When looking for an industry critical to sustaining Arizona’s economy, the answer is at your feet. Actually, it starts deeper than that.
Reports from the past few years estimate Arizona’s mining industry provides a total economic impact of close to $8 billion annually and employs nearly 40,000 Arizonans. Minerals like copper, nickel, cobalt and lithium are critical manufacturing inputs for some of the state’s most productive industries ranging from aerospace and defense to electronics to clean energy. But as these industries boom, so does our demand for the critical mineral inputs that power them.
According to a recent report from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, more than 300 new mines could be needed during the next decade just to meet the demand for electric vehicle batteries. And without immediate mining policy and permitting reform, many of these mines likely will be located outside the U.S.
For decades, our nation has developed a reliance on countries like China and Russia to provide a consistent supply of minerals. But by offshoring mining, we are unintentionally spurring the supply chains of volatile nations and giving away thousands of jobs that could be employing Americans.
As the demand for precious minerals grows exponentially, one question becomes more and more apparent: How can the U.S. reshore its mining supply chain and significantly alleviate the process of red tape? While the answer is less than straightforward, many people contemplating this question seem to have their eyes fixed on Arizona.
Our state is still the leading copper-producing state, responsible for more than 70% of the nation’s copper output. Arizona is also one of five states that produces molybdenum, a key component in stainless steel and superalloys. It also is one of two states to produce rhenium, a byproduct of molybdenum processing that is a key component of alloys used in jet aircraft engines.
When discussing Arizona’s rich mining history, it’s impossible to ignore the valuable contributions of many Native American peoples. For centuries, the Hohokam mined for clay, coal, salt, quartz and turquoise for healing purposes, jewelry, pottery, heating systems and much more. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Navajo were involved in uranium mining. And until recent shifts toward wind and solar, coal mining was a pivotal economic provider for the Navajo Nation. This activity set the stage for Arizona’s modern-day mining leadership.
Arizona tech ecosystem can assist mining sector
Today, each of Arizona’s three state universities has leading programs that are training students to advance and improve statewide mineral production and refinement. Arizona State University researchers are developing the thermodynamic information necessary for critical mineral production. Northern Arizona University is refining an air-capture system to reduce air emissions from mining processes. The University of Arizona operates San Xavier Underground Mining Laboratory, the nation’s only underground mining lab with a working vertical shaft.
Arizona also possesses a robust technology ecosystem poised to capitalize on the raw material supply produced by the mining industry. Arizona Technology Council members like Caterpillar, Hexagon Mining, Komatsu Mining and South32 are working daily to extract minerals. Companies like Intel, TSMC, Onsemi, Microchip and NXP are positioning Arizona to be a global semiconductor manufacturing hub. Lithium-ion battery manufacturers like KORE Power and LG are changing the future of electric vehicle production. And that doesn’t even touch on the mineral applications by defense powerhouses like Honeywell and Raytheon.
While Arizona has the perfect formula to dominate U.S. mining, the nation remains at a crossroads. Major energy and infrastructure projects underway will require a strong domestic supply chain and an efficient permitting process not marred by duplicative reviews, lengthy timelines and legal action.
Most importantly, while mining can ensure our energy and infrastructure projects move forward, we must make certain to maintain and even progress world-leading environmental standards for sustainability.
With our rich history, abundant natural resources and wealth of generational know-how, it just makes sense for Arizona to lead the U.S. into a new chapter of onshoring mining and accelerating technology advancement.
Steven Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.
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