There has been plenty of confusion around just when Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19.

But last Thursday evening (October 1) now seems to be accepted as when the world’s most powerful man got the news he didn’t want.

Why does Garimpeiro care?

It is only to note that the day before, the President declared a “national emergency” around America’s “undue reliance on critical minerals” from foreign adversaries (read China).

Best wishes that he has a speedy recovery, and that he gets to return to the Oval Office well ahead of the US election on November 4.

Having said that, America’s concerns around the supply of minerals critical to its economy and military is bipartisan.

Little wonder. As Trump’s executive order noted, the 35 critical minerals in question are the “necessary inputs for the products our military, national infrastructure, and economy depend on the most”.

“Our country needs critical minerals to make airplanes, computers, cell phones, electricity generation and transmission systems, and advanced electronics,” the pre-COVID President said.

“Though these minerals are indispensable to our country, we presently lack the capacity to produce them in quantities we need.”

For 31 of the 35 critical minerals, the US imports more than half of its annual consumption, and it has no domestic production for 14.

That situation is a well-known thematic in the Australian market, and in Canberra, with Australia having already signed up to be part of the solution by supporting/encouraging a supply response. The European Union has its own raw materials alliance.

While much of the government response and investor interest in the critical minerals issue has focused on the heavy rare earths used in motor magnets, the critical list by its very nature, is much more extensive.

All that leads to today’s interest in ASX-listed lithium stock Lepidico (ASX:LPD) and its proposed trans-national lithium project which stands to benefit from the revenue boost to come from the co-production of caesium and rubidium.

The lithium story — it is on the US critical list — is well known and while other lithium projects can and do come with co-products, the critical minerals of high-priced caesium/rubidium, along with sulphate of potash (SOP), make Lepidico’s project unique.

The taskforce assembled to steer America’s critical minerals supply response has been made aware of the project, one which involves the production of a lithium-bearing lepidolite concentrate in Namibia supplying a chemical conversion plant in the UAE that uses Lepidico’s patented processing technologies.

A definitive feasibility study into a stage-one development costing $US139m ($194m) envisages annual production of 4,900 tonnes of lithium hydroxide at an all-in sustaining cost of $US3,221/t after co-product credits.

Looked at another way, caesium and rubidium — along with SOP — will represent 38 per cent of total revenue, underpinning the project’s low cost of lithium production compared with competitor projects.

A recent presentation by the company said caesium and rubidium can substitute for each other in many applications. The US is 100 per cent reliant on imports of both minerals.

Main uses are in chemical catalysts, electricity generation (photoemissive properties that convert electromagnetic radiation to electrical current), electronics manufacture including night vision equipment and solar cells, and in medical applications.

Caesium is also used as a completion fluid in oil wells with a high recycling rate. The company has non-disclosure agreements with three prospective customers for the proposed caesium and rubidium output.

First up though Lepidico has to overcome the challenge of financing the first-stage development, which the DFS found could generate a 31 per cent internal rate of return, based on an initial 14-year production life.

That is reflected in Lepidico’s last sale price of 0.8c for a market cap of about $41m.

Lepidico (ASX:LPD) share price chart


But with governments in the US and Europe, let alone non-China Asia, looking to foster the establishment of independent supply chains, Lepidico could benefit.

Its triple-mix of critical minerals certainly helps.