American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Scandium Has Yet to Go “Ballistic” — Will Recent Developments Change the Material’s Odds to Shine?

    “This obscure metal is going to go ballistic in a few years,” John Kaiser of Kaiser Research told the Investing News Network a few years ago. The metal he was referring to is Scandium — a material that is “as strong as titanium, as light as aluminum, and as hard as ceramic.” It’s a material that has become one of the poster children of our nation’s critical mineral resource dependencies — though you are most likely to have heard of the element group it is assigned to: the Rare Earths. Like its 16 peers in the REE group, scandium itself is not necessarily rare, but it is “rarely concentrated in nature, making commercially viable deposits extremely scarce.”

    Most frequently harnessed as a co-product in the refining process of other metals such as tin and nickel, processing has proven difficult.

    Thus, in spite of breakthrough new applications for the material, especially in the context of the lightweighting revolution (readers may recall the Light Rider), Kaiser’s prediction has yet to materialize.

    There are indications, however, that its time is about to come as the materials science revolution marches on.

    A new piece for Investing News Network takes a closer look at the current scandium market and discusses current production, new market entrants, and scandium’s potential to shine in the future.

    The piece, which draws from a recent Kaiser Research study citing “an enormous latent demand for scandium if it ever became available on a primary scalable basis,” highlights two recent market events in the scandium space that, according to Kaiser “have the potential to launch scandium demand growth over the next decade towards a 1,000 (tonne per annum) market worth $2 billion:”

    “For one, Rio Tinto announced in early 2020 that it has developed a route to recovery for scandium at its Sorel-Tracy facility in Quebec, where it produces titanium slag from the Lac Tio iron-titanium deposit. [More information on this development here.]

    Secondly, Scandium International Mining filed an application in late 2019 for a patent protecting a method for recovering scandium and other metals from the waste streams of copper oxide leaching operations. In mid-2020, the company announced that copper raffinate tests showed there is enough recoverable scandium using its patent-pending process to match the supply growth coming from Rio Tinto’s recovery of scandium from its titanium upgrading slag.”

    Airbus has long recognized the importance of scandium, and developed the aluminum alloy “Scalmalloy” in partnership with APWORKS several years ago. Earlier this week, the company announced three new concepts for “the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft which could enter service by 2035” — and there’s a good chance that – in light of its properties and Airbus’s work in the field – scandium may have found its way into the concepts.

    With lightweighting becoming increasingly important in aeronautics and the automobile industry, and breakthroughs as the ones referenced above, the odds for scandium to finally “go ballistic” may have just increased significantly.

  • Europe Comes to Terms with Mineral Supply Challenges, Unveils Action Plan

    As the U.S. explores its options when it comes to diversifying our critical minerals supply chains away from China in the wake of COVID-19, Europe is coming to grips with its own mineral supply challenges.

    According to European metals association Eurometaux, the region “has reached a critical fork in the road,” as it grapples with addressing its largely hollowed-out production capacity against the backdrop of surging critical materials needs.

    In an attempt to address current and future challenges, the European Commission earlier this month released its Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, and an updated version of its List of Critical Raw Materials. The EU body also unveiled a foresight study on critical raw materials for strategic technologies and sectors from the 2030 and 2050 perspectives.

    As Andy Home, senior metals columnist for Reuters, writes in a column for the news agency, Europe’s strategy — and the underlying critical raw materials list — is similar to that of the United States, and “largely boils down to (…) find, mine, refine and recycle.”

    He adds:

    “However, as the United States is already learning with rare earths, building an entire supply chain from scratch is a tricky business.”

    Home uses lithium, newly added to the 2020 List of Critical Raw Materials, as an example, arguing that while the EU Commission estimates that by 2025, 80% of Europe’s lithium demand could be supplied from European sources, this target seems “highly ambitious given finding and mining the lithium is the (relatively) easy part. Refining it into chemical form and then making lithium-ion batteries is the hard part and the technical expertise currently resides in Asia, particularly China.”

    In order to address this challenge for lithium and other critical materials, strategic partnerships with friendly trading partners will have to be leveraged, and the EU has made clear that in this context, it will be looking primarily to Canada and Australia.

    The news of Europe shifting its supply chain overhaul into high gear should serve as another reminder for U.S. policy makers that we can’t admire the problem any longer because “we don’t have the luxury of time.”

    Partisanship in a highly contentious election year may make consensus on these issues even more challenging — but for the sake of our national security and economic wellbeing, prioritizing the re-shoring and securing of our critical mineral supply chains cannot wait.

  • U.S. Over-Reliance on Critical Minerals — Are the Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

    The current coronavirus pandemic has shed a light on an inconvenient truth. We have become over-reliant on foreign (and especially Chinese) raw materials. As we previously outlined, “PPE has become the poster child, but whether it’s smart phone technology, solar panels, electric vehicles, or fighter jets — critical minerals are integrated into all aspects of [...]
  • Growing Mineral Resource Pressures in the Context of the Low-Carbon Transition Warrant “Domestic Mining Boom”

    “[G]aining full access to America’s domestic resources will be essential to our ability to grow, defend ourselves, and dominate in the energy world of tomorrow,” writes Forbes contributer Jude Clemente in a new piece for the publication, adding that “[w]e must finally get serious about America’s need for a mining revolution to give the wind, [...]
  • “It’s Complicated.”   Reckoning with the Unique Material Inputs of the 5G Rollout

    As diplomatic and trade relations between the United States and China continue to deteriorate against the backdrop of the current coronavirus pandemic, the buildout of 5G technology is quickly becoming the new frontier in the tech war between the two global players.  5G is considered vital not only for 21st century telecommunications but also self-driving [...]
  • Russia Pushes for Global Rare Earth Market Share as U.S. Struggles to Move Forward With Critical Minerals Initiatives

    Russia is certainly making headlines this week.  Quite obviously, much of the media attention is focused around President Vladimir Putin’s declaration that Russia has approved a vaccine for the coronavirus (after less than two months of testing) — but developments in the critical minerals realm also warrant attention: A top Russian government official has told [...]
  • Scandium and the Formula 1 – Of Speed, Lightweight and Supply Challenges

    Formula 1 racing isn’t for everyone, but those who love it will say it’s the pinnacle of engineering and speed.   And of course, it’s true — while Formula 1 race cars in 1977 achieved a top speed of 195 mph, today’s top speeds range north of 230 mph, with much of the speed gain being attributable [...]
  • Europe Forges Ahead With Battery Gigafactory Buildout As U.S. Still Struggles to Get Off Starting Block

    The current coronavirus pandemic may have thrown a wrench into the gears of many industries, but — against the backdrop of skyrocketing materials supply needs in the context of the green energy transition — Europe continues to forge ahead with the buildout of its large-scale battery gigafactory capacity.  According to London-based Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, whose [...]
  • Is it Time for a GigaMine? Metal Tech News’s Lasley on the Prospect of Tesla GigaMines

    Earlier this month, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of tech giant Tesla, made headlines with his call on global mining companies to boost production of nickel, a key component in EV battery technology. “Any mining companies out there … wherever you are in the world, please mine more nickel,” he said, adding “Tesla will give [...]
  • Closing the Loop? A Look at REE Recycling “Behind An Energy Revolution”

    COVID may have temporarily put public life and global markets on hold, but, the pandemic notwithstanding, the green energy transition marches on — and with that, our skyrocketing materials supply needs for the metals and minerals that underpin renewable technology. As lawmakers and stakeholders look to secure our materials supply for a post-COVID context, it [...]