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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Through the Gateway: Molybdenum – “The Most Important Element You Yave Never Heard Of?”

    A writer for Gizmodo has dubbed it the “most important element you have never heard of.”  Writes Esther Inglis-Arkell:

    “Molybdenum, with its 42 protons and 54 neutrons, sits right in the middle of the periodic table being completely ignored. It’s not useless. (…) It just doesn’t have that indefinable sexiness about it.”

    Inglis-Arkell explains Molybdenum’s biochemical relevance:

    Taken up by plants from the soil, molybdenum “forms a crucial part of a little enzyme called sulfite oxidase. The enzyme breaks down incoming sulfites and turns them into useful food. Take away molybdenum, and the enzyme, and things get nasty. The lowest-level problem you can look forward to is a severe allergic reaction. Continued molybdenum deprivation causes uric acid to build up in the blood, which brings on horribly inflamed and painful joints. At it worst, molybdenum deficiency takes out the nervous system.”

    Definitely not good.  

    But there’s more to it. Like Rhenium, Molybdenum is essential for creating high-performance alloys used in jet turbines and other defense systems. It is also a critical component of alloyed materials used in water distribution systems, food handling and chemical processing equipment, automotive parts, gas transmission pipes, and heavy construction. As USGS has notedWithout molybdenum as an alloying metal, the superstrength steel used in heavy construction (such as in skyscrapers and bridges) would be more costly; in some instances, the increased weight of alternative materials with equivalent strengths would render construction unmanageable or even impossible.”

    The question of whether or not it is “the most important you’ve never heard of,” aside – Molybdenum’s importance cannot be dismissed. Luckily, the United States is in a good spot with regards to availability to meet domestic needs. 

    In fact, as Molybdenum, unlike its previously discussed Copper co-product peers, is actually a metal of which we are a net exporter, industry continues to seek to develop materials that could benefit from its hardening, strengthening and anti-corrosive properties.  The advent of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is just one example here.

    While we are fortunate to have an abundance of Molybdenum beneath our own soil, one should note that while there is some primary Molybdenum production, including at two mines in the United States, most of the Molybdenum we use is produced as a Copper co-product.   Thus, we should keep Molybdenum on our supply and demand radar, particularly as advances in materials science may increase demand. As USGS points out:

    “Short- to medium-term changes in copper prices can influence the availability of molybdenum. For example, copper mining activity may drop suddenly in response to reduced metal prices, which in turn reduces the total amount of molybdenum that is produced. Although primary molybdenum mines can fill this market gap between byproduct production and overall demand, they have a limited ability to increase their production rate to meet spikes in demand.” 

  • Through the Gateway: Rhenium – Rare and Sexy?

    It has helped make airline travel affordable. It helps keep us safe. And it may just be sexier than Salma Hayek – at least in the eyes of one observer. 

    We’re talking about Rhenium, yet another metal brought to us largely courtesy of Copper refinement.  A silvery white, metallic element, Rhenium, according to USGS, has “an extremely high melting point (3,180 degrees Celsius), and a heat-stable crystalline structure, making it exceptionally resistant to heat and wear.”  Thanks to these properties, it has been an indispensible component for superalloys used in turbine blades for jet aircraft engines.  As the BBC put it[t]he ability of superalloys to operate at such extreme temperatures is what makes your holiday to the Algarve or Florida affordable.”

    At an average abundance of less than one part per billion in the continental crust, Rhenium, like its fellow Copper Co-Product is also an extremely rare metal.  Global production is pegged at a total  of a mere 46 metric tons, with more than 80 percent of that amount going into superalloys.

    Its rare metal status is one of the key reasons why recycling rates for Rhenium are increasing.  While in the past, scrapped blades used to be sold and recycled in the stainless steel industry, today most of the rare metals contained in the superalloys used in turbine blades are recovered for reuse in manufacturing.

    End users have also worked hard on substitution. As the Economist reported a few years ago,

    “General Electric, one of the world’s biggest makers of jet engines, has spent years developing nickel-based superalloys to replace rhenium. But the best GE’s boffins could manage was to reduce the amount of metal required, not eliminate it altogether. Moreover, few manufacturers possess the resources to achieve even such limited progress.”

    The United States currently imports 79 percent of the Rhenium we use. Because the recovery process is complicated and requires special facilities, we are unlikely to fully meet our demand with domestic resources.

    However, a strong demand for Rhenium is likely here to stay. That, coupled with the fact that we have proven Rhenium reserves in the U.S. (the development of one of which has been projected to generate more than 20 tons of Rhenium per year as a Copper Co-Product, thus significantly reducing our reliance on foreign imports), should suffice to get policy makers’ attention — regardless of their stance on Salma Hayek.

  • Through the Gateway: Selenium – More Than Just a Dietary Supplement

    Chances are, you’ve heard of Selenium.  As a trace element, it is an essential mineral found in small amounts in the body, with antioxidant properties. It is also a much-used suite of tools to automate web browsers across many platforms — which is why weeding out our news alerts for stories relevant to ARPN followers can be time-consuming. (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Tellurium – A Rare Metal With Abundant Demand

    It may not have felt like it, but spring is here, and love is in the air (not just according to us, but also according to science). We’re here to help – and thought we’d share this gem of a pick-up line (available on T-shirts online): “You must be made of Copper and Tellurium, because you (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: The Copper Gap That Needn’t Be

    Lately, web searches for “Copper” have seemed to turn up stories about the metal’s woes on the global commodity market on a daily basis.  Like many of its hard-rock commodity peers, Copper has seen its price decline over the past five years. However, there is good reason to believe that the self-corrective nature of commodity (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Copper – Gateway to Renewable Energy

    Whatever your views on global climate change – there is no denying that we find ourselves in the midst of a green energy transition.  As David Sandalow, former under secretary of energy and assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), notes in the New York Times this week, “[s]olar power is (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Copper – Far More Than Your “Old School” Industrial Metal

    We’re kicking off our online informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-products by taking a closer look at one of the most well-known industrial mainstay metals – Copper. Lately, “old school” Copper – long acknowledged as an indispensable building block of the industrial age — has been undergoing turbulent times on the global commodity (…) more

  • Through the Gateway: Gateway Metals and the Metals they Unlock Underpin Modern Technology

    Are you reading this post on a smart phone, a laptop or tablet?  Will you scroll down using your finger to swipe the screen?  Safe to say you don’t give much thought to how these functions work — even though they’re often less than a decade old.  That’s the wonder of technology — or rather, (…) more

  • If Orange Is the New Black, Then “Co-product” is the New “By-Product”

    As we set out to take an in-depth look “Through the Gateway” over the course of the next few months, we will be zeroing in on the five gateway metals we examined as part of our 2012 report – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc, as well as the tech metals they“unlock.” These materials have increasingly found (…) more

  • Pizza, the Age of Rare Metals and Co-Products

    “If you don’t have yeast, you don’t have pizza.” What may seem like a random – albeit logical – conclusion has more to do with critical minerals than you may think.  David Abraham, director of the Technology, Rare and Electronic Materials Center, recently used the yeast/pizza analogy to exemplify the importance of rare metals, which (…) more

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