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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Materials Science Revolution Continues to Yield Breakthroughs – a Look at Scandium

    Did you turn on the TV to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon take off en route to the International Space Station yesterday only to be disappointed?  The long-awaited historic first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly nine years has been postponed due to weather, but there’s a still good chance we will see history unfold before our eyes in a few days, as a commercial spacecraft is transporting NASA astronauts into orbit in the very near future. 

    Why are we talking about space other than the fact that the focus on SpaceX is giving us a short, but much-needed break from the ever-consuming coverage of the coronavirus pandemic?

    As followers of ARPN will know, aeronautics is a field in which we owe many breakthroughs in recent history to metals, minerals, and the materials science revolution.

    Scandium is a case in point.  Dubbed the “super metal that the aerospace and electric vehicle industries dream of” because of its alloying capabilities that promote lightweight, strength and corrosion resistance, it has become an indispensable tech metal, particularly in the context of the ongoing lightweighting revolution. 

    Aluminum-Scandium alloys have helped reduce aircraft weights by 15% to 20%, without compromising the strength of the building material.   3D-printed Scandium and Aluminum-based high-performance alloys may become even more relevant as the U.S. government embarks on a path to create a U.S. Space Force, and a successful launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon may further increase demand for hi-tech metals like Scandium.

    While all systems may be go for Scandium demand to take off, the supply side has been challenging. 

    As we  outlined a few years ago:

    “[W]hile on paper, Scandium resources may in fact be abundant, it is rarely concentrated in nature, making commercially viable deposits extremely rare. Because it is at present largely recovered as a co-product during the processing of various Gateway Metals, including Tin and Nickel, total global production rates are quite low.  Scandium may also be present in certain Copper and Rare Earth deposits.”

    To date, the U.S. has been 100% import-dependent to meet our domestic Scandium needs and has had to rely on China and Russia — arguably not our most reliable trading partners — to meet demand. In recent years, with demand forecasts for Scandium on the upswing,  mining companies have begun exploring the possibility of primary Scandium recovery and researchers — on behalf of developers of multi-metallic deposits began studying the inclusion of scandium recovery into their project plans.

    And while the launch of SpaceX has to be postponed, news of a breakthrough with potential to change the Scandium supply picture arrived today.  

    As Reuters reports, researchers at Rio Tinto have developed process to extract scandium from waste tailings in the titanium dioxide production process in one of its production facilities in Quebec, Canada.

    The company had previously joined forces with the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), a U.S. Department of Energy research hub, to study new ways to capture Gateway Metals and Co-products that are increasingly becoming indispensable in clean power manufacturing — an endeavor we highlighted in the context of our “Profiles of Progress” series highlighting public-private partnerships proving to be valuable tools in the effort to alleviate supply risks for critical raw materials. 

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  • The Future of Mining is “Climate Smart”

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    In the latest issue of Metal Tech News, a new publication we recently featured, editor Shane Lasley zeroes in on opportunities offered by the World Bank’s Climate Smart Mining initiative.

    The initiative, which “supports a low-carbon transition where mining is climate-smart and value chains are sustainable and green,” kicked into high gear in May of 2019 with the launch of the so-called “Climate-Smart Mining Facility.”  This multi-donor trust fund has the stated goal of “help[ing] resource-rich developing countries benefit from the increasing demand for minerals and metals, while ensuring the mining sector is managed in a way that minimizes the environmental and climate footprint.”

    Writes Lasley:

    “World Bank said wind, solar and the batteries that store this energy and power electric vehicles will be the biggest low-carbon technologies that will drive global demand for metals in the coming three decades.

    […]

    The batteries needed to store wind and solar energy, as well as power zero-emissions vehicles, are expected to be the biggest renewable energy driver of minerals and metals demand.

    Many of these renewable energy minerals and metals are found in developing countries, which provides enormous economic opportunities for the more than 3 billion of the poorest and most vulnerable people on Earth.”

    (Read Lasley’s full article here.)

    The initiative is timely, and ties into the overall context of the growing realization that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as – in the words of Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute and Professor of Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines – “[t]he future energy system will be far more mineral and metal-intensive than it is today. Many of these advanced technologies require minerals and metals with particular properties that have few to no current substitutes.”

    As Bazilian has pointed out:

    “The opportunity for the mining industry is tremendous. An industry that has experienced enormous public pressure and critique, accompanied by offshoring production overseas, can now evolve into one fundamental to supporting a shift to a low-carbon and sustainable energy system based on domestic natural resources.”

    The World Bank’s Climate Smart Mining initiative is one facet of approaches taken to sustainably green our future, but, as we recently outlined, it does not end here. In an effort to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development, mining companies have started to incorporate renewable power sources into their operations, and we’ll continue to feature these efforts (as we have done here) in the months to come.

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  • 2019 in Review – Towards an “All-Of-The-Above” Approach in Mineral Resource Policy?

    We blinked, and 2020 is knocking on our doors. It’s been a busy year on many levels, and mineral resource policy is no exception. So without further ado, here’s our ARPN Year in Review. Where we began: In last year’s annual recap, we had labeled 2018 as a year of incremental progress, which had set [...]
  • Sustainably Greening the Future – Changes in Mining Technology for the New Decade

    Irrespective of where you come down on the political spectrum, there is no denying that we find ourselves in the midst of a green energy transition. At ARPN, we have long made the case that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as green energy technology relies heavily on a [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress: REE Extraction and Separation From Phosphoric Acid

    The tech war between China and the United States over who will dominate the 21st Century Technology Age is heating up. Earlier this week, China’s rare earth producers, who control the vast majority of global REE output, put out a statement declaring they are ready to “use their dominance of the industry as a weapon in [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress – Penn State University Launches Center for Critical Minerals

    Against the backdrop of a growing awareness of our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources — one need to look no further than the current coverage of China’s threat to play the “rare earths card” — Penn State University is launching a Center for Critical Minerals. Under the auspices of the College of Earth and Mineral [...]
  • Profiles of Progress: Public and Private Sectors to Collaborate on World Bank “Climate-Smart Mining Facility”

    Evolving out of its 2017 report “The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future”, which found that the sought-after transition to a “low-carbon future will be significantly more mineral intensive than a business as usual scenario,” the World Bank developed its “Climate-Smart Mining” initiative, which ARPN discussed a few weeks ago. [...]
  • U.S. Should Revisit R&D Spending Priorities, But Reform Cannot Occur in Vacuum 

    Followers of ARPN have long known that China is the big elephant in the room.  In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Ezekiel Emanuel, Amy Gadsden and Scott Moore lament that while there is a growing  awareness that China may be the – in the words of Sec. of State Mike Pompeo “greatest challenge that [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress – Advances in Metals and Minerals Research May Yield Breakthrough in Quest for Fusion Power

    “Thousands of years ago, humans discovered they could heat rocks to get metal, and it defined an epoch. Later, we refined iron into steel, and it changed the course of civilization. More recently, we turned petroleum into plastic, with all that implies. Whenever we create new materials that push the limits of what’s possible, we [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress: DoE’s New Research Center on Lithium Battery Recycling to Leverage Resources of Private Sector, Universities and National Laboratories

    Speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s American Energy Innovation Council last week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced the launch of a new research center on lithium battery recycling. The Battery Recycling R&D Center will focus on reclaiming and recycling “critical materials (e.g. cobalt and lithium) from lithium based battery technology used in consumer electronics, defense, energy [...]

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