Energy Department loan program to back critical mineral production

December 3, 2020

Critical mineral production in the United States could soon get a boost from access to an Energy Department clean-energy loan program. The Trump administration said it will look to the program to help spark domestic production of minerals such as uranium, lithium, chromium and cobalt.

For its part, the U.S. Energy Department announced that it will issue guidance giving preference to projects involving critical minerals within an existing loan program housed within the agency that provides both direct loans as well as loan guarantees.

“Reliable access to domestically-produced critical minerals is of crucial national security importance,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “These critical minerals make up essential products for our military, energy technologies, national infrastructure, transportation and economy.”

Bloomberg reported the effort follows an executive order signed by President Donald Trump aimed at expanding domestic production of minerals that the administration says is necessary to reduce dependence on China. According to the Energy Department, the U.S. has no domestic production for 14 of the 35 critical minerals and is completely dependent on imports to supply its demand. For 31 of the 35 critical minerals, the U.S. imports more than half of its annual consumption directly from China, the Energy Department said.

Through the Energy Department loan program, the administration is seeking to tap was created to help fund clean energy technology programs and electric vehicles, but has repeatedly been sought for elimination in the president’s budget requests.

The loan program is best known for backing a half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to failed solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC, but it’s also issued a $465 million loan to automaker Tesla Inc. and backed some of the first large-scale U.S. solar photovoltaic farms, among other clean technologies. Other than a $3.7 billion loan guarantee for two nuclear reactors being built by Southern Co. in Georgia, the program has gone unused by the Trump administration.

By emphasizing critical minerals projects, the Energy Department said in a statement, the loan programs office “can directly facilitate the financing of such projects, many of which might never come to fruition without federal loan guarantee support.”

 

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