Investment fund Engine No. 1, known for its battle with Exxon Mobil Corp. and recently taking a surprise stake in Vale SA’s base metals business, is eying more deals in critical minerals.
The company last month agreed to acquire 3% of the Vale unit, giving it an interest in mines producing metals such as copper and nickel that are key for the energy transition. Engine No. 1 says it’s now in talks with other producers, with a focus on those metals and battery ingredient lithium.
Critical metals are coming under the spotlight more as western nations increasingly view supplies as a matter of national security. As rising usage in electric vehicles and renewables stokes fears of shortages in years to come, automakers are rushing to lock in supply and there’s been a surge of mining investment.
“There’s a fundamental mismatch around the role these assets need to play and the availability of capital for them,” Erik Belz, Engine No. 1’s head of private capital, said in a video interview. “That narrative needs to change.”
Engine No. 1, which is focused on sustainable investments, was founded by hedge fund manager Chris James and is based in San Francisco. It hired Belz from Blackstone Inc. last year to oversee investments in commodities businesses that are transitioning to cleaner fuels.
Belz, who has pointed to the issue of private equity leaving the resources sector, said it’s crucial that money flows back into the industry so it can aid the green revolution.
“Shining a spotlight on a business like Vale Base Metals, in terms of what it offers to the market but also in terms of best (social and environmental) practices, is showing what good looks like in the base metal space,” Belz said.
Vale this year recruited former Anglo American Plc boss Mark Cutifani to lead an independent board overseeing the base metals subsidiary. Belz said Cutifani’s role is crucial to the business improving and that he’s working closely with Engine No. 1 in the mining space.
Engine No. 1 is best known for leading a shakeup of oil major Exxon’s board two years ago. It since started efforts to buy mining and fossil-fuel assets to help companies decarbonize.
Belz said the firm doesn’t plan to pursue an activist campaign against Vale’s base metals business, and is a long-term investor with plans to help turn the unit into a leader in North America-focused critical materials sector.
“It could naturally extend into other commodities over time, in a very interesting evolution,” he said.
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