American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Through the Gateway – Scandium: A Co-Product Metal Ready To Take Off

    We have already established that Indium is becoming a hot tech commodity. Its fellow Tin co-product Scandium is another metal with huge potential in high-tech applications.

    Its electrical and heat resistant properties lend itself to the application in solid oxide fuel cells, and its optical properties can be used for high-intensity lamps.  The biggest opportunities for Scandium, however, lie in its usability in the creation of extremely strong heat-tolerant and corrosion resistant aluminum alloys.

    Does the name “Scalmalloy” ring a bell?

    ARPN followers will recall our discussion of the “Light Rider” – Airbus subsidiary APWorks’s 3D-printed light-weight motorcycle, for which the company used “Scalmalloy” – a Scandium-Aluminum alloy which features “almost the specific strength of titanium.”  With the rise of 3D printing and in light of Scandium’s formidable ability to form super-strength alloys with aluminum, there is a good chance that demand for Scandium will increase in the near future.

    And that’s the challenge:

    According to USGS, world resources are abundant in relation to demand.  Scandium is more abundant than lead, mercury and precious metals – but it is rarely concentrated in nature “because of its lack of affinity for the common ore-forming anion.”  As a result, commercially viable deposits of Scandium are in fact rare. Because of this low concentration, Scandium is exclusively produced as a co-product during the processing of various Gateway metals, including Tin.  Global production rates range from 10 tons to 15 tons per year – and these figures are on the high end of estimates, others peg primary annual production at only 400 kg per year. In total numbers, that is not much material to work with if new uses proliferate.

    Thus, not surprisingly, while according to USGS the United States currently does not produce any Scandium, developers of multi-metallic deposits are studying the inclusion of scandium recovery into their project plans. Australia and Japan are also looking into Scandium co-product development.  For now, however, the U.S. (in what is already a familiar challenge) has to rely on the main Scandium producers, which at this point in time include China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine – arguably not our strongest trading partners.

    With numerous applications, many of them associated with aluminum alloys, having been filed, Scandium is a metal to watch.  What is currently holding the metal back is the lack of a reliable supply.  Should that change, it may well take off. As John Kaiser of Kaiser research put it: “This obscure metal is going to go ballistic in the next few years.”  As friends of ARPN will appreciate, the question is whether U.S. scandium dependency will deepen — or whether U.S. policymakers will understand that resource development policy is key to American innovators’ access to another critical metal.

  • Through The Gateway: Indium – Taking Virtual Reality Mainstream?

    Here we [Pokémon] go again.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, and we find another reason to talk about an augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm. But there’s a good reason: Pokémon Go may be giving us a glimpse into our future, or more precisely, the future of smartphone technology.  And, you guessed it … it’s a future that once again involves a rare tech metal that is not mined in its own right, but supply of which originates as a co-product of processing Gateway metals, among them chiefly Zinc and Tin – Indium.

    For months, the rumor mill has been grinding regarding the new features of the iPhone 7.  One such rumor surfaced last week. Writing for ZDNet, Jason Perlow wondered whether it might be possible “that the iPhone 7 isn’t just a smartphone, but part of an integrated system that is something else entirely?”  The integrated system he alludes to is virtual reality, and he is basing his speculation on the fact that one of the primary manufacturers of the iPhone, FoxConn, has just bought Sharp, which a few years ago developed displays using IGZO (Indium, Gallium, Zinc Oxide) semiconductors – which “have significant technology benefits (…), would mean increased luminosity, higher reaction speed and increased battery efficiency.” 

    Coupled with some of the other rumored features, which include twin cameras, a new docking connector and stereo speakers, he says using IGZO displays could well turn the iPhone 7 Pro into “the brains of a virtual reality/augmented reality headset” that “performs as a smartphone by day, but snaps into a head-mounted cradle at night,” allowing for a headset to be able to be used for augmented reality applications, such as a true-AR version of Pokémon Go.” In other words, the use of Indium could help take virtual reality technology to go mainstream.

    This scenario may or may not turn out to be true, but the fact of the matter is tech metals like Indium make developments like these possible.  New applications like IGZO will likely increase demand for Indium, which is already a sought after tech metal because of its application in CIGS (Copper, Indium, Gallium, Selenide) solar panels, as well as in more conventional things alloys and solders, compounds, and electrical components.

    Meanwhile, the United is 100 percent import-dependent for the Indium consumed domestically.  Supplier nations include trade partners like Canada, and Belgium, but also China – which, according to the USGS, produces nearly half of the world’s indium — once more underscoring the complex nature of the geopolitics of mineral resource supply.

  • Through The Gateway: Tin – More Than Just A Food Preserver

    As part of our Through the Gateway campaign, we have so far looked at Copper and Aluminum.  Both Gateway metals only yield access to several co-product metals, but are important mainstay metals with a plethora of new applications that make them important building blocks of our high-tech, green energy future. For both Copper and Aluminum, (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum – From 3D Printing to Co-Product Access, It’s Time to Connect the Dots

    If you’re in the market for a new and unique motorcycle, here’s an option for you:  Using a state-of-the-art aluminum alloy powder dubbed “Scalmalloy,” which has “almost the specific strength of titanium,” Airbus subsidiary APWorks would like to introduce you to its “Light Rider.”  But Light Rider is more than the world’s lightest and first (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Vanadium – Next-Gen Uses Drive Co-Product Challenge

    As we continue our look “Through the Gateway,” one thing has become abundantly clear already:  Beyond their traditional uses, both Gateway Metals and their Co-Products have become building blocks of our renewable energy future.  This held true for Copper and its Co-Products, but it is also equally true for Aluminum and its Co-Products. While Gallium’s (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Of Pokémon and Co-Products – A Look at Gallium

    All over the world, people are wandering through the streets staring at their smartphones. Whether you’re part of the PokémonGo phenomenon that has taken the world by storm, or whether you can only shake your head, you don’t only have Nintendo to thank for.    One of the Co-Product Metals we’re focusing on this week as part of (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum – Fueling the Renaissance of American Manufacturing

    Aluminum is not only one of the most sustainable materials these days, it is also making headlines – most recently during the North American Leaders Summit, also dubbed “Three Amigos Summit” held at the end of June in Ottawa, Canada.  Invoking challenges associated with China’s trade policy, President Obama called for the North American countries to (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum Alloys – Versatility On Steroids

    Last year, researchers developed a material “that’s as strong and light as titanium, another expensive material, but at just a tenth of the cost.” They were able to achieve this feat by tweaking Aluminum’s alloying properties at the nano level. Aluminum’s properties as a stand-alone metal already make it one of the most versatile materials in engineering and (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum – Building Block of our Sustainable Future

    Probably one of the most important buzzwords of our time is “Sustainability.”  When thinking of the term, mining and industrial metals are probably not the first things that come to mind, but they are in fact integral components of our society’s move towards a greener, more sustainable energy future.  We have already outlined how Copper serves (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum – Versatile and Timely

    After showcasing our first Gateway Metal, Copper, and its co-products, it’s time to move on to our next Gateway Metal as part of our “Through the Gateway” informational campaign. Chances are, you used it this past weekend, during and/or after your 4th of July barbecue.  It is being featured as a part of a massive art installation currently hosted by (…) more