Colin Seals, director of energy and environment at Public Sector Consultants, recently wrote an op-ed in Bridge Michigan on why Michigan is uniquely positioned to safely extract and process the raw materials needed to build electric vehicle batteries and other clean technologies.
Everything from batteries to the power lines needed for our rapidly electrifying economy requires minerals. The International Energy Agency projects that global demand for metals and minerals like copper, nickel, lithium and rare earth elements could rise by 600 percent over the next 30 years as the world strives to eliminate carbon emissions.
Michigan can be a leader in the movement to bring natural resource production back to well-regulated jurisdictions and closer to end consumers. This would also reduce our morally questionable reliance on foreign sources with weak environmental and labor standards.
Michigan has the skilled workforce, the supply chain infrastructure and the political will to put the state at the forefront of the advanced battery manufacturing critical to the clean energy transition. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to “bring the supply chain of electric vehicles, chips, and batteries home while creating thousands of good-paying jobs and revitalizing every region of our state.”
BlueOval Battery Park Michigan — Ford Motor Company’s planned $3.5 billion battery plant near Marshall announced on February 13 — is the most recent step toward that objective, joining General Motors’ $2.5 billion plant near Lansing and Michigan-based battery startup ONE’s planned $1.6 billion facility in Van Buren Township.
But similar recent announcements in Ontario, Nevada and North Carolina underscore that the competition for a share of the world’s clean energy future has only just begun. As Gov. Whitmer declared in the wake of Ford’s announcement, Michigan needs to “keep our foot on the accelerator.”
How can Michigan keep building this supply chain while creating economic opportunities for all Michiganders? A significant source of our clean energy potential and what makes Michigan well positioned remains mostly untapped: our ability to safely extract and process the raw materials essential to Michigan’s (and the world’s) growing roster of advanced manufacturers.
Michigan is uniquely positioned to develop and execute a strategy that takes advantage of this demand.
Michigan is a manufacturing state
The birthplace of the auto industry still houses one-fifth of auto production in the United States and a growing list of suppliers eager to feed automaker demand for batteries and other vehicle components. Batteries and other high-tech materials cannot exist without nickel, copper and rare earths — significant quantities of which are located right here in Michigan and, in the case of copper and iron ore, have been mined for generations. Proximity to a secure and reliable source of minerals has become more important to manufacturers incentivized to reduce reliance on suppliers in unfriendly countries, lower their carbon footprint and minimize the risk of global supply chain disruptions.
Michigan has abundant mineral resources and mining know-how
We have been a mining state for more than 125 years, with production totaling about $50 billion since the mid-1990s. The National Mining Association reports that mining supports approximately 9,000 direct jobs in Michigan and 17,000 indirect and induced jobs. Mining contributes roughly $1 billion to the state’s GDP annually.
Michigan is one of the only states that mines iron ore for the steel industry, and still the only state that produces nickel. Although the number of Michigan copper mines has dwindled, we have a storied copper mining history and projects with significant potential.
Michigan has the playbook for mineral development with minimal environmental impact
Eagle Mine in the Upper Peninsula, the only operating nickel mine in the U.S., is a notable success story. Faced with concerns that the mine would contaminate local groundwater, the mine owner worked with members of the local community to create a stringent monitoring program that has prevented pollution since the mine began operating in 2014.
Michigan is already developing a “circular economy” for key minerals
Michigan Technological University and Eagle Mine are co-recipients of $8.1 million to prove new research technologies that develop sustainable processes to supply critical minerals for EV battery manufacturing. The university and company received an additional $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to enable the study of recycling opportunities in Eagle Mine’s tailings facility. Gov. Whitmer’s budget proposal on Feb. 8 put forward $15 million for a critical mineral recycling research hub.
Major federal dollars are on the table
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 expands the list of projects eligible to receive a Department of Energy loan or loan guarantee to include those that increase the domestically produced supply of critical minerals.
The Inflation Reduction Act signed in 2022 provides advanced manufacturing credits for the domestic production of certain critical minerals. The White House has also invoked the longstanding Defense Production Act to encourage “sustainable and responsible domestic mining” through hundreds of millions of dollars in purchase commitments and loan guarantees. Domestic content requirements for IRA EV tax credits have incentivized automakers to source raw materials at home.
All these factors have created a generational opportunity for Michigan to pursue a comprehensive “mining-to-mobility-to-sustainability” strategy that drives innovation in all corners of Michigan, strengthens supply chain security for Michigan manufacturers, and cements Michigan’s leading role in building the clean technologies of the present and future.