American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 their way into many high-tech applications and have become indispensable staples of 21stCentury innovation.  While their application has dramatically changed, we’re still using what has become an outdated label.  In keeping with the metals theme – we believe the time has come to scrap the “by-product” metal label, and refer to these building blocks of our high-tech future as “co-products.”

    Merriam-Webster defines the term “by-product” as

    1 : something produced in a usually industrial or biological process in addition to the principal product

    2 : a secondary and sometimes unexpected or unintended result.

    While the first definition certainly applies to the above-referenced tech metals, it’s the “accidental” connotation of the second definition that continues to stick, and to a certain degree diminishes the importance of these key materials.

    The term “co-product” better captures the critical nature of metals and minerals like Tellurium, which fuels the bright future of solar energy, or Indium, without which our touchscreens would not function.

    So help us spread the word – if Orange is the New Black, in the metals world, “co-product” is the new “by-product.”

  • 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, the reason that, given the pace of technological change, we typically don’t wonder much about the inner-workings of how our gadgets do what they do.

    But as ARPN followers know, it’s not magic. Our advances grow out of the revolution in materials science that is powering the technology age.

    In an article in The New Scientist, James Mitchell Crow observed:

    We rarely stop to think of the advances in materials that underlie our material advances. Yet almost all our personal gadgets and technological innovations have something in common: they rely on some extremely unfamiliar materials from the nether reaches of the periodic table. Even if you have never heard of the likes of hafnium, erbium or tantalum, chances are there is some not too far from where you are sitting.”

    The article may be a few years old, but Crow’s premise is as relevant today as it was then:

    From indium touchscreens to hafnium-equipped moonships, the nether regions of the periodic table underpin modern technology – but supplies are getting scarce.”

    Take Tellurium, for example. One of the least common elements on Earth, according to the USGS, it is essential to photovoltaic solar cells. The challenge, however, is that despite its importance, Tellurium is not mined in its own right – it is largely a by- or (as we will explain later), more appropriately a co-product of refining Copper and, to a lesser extent, Lead and Gold.

    A similar scenario unfolds for many other tech metals critical to innovation today.

    As we have argued in our 2012 report “Through the Gateway: Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology,” many of them are “unlocked” by five “gateway metals” – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc.

    Copper ore refining yields access to Molybdenum, Rhenium, Selenium, Tellurium, along with small amounts of REEs. Zinc ore is a gateway to Indium, Germanium and Cadmium. Aluminum processing unlocks Gallium and Vanadium. Tin also provides access to Indium and Vanadium while Nickel is a gateway to Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium.

    When cross-referenced with the 2012 ARPN Risk Pyramid — which graphically weighted and segmented the 46 minerals and metals most cited in a series of reports on the national security applications of strategic materials — and we surveyed and analyzed our degrees of mineral resource dependence, we get the following picture:

    The five gateway metals we focused on – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc—may only represent only 10% of the Risk Pyramid, but, when counting all Rare Earths individually, they unlock 25 of the remaining 41 metals, accounting, all told, for 60% of the whole Risk Pyramid.

    In light of these staggering numbers and the increasing importance of said tech metals to our daily lives and future innovation, we will be taking a closer look at the individual gateway metals and their co-product metals in the coming months –  so, once again, join us, as we take another in-depth look “Through the Gateway.”

  • 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 [...]
  • Experts Highlight the Importance of Data, Provide Context for Mineral Criticality Assessments

    At this month’s webinar on “The Science and Supply of America’s Critical Minerals and Materials” hosted by the American Geosciences Institute, speakers discussed the issue of critical minerals and the federal government’s role to ensure a steady supply. USGS Mineral Resources Program Coordinator Larry Meinert set the stage by discussing critical minerals in the international [...]
  • As Japan retreats, US dozes off again on critical minerals

    Over the course of the last few months, slumping prices have prompted Japanese companies to reassess their rare metals strategies and cancel cooperative agreements that were once considered a high priority. As Nikkei Asian Review reports, state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) has cancelled a joint exploration contract for a tungsten mine in [...]
  • Minerals don’t just fuel domestic industries, but also a stronger U.S. trade balance

    ARPN followers are used to our coverage of metals and minerals shortages, and the need to develop more sources of domestic supply.  But the value of U.S.-produced minerals is best evidenced in the ability to meet global needs.  Take borates, one of the relatively few minerals where the U.S. is a net exporter. The issue [...]
  • American Geosciences Institute Webinar on “The Science and Supply of America’s Critical Minerals and Materials”

    Earlier this week, the American Geosciences Institute hosted a webinar entitled “Underpinning Innovation: The Science and Supply of America’s Critical Minerals and Materials.” Speakers for the event, which was co-sponsored by a variety of expert organizations, included: Lawrence D. Meinert, Mineral Resources Program, U.S. Geological Survey; Steven M. Fortier, National Minerals Information Center, U.S. Geological [...]
  • Is Cobalt on Your Radar Yet?

    Last week, we highlighted what has been one of the bright spots in the metals and minerals sphere in recent months – Lithium.  Potentially one of the most important critical materials of our time because of its application in battery technology, its rise to stardom has cast a shadow on another material that may be [...]
  • Is Lithium the New Black?

    At a time when mineral commodities have been slumping, one material is proving to be the exception to the rule, leading many to hail lithium as “a rare bright spot for miners, amid cratering prices of raw materials tied to heavy industry such as iron ore to coal.”  Via our friend Simon Moores, managing director [...]
  • McGroarty before U.S. Senate Committee: “Increased Resource Dependence Jeopardizes U.S. Economic Strength and Manufacturing Might”

    In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on “the Near-Term Outlook for Energy and Commodities Markets” last week, ARPN Principal Daniel McGroarty argues that while in the long-run, the market is self-corrective, there are certain actions that should be taken while we wait for that long-run to arrive if [...]