In 2020, 1.6 percent of the 14.46 million vehicles sold in America were electric battery-powered.
That's about 231,360 vehicles.
It's a minuscule amount compared to the more than 13.2 million gasoline-powered vehicles sold.
But the production and sales of electric vehicles (EV's) may be getting a jump-start.
The future of EV's received a boost in January when President Joe Biden announced plans to convert the federal fleet of about 645,000 vehicles to electric-powered American made vehicles.
A day later, General Motors said its entire line of light vehicles will be electric by 2035.
As EV production increases, so will the need for batteries to power the vehicles.
To manufacture EV batteries, metals such a copper, nickel, and cobalt are required.
That's where northeastern Minnesota can be a major contributor.
Based on current potential developable resource estimates, the Duluth Complex, a massive geological formation in northeastern Minnesota, holds enough copper, nickel, and cobalt to help manufacture hundreds of millions EV's.
Using the contents of a Tesla 3 EV as an example, there's enough copper in the Duluth Complex to manufacture 310 million EV's, according to MiningMinnesota, a Duluth-headquartered base and precious metals industry group.
There's enough nickel in the complex to manufacture over 200 million EV's.
And there's enough cobalt in the complex to manufacture more than 42 million EV's.
“We have the metals, kind of like Arby's says 'we have the meats',” Frank Ongaro, executive director of MiningMinnesota said. “We have the metals for electric vehicles.”
The calculations are based on using 100 percent of the complex's current permitted and reserve estimates of copper, nickel, and cobalt, for EV car production.
PolyMet Mining near Hoyt Lakes and Twin Metals Minnesota southeast of Ely and northeast of Babbitt, are the region's two most recognized metals projects in development.
Alone, PolyMet's copper, nickel, and cobalt resource estimates could help build about 29.8 million EV's based on Tesla requirements, according to PolyMet.
“Products from Minnesota mines can be a critical component of our nations drive toward clean energy,” Jon Cherry PolyMet chairman, president and chief executive officer said. “We need more responsibly mined sources of these critical and strategic metals as made evident by electric vehicle manufacturer's pleas for more domestic mining of nickel, which is a key ingredient in electric vehicle batteries.”
Julie Padilla, Twin Metals Minnesota chief regulatory officer, says its project will be critical in establishing Minnesota as a world leader in the production of clean-energy metals that America needs to transition to a green economy.
“The shift from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy technologies like wind, solar and electric vehicles, is driving significant increase in the need for metals,” Padilla said. “And we have the mineral resources here in Minnesota. The Twin Metals project will utilize best-in-class technology to develop these minerals responsibly, safely and under the most stringent environmental standards”.
Beyond EV's, even more green energy products could be made from critical and strategic metals production in Minnesota.
Wind turbines, solar cells, cell phones, tablets, computers, medical devices, and other green energy products, could also be manufactured from the metals in northeastern Minnesota's ground.
The vast Duluth Complex holds nearly eight billion tons of base and precious metals, based on current estimates.
That makes it one of the world's largest metals reserves still undeveloped.
The complex contains the world's second largest copper and platinum deposits and third largest nickel deposit.
It holds 34 percent of all U.S. copper reserves, 75 percent of the nation's platinum group reserves, 95 percent of America's nickel reserves, and 88 percent of the nation's cobalt reserves.
Currently, almost all EV battery manufacturing comes from Asia, with China the predominant manufacturer, according to electrek.co
North America has for years relied on imports of nickel, cobalt, lithium, graphite and other metals needed for the anodes and cathodes of EV batteries.
But Minnesota-mined metals should be used for EV and green energy development rather importing metals from some foreign nations where environmental and labor standards aren't as stringent, Minnesota Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber said.
“We have the best environmental standards, the best labor standards, and the best workforce,” Stauber said. “We set the bar for mining. If there's a push for that (EV's/green energy), let's use our resources and our technology. We can do it with the resources we are blessed with.”
Beyond the Duluth Complex, base and precious metals have also been explored and discovered at other sites in the region. Near Tamarack. In Koochiching County. In Itasca County.
The nearly eight-billion ton Duluth Complex reserve estimate – along with resource estimates in other areas of northeastern Minnesota – are likely to increase in the future as additional reserves are identified, Ongaro said.
That would make Minnesota an even larger potential source of metals for green energy.
Mining is a “bridge to a better future,” Stauber said.
“Mining is the absolute heartbeat of northern Minnesota,” Stauber said. “And we as Minnesotans have to recognize that mining benefits the entire state. We have an opportunity and we know these critical minerals are going to be part of a brighter future.”
So far, electric vehicle sales across the nation has been moderate.
In addition to the 231,360 light battery-powered vehicles sold in America in 2020, about 448,260 hybrid vehicles using electric, along with gasoline or diesel power, were sold, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.
About 57,840 plug-in hybrid vehicles were also sold.
To manufacture a battery-powered electric car, 183 pounds of copper is needed, according to copper.org.
A hybrid vehicle requires 85 pounds of copper.
A hybrid bus 196 pounds of copper.
A battery-powered electric bus 814 pounds of copper.
Part of the low electric vehicle sales volume has been driven by high vehicle costs. Another is the limited, but improving range of EV's.
Yet, EV manufacturers are making strides in reducing sticker prices and increasing driving range as battery technology advances.
Tesla, which sells more EV's in the United States than any other vehicle manufacturer, is moving toward the use of more U.S.-sourced nickel and less cobalt in its batteries. Increased use of nickel reduces battery costs.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, at a Battery Day event in September, asked some of the world's largest nickel producers to increase nickel production.
To manufacture American-made EV's and batteries, northeastern Minnesota's metal resources can be key in advancing the nation's EV production and green energy manufacturing in an environmentally responsible manner, say proponents.
“We have the opportunity to supply ethically-sourced metals for clean energy,” Ongaro said. “This investment in Minnesota's global world class deposit should be incentivized with environmental safeguards, not discouraged or banned.”
With Minnesota Power now supplying 50 percent of its electricity production from renewable sources, PolyMet, as a Minnesota Power customer, would be producing metals for green energy from renewable energy sources.
“Minnesotans can be proud to be part of the climate solution,” Cherry said. “PolyMet demonstrated we can meet strict regulations that are protective of human health and the environment, and we will be mining and processing ore from the world-class Duluth Complex using power generation that is at least 50 percent renewable.”