Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton Get Approval for $6-Billion Copper Mine in Arizona
Mining companies Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO) and BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) have been given the green light from the US Congress to swap land with the government, allowing the miners to build a long-delayed $6 billion copper mine in Arizona.
First proposed nine years ago, the approved land swap bill will give Rio Tinto permission to acquire 2,400 acres of federally owned land above the copper deposit in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state.
The bill, which was tucked into the annual defense policy, was passed by the Senate on Friday and the House last week. It will now be sent to President Barack Obama to sign it into law.
The Resolution project, 55 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 45 percent owned by BHP, was acquired by the latter in 1996. The mine is expected to produce more than one billion pounds of copper a year at its peak, making it the largest copper producer in North America and one of the biggest in the world.
Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have already invested more than one billion on drilling and digging a 1.3-mile shaft on the land.
Once the bill is signed by Obama, Resolution Copper will focus on the comprehensive environmental and regulatory review under NEPA. The company’s director Andrew Taplin said: "Passage of the legislation means that Resolution Copper can move forward with the development of this world-class ore body, which will create approximately 3,700 jobs, generate over $60bn in economic impact and result almost $20bn in state and federal tax payments.
The project has been widely opposed by environmental and Native American groups like the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Sierra Club in the past.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.