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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Cobalt – First Steps Towards Reducing Mineral Resource Dependencies?

    recent piece for InvestorIntel zeroes in on a metal which, due to its growing use in battery technology, coupled with a challenging supply scenario is increasingly afforded “critical mineral” status – Cobalt.

    A co-product of Nickel and Copper, the metal’s recent history, as author Lara Smith argues, has been “chaotic.” ARPN agrees that about sums it up. Criticism regarding the production conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — from which 62 percent of global refined Cobalt is sourced — mounted in 2016.  93 percent of the Cobalt refined in China – the world’s biggest Cobalt consumer – originates in the DRC, which, at 3,400,000 metric tons, is also home to the world’s largest Cobalt reserves.  Production conditions in the DRC, which in some cases include child labor and poor environmental standards, have lead battery makers to search for Cobalt sources outside the African country.

    Smith highlights Elon Musk’s ambitious claim that Tesla will “produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year by 2018” and that the Cobalt used “will be sourced exclusively in North America.”

    And indeed, it looks like there is a flurry of activity in this area:

    A Nickel-Copper mine in Michigan recently ramped up production of Cobalt-bearing nickel concentrate (we highlighted ithere), but to date our domestic manufacturers remain import dependent for 75% of the Cobalt they consume.  Smith features a new Cobalt development project – involving “a high-grade and primary cobalt deposit” in Idaho in her post — which may decrease this number going forward. Cobalt co-product production may furthermore be feasible in a number of other states, including Alaska, California, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

    As ARPN expert panelist and Benchmark Minerals Managing Director Simon Moores, who has called Cobalt the “most critical of the battery raw materials,” points out, demand for the metal is growing:

    “With a lithium ion battery production surge well under way – and Benchmark recently revising its megafactories tracker to now 14 that are under construction ranging from 3-35 GWh capacity – lithium ion battery demand for cobalt is set to exceed 100,000 tpa by 2020.”

    In light of these numbers, the above-referenced projects are welcome developments that will help ease our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources -– but they should ultimately be part of a comprehensive mineral resource strategy our country has been sorely lacking.

  • USGS Report Bellwether for National Security Crisis?

    For over two decades, the United States Geological Survey has released its Mineral Commodity Summaries report.  And while ARPN followers will know how important this publication is, as it provides a snapshot of our nation’s mineral resource dependencies, in most years its release has gone largely unnoticed beyond the circles of mineral resource wonks.

    This year, a national outlet has taken note – and it may be good timing, as our growing reliance on foreign mineral resources spell trouble.

    Earlier this month, John Moody, Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News, raised the specter of the President and his administration having to face the “very real possibility that China could cut off U.S. access to 17 rare materials vital to our advanced aircraft and guided missile systems,” as China has a near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earths.

    In a new piece for Fox News, Moody, citing the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report, highlights the United States’ 100 percent import dependency for at least 20 metals and minerals, and the fact that China is the most common source for many of these and other metals and minerals listed in the USGS report. According to Moody, this is a serious threat to our future military security – a threat which albeit acknowledged, has so far largely been ignored.

    Moody quotes REE expert and mining industry veteran George Byers, who confirms:

    “That 2017 USGS report is not fake news, (…). You have 29 or 30 studies on critical materials, including rare earths that go back to the early ‘90s. The outcome of each study is to declare ‘we have a crisis, let’s do something about it.’ But all they do about it, is to ask for another study.”

    Pointing to a legislative effort to be spearheaded by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Calif.), which seeks to mandate that the U.S. military obtain Rare Earths sourced domestically – even if this would mean subsidizing those industries – Moody explains the underlying challenge:

    “The problem, these analysts note, is that U.S. production capacity in this area has been allowed to wither to almost nothing, due to plentiful supplies from China that can be produced at a lower price than U.S. made rare earths.

    Even more perilous, China’s own rapacious demand for rare earths is outstripping its ability to supply domestic consumers as well as the U.S., meaning it may be unable to ship goods to the U.S. even if it wants to.

     In addition to rare earths, which are vital components of high-grade permanent magnets used in military aircraft and missile systems, the United States, according to the USGS report, is now 100 percent reliant on foreign countries for supplies of manganese, which is used to make impact resistant steel, among other things. Though readily available in mines in Arizona, Arkansas and Minnesota, it can be imported more cheaply. The USGS study lists American production of manganese last year as: zero.”

    Indeed, Rare Earths – though of critical importance for our domestic manufacturers and our military, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and with trade issues looming and the global race for mineral resources heating up, our failure to respond to these supply challenges may soon come to haunt us.  Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy this year.

  • As Resource Dependence Deepens, Miners Pivot Back to U.S. For Exploration

    Against the backdrop of market prices recovering and supply woes looming, mining companies are expected to increase spending on exploration for the first time in five years, reports news agency Reuters. In what may spell good news for the United States, analysts anticipate the biggest expenditure increases to occur in the United States, Canada and Australia, all (…) more

  • China’s REE Stranglehold Comes Back Into Focus

    If the first few weeks with a new administration at the helm in Washington, DC are any indication, we will see more efforts to make sweeping changes in federal policy in the coming weeks.  One area where President Donald Trump promised changes on the campaign trail is trade – and specifically relations with China. In (…) more

  • USGS: U.S. Mineral Resource Dependence Deepens in 2016

    It’s out! Followers of ARPN may already have a hunch of what we’re referring to, as every year around this time we await its release with somewhat bated breath: The USGS’s updated Mineral Commodity Summaries report. Let’s start with the good news:  On the whole, the estimated value of total nonfuel mineral production increased slightly in (…) more

  • Interview: AEMA’s Laura Skaer – The Mining Industry’s Challenges and a Look Ahead

    For the last few months, politics has sucked up much of the oxygen in Washington, DC and around the country.  With the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States behind us, many of us are hopeful that the time has come to finally shift the focus away from politics toward policy. Against the backdrop (…) more

  • McGroarty on Critical Minerals: “It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Infrastructure”

    The New Year is now a little over a week old and the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States is just around the corner.  And while some are still dwelling on 2016 (we offered our post mortem at the end of the year), the time has come to look at what’s in store. One of (…) more

  • 2016 – A Mixed Bag for Mineral Resource Policy

    It’s that time of the year again.  And as people are gearing up for the New Year, we are taking the opportunity to take stock of the last twelve months, and want to highlight a few select notable developments of relevance to ARPN followers. From a mineral resource policy perspective, we saw some positive developments (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: A Scholarly Look

    Over the course of the past few months, we have featured two classes of metals and minerals, which we believe deserve more attention than they are currently being awarded.  Expanding on the findings of our 2012 “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we focused on a group of five “Gateway” metals which (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Nickel – Powering Modern Technology

    Over the course of the last few weeks, we reviewed Nickel and its co-products Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium as part of our trip “Through the Gateway.” We’ve established that the importance of each of the co-products is growing as the revolution in materials science advances. Meanwhile, our import dependence for each of the co-products is (…) more

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