaigns–which, again, tended to oversimplify a very messy and historically situated conflict to "women are getting raped and children die in mines so u can have phone"–i.e., it leverages consumer guilt which suggest the "solution" is consumer action. *insert sad trombones of neoliberalism here*

But it's not clear that the hashtag even wants consumer action. Maybe it just wants…awareness? The absence of any particular call to action at least meant that this rhetoric isn't going to produce dubiously useful legislation like Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank law, but I worry sometimes that the calcifying of this particular narrative around "conflict minerals" entrenches complacency and despair around this stuff. If you'd like to read an English-language deeper dive into mineral exploitation in DRC or just like, DRC history in general this week, I'd recommend Michael Nest's Coltan, or Colin Kinniburgh's essay in Dissent from 2014, or follow up on some of the content from Friends of the Congo's Congo Week.

Using neodymium on the ocean floor to study ancient current patterns

More of a "hey, this is cool research/maybe I am just corny" note than an extraction story, but I think it's extremely cool that scientists study trace elements on the ocean floor to understand ocean current history. This article from Northwestern is about neodymium in particular because that's what this I think Northwestern PhD student recently published a paper about, but there's research about all sorts of other trace elements! In a time that often feels dominated by results via blunt force and broad gesture, it's sort of encouraging to remember there are people devoting themselves to the study of tiny particles at the bottom of the sea to better understand the story of the planet.

More microbe-REE extraction research

A Cornell press release on an ARPA-E (the Department of Energy equivalent of DARPA)-funded project at the university caught my attention mainly because of the microbe they're using. The project is described as "engineering a microbe (Gluconobacter oxydans) to dissolve monazite"–meaning they'll be doing some synthetic biology to tweak an existing microbe. I don't know a ton about Gluconobacter oxydans but the first place I learned about it was reading about research into using it to leach rare earths from industrial waste (specifically, fracking fluids–yep, REEs are crucial to that too makes u think huh). The microbe produces gluconic acid, which is used in a bunch of industrial applications, and it's actually the acid that can leach lanthanides. I'm guessing the synthetic biology part would either relate to speeding up the production of gluconic acid, like making the microbe metabolize sugars faster maybe? I am not an expert on this stuff. Anyway, it's cool work and it's neat to see people working on this stuff building off of one another's ideas.

I regret to inform you that the China REE discourse continues to be not great

This one's from the Financial Times, and the main thing that made it notable for this week's newsletter is its lede:

In 2019, a sentence in a Chinese government-funded report made clear Beijing’s strategic advantage behind capturing the supply chains of critical minerals. If the US-China trade war intensified, the report noted “China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with the situation”.

The authors actually use a citation of a citation here, referencing a Wall Street Journal article about a report by an American consultancy that cites a paper that, if my dodgy Google Translate understanding is correct, received funding from the "Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Education Department Project." I'm not saying that quote isn't significant or uninteresting and yes, I would love to read the actual paper, but I think that the authors wanted "Chinese government-funded report" to suggest that the paper was basically a policy statement directly from Xi Jinping himself, cloaked in the bureaucracy of a secret (i.e., not in English so how could we pOSsiBly know about it??) report.

(Also, again based on a quick Google Translate read of the original paper a) the "China will not rule out using rare earth exports..." line is taken from the first line of the abstract and b) it doesn't seem like the paper actually advocates for this particular approach? Any readers of Chinese who feel like giving this a skim, happy to send the original paper PDF.)

Beyond that quote there isn't much more new material, basically more calls for finding alternative minerals and diversifying the supply chain. No real mention of the devastating environmental impacts of rare earth mining in China (or how such impacts in the US led to investment in and outsourcing of such mining to China in the 1980s/1990s). The authors are both members of the Energy Security Leadership Council and have uh, taken a winding road to apparently becoming rare earth experts (one "oversaw the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan" on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the other "was Director of International Capital Markets at Drexel Burnham Lambert").

The same day this op-ed came out, Nikkei Asia reported on the Chinese legislature passing a export control law that might be applicable to rare earths. It seems more like a response to the United States WeChat/TikTok garbage so I'm not inclined to jump to panic here, but also I don't fully know what else might be going on because I'm parsing this through English-language reports and wonky automated translations. I worry sometimes that I come across like a tankie or something when I remain skeptical of the western "oh no the rare earths in China!!" narrative–it's not that I think the Chinese government is above withholding resources or that they're doing a rad job of sustainably mining (they most certainly are not doing that). It's more that these national security framings of the state of rare earth mining are based around the question of how to maintain a particular capitalist status quo. It's just such a boring, fear-centered, Tom Clancy-novel-fantasizing way to operate.

Thanks for reading! Try to stay alive and show up for whatever still gives you hope. Things are really, really bad.

