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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 2018 – A Year of Incremental Progress?

    In case you hadn’t noticed amidst holiday preparations, travel arrangements and the usual chaos of everyday life – 2019 is just around the corner, and with that, the time to reflect on the past twelve months has arrived. So here is ARPN’s recap of 2018:

    Where we began. Unlike previous years, we started 2018 with an unexpected level of optimism on the resource policy front. Not only had USGS released a new study in December of 2017 entitled “Critical Minerals of the United States” which discusses 23 mineral commodities USGS deems critical to the United States’ national security and economic wellbeing, but the report had been followed by what we dubbed “an early Christmas present:” A new executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to publish a list of critical minerals to be followed by a comprehensive report spearheaded by the Department of Commerce outlining a strategy to alleviate our over-reliance on foreign minerals.

    At last, a list. The DOI List was published in February, with a public comment period running through March. ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty filed two sets of comments, the first identifying a group of “gateway” metals critical for defense applications but absent from the DOI List, and the second articulating the gateway/co-product relationships between metals and minerals on the DOI List. While the gateway metals did not make the cut, we considered the final list, released in May, a “great starting point” leaving the question of “how the U.S. Government can match policy to the priority of overcoming our Critical Minerals deficit.”

    Unfortunately, to date, that question has not fully been answered, and the Secretary of Commerce’s report subsequent to the above-referenced Executive Order has yet to be released. But the stage has been set.

    Progress was made on several other fronts:

    • Public-private partnerships to advance R&D in materials science — which we have been featuring as part of our “Profiles of Progress series” — have yielded positive results and have been expanded to cover additional metals and minerals
    • Awareness of the important inter-relationship of “Gateway Metals” and their “Co-Products,” which we highlighted in our April 2018 report is growing, and is becoming a part of the broader mineral resource policy conversation. See for example Ned Mamula’s and Ann Bridges’s just-released book “Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.
    • A just-outlined partnership agreement between Australia and the United States on critical minerals to foster mineral research and development cooperation between the two countries is a welcome development. It could also serve as a precursor to deepening and revitalizing the National Technology Industrial Base (NTIB), which, established in the 1990s to foster technology links between the U.S. and Canada, was expanded in 2016 to include Australia and the UK.
    • And while there has not been a tangible result in terms of the formulation of a critical minerals strategy, another landmark study released this year has underscored the need for comprehensive reform, specifically from a national security perspective: The long-awaited Defense Industrial Base Review outlined nearly 300 supply chain vulnerabilities and sounded the alarm on China represents a significant and growing risk to the supply of materials deemed strategic and critical to U.S. national security. As one of the ARPN expert panel members phrased it: “Fortunately, the report goes beyond problem identification to provide a Blueprint for Action. Though many of these are locked away in a classified annex to the report, the White House has provided some clues as to how it wishes to proceed.”

    Opportunities and upticks. In terms of trend lines, the rise of battery tech continues to dominate the agenda, as evidenced by the volume of posts on our blog covering this field. And, based on the analysis provided by our friends at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence we expect this development to continue in 2019.

    We have also witnessed an uptick in activity on the trade front in 2018 with tariffs and trade agreements dominating the agenda.

    • Chinese-U.S. tensions escalated in 2018 resulting in the imposition of various tariffs targeting the other nation. Initially included on a provisional list of tariffs to be imposed on Chinese goods released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this summer, Rare Earth metals and their compounds were ultimately excluded from the final list of tariffs, underscoring the growing awareness of their strategic importance in the United States. Other omissions from the tariff lists give a window into strategic vulnerabilities.
    • The U.S. Administration won agreement to replace NAFTA with the USMCA — the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement in November. The talks had opened a window to drop the so-called Section 232 tariffs — named for a seldom-used section of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act — on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico, which stand in the way of a fully integrated North American defense supply chain and, particularly with regards to Canada “ignore nearly 80 years of deep defense cooperation with our northern neighbor.” Unfortunately, the provision remained intact in the November agreement, but, as ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty recently outlined in a piece for The Hill: “The opportunity is here, to use the momentum generated by the new USMCA agreement as a springboard to take the strategic North American alliance to a new level.”

    Meanwhile, a glaring missed opportunity in 2018 has a silver lining:

    Congressional conferees for the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) failed to retain key critical minerals provisions in the final conference report including the Amodei amendment ARPN followers will be familiar with. And in the one clause in the defense bill that does touch on metals and minerals – a section entitled “Prohibition on acquisition of sensitive materials from non-allied foreign nations” – while cobalt appears as a “sensitive material” (in the form of samarium-cobalt permanent magnets), the list of non-allied foreign nations from which the U.S. is not allowed to acquire the materials does not include DRC Congo.

    However, the NDAA’s Section 873, “Prohibition on acquisition of sensitive materials from non-allied foreign nations,” amends Subchapter V of chapter 148 of title 10, U.S. Code by inserting section 2533c – which, among other things, effectively prevents the Pentagon from sourcing of Rare Earth Magnets from China. This is a potentially precedent-setting provision which Jeffery A. Green, president and founder of J. A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts called “the single biggest legislative development in the rare earth sector since the 2010 Chinese embargo created an awareness of our military’s reliance on foreign rare earth materials.”

    On the whole, 2018 stands for incremental progress on the mineral resource policy front. However, how we harness this progress in the coming months will decide how future generations will judge this year in the history books. The potential for meaningful reform is here and the stage is set. The stakes are too high to let this opportunity slip away.

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  • Jadarite and the Materials Science Revolution – “Kryptonite” to Alleviate Mineral Supply Concerns?

