Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. (To contribute, click here.) This article is a response to Star Tribune Opinion's June 4 call for submissions on the question: "Where does Minnesota go from here?" Read the full collection of responses here.
Minnesota's energy policies are leading America to a clean energy future. Now comes the hard part — converting ambitious policy to reality.
Responsibly producing the minerals required by clean energy systems is another area where Minnesota should lead. A newly proposed nickel mine in Aitkin County may provide the opportunity to show how that can be done.
Moving from a fossil fuel centered energy system to a 100% clean energy system will require innovation, hard work, community support and financial resources. And minerals, lots of minerals. For some minerals, we need many times what humans have extracted during our time on earth. Solar, wind, batteries — all require minerals like copper, nickel, lithium and iron.
Just this week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its inaugural Critical Minerals Market Review. The IEA forecasts that between 2021 and 2050, electric-vehicle-related nickel demand will increase by 1,500% in order to limit global warming to a 1.5-degree increase. The calculation of additional minerals required to reach the scale of our ambitions can be confounding, but it is a mathematical fact.
Minnesota's geology has provided the iron ore to build the nation, win two world wars and put human beings on the moon. It's not a question of geology. Mother Nature left astounding concentrations of the minerals required to build clean energy systems in Minnesota's bedrock. The question is, can we produce these minerals in a way that doesn't damage the environment we are trying to save in the first place? How can we do it better? Can we do it better than other places in the world?
A growing group of people in Minnesota thinks we can.
Last month, Talon Metals submitted our Environmental Assessment Worksheet to propose the Tamarack Nickel Project, a small-scale underground nickel mine in central Minnesota to the Department of Natural Resources to start the Environmental Review scoping process. This begins the state's rigorous process of expert review, public comment and tribal input.
When permitted, the Tamarack mine will contribute hundreds of millions of pounds of nickel and other valuable minerals to the domestic supply chain for both clean transportation and energy storage.
Our team is excited to submit plans that have been developed with significant community feedback. We believe we can produce necessary minerals like nickel for the domestic battery supply chain while also protecting the environment and creating good union jobs in Aitkin County. It doesn't have to be a choice.
Minerals required in clean energy systems are infinitely recyclable. Nickel from Tamarack can be recycled into generations of batteries, but there is not enough material in the system today to meet the scale of the energy transition solely by recycling. Stronger policies to encourage recycling of electronics and batteries is another area where Minnesota should lead.
The mineral intensity of clean energy systems is a concern for many in Minnesota, perhaps most acutely for tribal members. I hear regularly from tribal members that while they agree that climate change must be addressed, they fear the rush to respond will mean their perspective will not be considered. Also, the move to quickly deploy clean energy systems feels eerily similar to past natural resource "rushes" in America where tribal rights were abrogated, cultural resources damaged and none of the economic benefits were shared.
Our team is taking these concerns seriously and recognizes the need to engage with tribal nations in new and meaningful ways. We have shared information with tribal governments about initial plans in which we have moved the mineral processing operations out of the water-rich region in Minnesota to a drier location in North Dakota, reduced the size of surface operations and minimized wetlands impacts.
We are grateful that tribal sovereign governments have chosen to participate in the scoping process on a government-to-government basis. This process is iterative, and our submission is just the first step, but the concerns and perspective of tribal governments will be considered from the beginning.
Producing ambitious clean energy policy is only one aspect of leadership. Finding new ways to produce and deploy clean energy using responsibly produced and recycled minerals is also an area where Minnesota can show leadership in the future.
Todd Malan is chief external affairs officer and head of climate strategy for Talon Metals.