Rocks Reads Roundup, 10/11

More federal funding of mines, more REE-coal stuff, zinc batteries, and protips on stretching one long Zoom or whatever into multiple pitches

Hello everyone! This week's links roundup is late because this past week was just too dumb, and also my dog had dental surgery (which is like, a whole day-long thing for a big dog) so I spent most of Friday probably unnecessarily worried about something going wrong while she was under anesthesia. She's fine now, today she got to have a play date with a friend's puppy today which was very cute and in the sea of terrible things a gentle reminder of the existence of joy and love. Enjoy this week's links!

  • If you've been on edge thinking about just how Elon Musk's proposed clay lithium extraction setup would actually work in practice, this analysis co-published by lithium consultant Alex Grant of Jade Cove Partners is a pretty good overview. The TLDR: it's possible it could work–there's related approaches being tried in at least one mining project and some research by the Department of the Interior that could be relevant–but it almost certainly will involve more steps (potentially more energy-intensive ones) than Tesla's laid out thus far, making promises of a greener extraction method dubious.

  • There was a flurry of news coverage over the federal government investing $25 million into an Irish company that focuses on mining projects supporting electric car and green technology supply chains. The funding for TechMet Limited to develop a cobalt and nickel project in Brazil comes from the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which is basically a lender that funds private projects in other countries in the service of "development." In the midst of all the fucking things to know about I completely missed the creation of DFC in 2018 via the BUILD (Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development) Act, which consolidated a bunch of government development funding groups into a single entity, basically as a soft power saber-rattle over China's Belt and Road Initiative. (Embarrassingly, my first question upon learning about it was "but what will all the CIA assets do with fewer obscurely identified aid organizations to use as fronts?")

    The weird thing about the coverage this week is it mostly seems to be trying to connect the minerals national emergency executive order (mentioned in last week’s newsletter) to the investment, in part because TechMet issued a press released about the investment this week. But DFC announced the funding back in September? (Incidentally, reading that press release on new investments is fascinating in a “hmm, probably fucked” sort of way–a lot of fintech and microloan platform stuff, which sounds great until you look further into it). But I'm glad I know about it now and that TechMet is more on my radar–they fund a lot of companies and mines, including ones that have been written about here like battery recyclers Li-Cycle and Burundi's Rainbow Rare Earth mine, which was reported to be in talks with the DoD last year amid a new wave of dumb China panic.

  • A pair of stories from Forbes about how the state of California has ended up at the forefront of exploring alternatives to lithium battery storage, both by Jeff McMahon. Basically, California's now-inevitable annual deadly fire seasons are pushing the need for backup power sources beyond diesel generators. They're specifically looking at microgrids, which are cool as hell, and while some of the state's work on this has been using lithium batteries (in part because lithium battery research is getting more funding than other options these days), they're looking for alternatives with even greater storage capacity. Zinc seems to be a fore-runner, which I really need to spend more time reading about because the only thing I really know about them is the guy who owns the LA Times is all in on zinc batteries and they seem cool.

    (Another way to interpret this set of articles: a writer attended one (1) webinar with a California Energy Commission official and spun it into two (2) separate articles. Honestly, respect the hustle–I would have been a dumbass who tried to pitch some longform big picture thing with at least one mention of how California is on stolen land, and I probably would have gotten paid less money than those two articles added up to. Anyway, you should probably watch the actual webinar.)

  • Once again (feel like we need an audio cue for this or something): Department of Energy rare earth-coal funding announcement! This is separate from the RFP I wrote about in the 9/27 mailing; it's giving $150,000 to 13 projects working n "conceptual designs of commercially viable technologies" for REE extraction from coal and coal waste products. Looking at the list, some of the "projects" funded I'm pretty sure are actually collaborations–I talked to a guy from West Virginia University last year and he connected me to a guy at Winner Water Services* who was part of the same DOE REE-coal grant (I'm pretty sure Tetra Tech is on that one too?). Some of the projects listed are semi-new to me, which is interesting and I'm curious to follow up on.

    *Side note and also, hi editors and writers who subscribe I will fucking destroy you if you steal this from me instead of just hiring me to do it: One reason I desperately want to do a big wild REE-coal story is because of Winner Water Services, which is one of several "Winner" companies in Sharon, Pennsylvania that all connect back to late local tycoon Jim Winner (his real name!!) who made his fortune inventing The Club. Yes I mean the thing for cars The Club. I just, come on, there's so much to work with here.

  • Friend and excellent rocks thinker Zane Cooper's collaborative project Alchemical Infrastructures is online as a virtual exhibit for AoIR. Slightly rocks-adjacent insofar as it's more about energy consumption and Bitcoin mining (or as Zane puts it nicely, Bitcoin making) in Iceland, but some really gorgeous work and a long time coming. (Also a cameo from a guy I met at a tech activism training intensive in 2013, who is now a Pirate Party representative in the Icelandic Parliament?)

Loading more posts…