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Sunday, November 28, 2021

How the United States lost ground to China in the clean energy contest

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WASHINGTON – Tom Perriello saw it coming but couldn’t do anything to stop it. André Kapanga too. Despite urgent emails, phone calls and personal pleas, they watched helplessly as a company backed by the Chinese government seized one of the world’s largest cobalt mines from the Americans.

It was 2016, and the Arizona-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan had struck a deal to sell the site, located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which now ranks high in China’s control over the global supply of cobalt. The metal has been among several essential raw materials needed for the production of electric car batteries, and is now critical to removing the combustion engine and turning the world away from climate-changing fossil fuels.

Perriello, a top American diplomat in Africa at the time, sounded the alarms at the State Department. Mr. Kapanga, then the Congolese general manager of the mine, almost begged the US ambassador to the Congo to intercede.

“This is a mistake,” Kapanga recalled warning him, suggesting […]

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