    In 2007, a new mineral found in Serbia made headlines around the world. “Kryptonite Discovered in Mine” wrote the BBC about the discovery of a material the chemical formula of which – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – happened to match the one of the famed kryptonite stolen by Lex Luthor from a museum in the movie “Superman Returns.”

    Dr. Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at London’s Natural History Museum, whose help researchers enlisted when they found themselves unable to match their discovery with anything scientifically-known, told the BBC he was “shocked to discover this formula was already referenced in the literature – albeit literary fiction,” and said:

    “The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”

    As Jadarite has nothing to do with the real element Krypton, an colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas often used in fluorescent lamps, the mineral could not be called “kryptonite.” Instead, Jadarite, which contains Boron and Lithium, both of which are known to followers of ARPN for a number of applications, received its official name thanks to the geographic location of its discovery, the  Jadar Valley.

    The reason why most people will not have heard of the mineral is that Serbia is the only place in the world where Jadarite has been found – and to date, it has not been commercially developed.

    Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, which yields research breakthroughs on a daily basis, this may soon change, however. As Mining Review Africa reports, researchers at Rio Tinto’s Technical Development Centre in Bundoora outside of Melbourne, Australia, are working to develop a new chemical procedure to process the material.  A pilot processing plant has been housed within a large shipping container, to allow it to be deployed to the mine site in Serbia.

    Against the backdrop of the current EV battery technology fueling demand for Lithium, these efforts, if successful, could help alleviate mineral supply concerns in the long run.

    While recent stories about an oversupply have caused Lithium prices to slide, analysts believe that the fundamentals for Lithium are strong and long-term demand will shore up again. As Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s Andrew Miller recently told Reuters:

    “The demand for lithium isn’t really in question, it’s just a matter of when that demand really kicks in. (…) You just have to look at the number of battery factories that are being built around lithium-ion technology.” 

    As for Borates, while arguably considered the less “sexy” component in the Jadarite mix, fundamentals may be changing here, too.  As Chris Cann recently noted for Mining Journal, while the borates space has “historically, closely tracked global GDP numbers as the ability of the world’s population to buy more household products has driven the use of boric acid, (…), Borates are now linked to two areas of potentially strong growth.” 

    The two areas he references are the traditional application in agriculture/household, as well as the lesser-known use of Borates in electronics, “where Boron-laden permanent magnets are widely consumed, including as the most commonly used magnets for hybrid and electric vehicles.” 

    The bottom line is this – with advances in materials science disrupting and fundamentally altering the supply and demand picture for metals and minerals on a regular basis, the time to devise a comprehensive mineral resource strategy that accounts for these fast-paced changes has come.  Our nation’s competitiveness and national security depends on it.

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  • Chinese Strategy and the Global Resource Wars – A Look at the Arctic 

    It’s the big elephant in the resource room – China. The recently-released 130-page long declassified version of the Defense Industrial Base Report mention the words “China” or “Chinese”  a “whopping 229 times” – for good reason.  As the Department of Defense argues in the report, “China’s domination of the rare earth element market illustrates the potentially dangerous interaction between Chinese economic [...]
  • European Union Pushes Ahead With Attempt to Create Battery Manufacturing Value Chain in Europe

    While the United States is finally taking steps to approach mineral resource policy in a comprehensive and strategic fashion, the European Union got a head start several years ago, and has since begun enacting mineral resource policy initiatives within the context of its raw materials strategy.  With its ambitious 2050 low-carbon vision, and the rise [...]
  • A View From Across the Pond: European Resource Policy Through the Prism of a Low-Carbon Vision

    The recently-released Defense Industrial Base study, which once more has underscored the need for a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. resource policy, directed its focus on U.S. competitiveness primarily vis-à-vis China. Already vast and resource-rich, the country has demonstrated an insatiable appetite for the world’s mineral resources and has pursued an aggressive strategy to gain access [...]
  • Long-Awaited Defense Industrial Base Report Unveils Significant Strategic Vulnerabilities, Holds Major Implications for Resource Policy

    While September coverage for our blog mostly revolved around two major story lines, i.e. electronic vehicles battery tech and trade, today’s release of the long-awaited Defense Industrial Base Report will likely change this for October — for good reasons. As Peter Navarro, assistant to the president for trade and manufacturing policy, outlines today in a [...]
  • Infographic Visualizes the Electrification of Vehicle Fleet

    Followers of ARPN may have noticed that much of our recent blog coverage has focused on EV battery tech.  Here are a few examples: Vanadium’s Time to Shine? Race to Control Battery Tech Underscores Need for Comprehensive Resource Policy Lithium – Challenges and Opportunities Underscore Need for Domestic Resource Policy Overhaul Of course, there are [...]
  • Move Over, Lithium and Cobalt, Graphite and Graphene are About to Take Center Stage – Courtesy of the Ongoing Materials Science Revolution

    Earlier this week, we pointed to what we called the “new kid on the block” in battery tech – Vanadium.  It appears that what held true for music, is true in this industry as well – “new kids on the block” arrive in groups. Now, all puns aside – as Molly Lempriere writes for Mining-Technology.com, [...]
  • Vanadium’s Time to Shine?

    Steve LeVine, Future Editor at Axios and Senior Fellow at The Atlantic Council, has called it “one of the most confounding areas of research” and a “technology that, while invented more than two centuries ago, is still frustrating scientists.”   It is also one of the areas where one of the key growth industries – [...]
  • Race to Control Battery Tech Underscores Need for Comprehensive Resource Policy 

    Against the backdrop of the ongoing electric vehicle revolution, automakers are increasingly forced to deal with the realities of resource supply.  One of these realities was spelled out in clear terms by a Wall Street Journal report which stated: “There’s a Global Race to Control Batteries – and China is Winning.  Chinese companies dominate the [...]

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