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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Scandium – Ready to “Take Off”?

    Remember the Light Rider?  A few months ago, we highlighted this high-tech motorcycle, which, because it is held together by an intricate web of “Scalmalloy,” is perhaps the lightest motorcycle in the world. Scalmalloy is an “aluminum alloy powder ‘with almost the specific strength of titanium’ [used] to build incredible structures by fusing thin layers of the material together.” One of its key components is Scandium – which explains the first syllable of its somewhat curious name, Aluminum being the middle-portion, with the “M” standing for Magnesium.

    It is new applications like these that are making Scandium an increasingly indispensable tech metal, particularly in the context of the lightweighting revolution – a development marked by the “growing imperative to lightweight transportation, buildings, and infrastructure systems.” 

    Scandium gives superplasticity to Aluminum alloys, making them more resistant to strain and bending forces, increasing the alloy’s welding capability, and allowing for the usage of replacing heavier metals with lighter-weight materials like Aluminum.  Aircraft manufacturers have long been interested in Scandium and Scandium-alloyed Aluminum materials because use of Aluminium-Scandium alloys has helped reduce aircraft weights by 15% to 20%, without compromising the strength of the building material.

    It’s a lesson learned long ago by the Soviet Union – whose MIG fighter series was — and in the Russian era, still is – dependent on Scandium, which the Soviets had and the West lacked.  So the geopolitics of Scandium supply is an old story, setting up for a new chapter in our tech-driven 21st Century.  (Add in the need for a reliable refined Aluminum supply, including smelting, which these days depends heavily on Canadian facilities, and it’s clear our supply chain dependencies are interlaced – but that’s a post for another day.)

    In the form of Scalmalloy, with its potential to ultimately help reduce emissions, industry insiders believe the lightweighting revolution will quickly expand from the transportation sector to infrastructure projects.  For Scandium, some expect demand to soar as high as by 800% over the next decade.

    However, there are challenges. A recent post on Investor Intel explains:

    “The problem the aircraft manufacturers face in adoption of Scandium alloys en masse is not one of price or desirability[-] it is of supply. With no primary mines and no sizeable supply[,] there could at some point be an absolute absence of Scandium supply for either competition reasons or geopolitical considerations.”

    Indeed, as we have previously pointed out:

    While on paper, Scandium resources may in fact be abundant, it is rarely concentrated in nature, making commercially viable deposits extremely rare. Because it is at present largely recovered as a co-product during the processing of various Gateway Metals, including Tin and Nickel, total global production rates are quite low (see our previous post).  Scandium may also be present in certain Copper and Rare Earth deposits.”

    In order to meet this anticipated jump in demand, several mining companies – most recently in Russia and Australia – have begun exploring the possibility of primary Scandium recovery.  In the U.S., which is currently 100% import dependent to meet our domestic Scandium needs and has to rely on China and Russia, developers of multi-metallic deposits are also studying the inclusion of scandium recovery into their project plans.

    The potential for Scandium to “take off” is clearly there. However, for this to happen, Investor Intel’s Christopher Ecclestone cautions that supply has to be secured first:

    “It is clear that the industry wants to apply the benefits that Scandium brings but it is not going to go out on the limb and hope that the adage ‘Build it and they will supply us’ proves to be true. As we all know that train is heading down the track fullspeed towards Tesla that has foolishly failed to secure its supply of Cobalt and Lithium for the future. The likes of Boeing and Airbus are not so naïve.

    Thus when a significant supply of Scandium is guaranteed then the synergies between aeronautics and Scandium mining will come into play and the uptake of product will be potentially enormous.”

     Change cannot happen overnight – particularly in a regulatory environment that does not favor resource development.  From a U.S. perspective, much will depend on whether domestic stakeholders are able to improve our policy framework to unleash our own resource potential.

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  • 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 the key buzzwords, particularly if you’re looking for an issue that transcends party lines these days is “infrastructure” – an area where broad consensus on the need for significant overhaul exists.  What is often overlooked, however, is that our infrastructure today comprises of far more than just bridges, roads, and tunnels.  As our very own Daniel McGroarty outlines in a brand new piece for Investor’s Business Daily,

    “[t]oday, our infrastructure extends to the national power grid — currently a patchwork of lines, nodes and often antique switching towers we rely on to move energy to where we need it — to the internet itself, which has a physicality we easily overlook in this Age of the Cloud and Wireless. These systems, marvels that they are, come closer to tin-can-and-string contraptions than the modern version we would build if we began the work today. 

    Threats against our infrastructure are as diverse as they are real, and dealing with them will require a comprehensive approach.  Securing access to Copper, Graphite, Cobalt, Manganese, and Rhenium may not be the first things that come to mind when we think critical infrastructure protection – but they, and many other tech metals and minerals, have to be on our shopping list if we’re serious about a 21st Century infrastructure that is competitive and can withstand threats from the outside and within.

    As followers of ARPN are aware, we are subject to a significant degree of import-dependence for the above referenced materials, as well as for many others.  With there being more to infrastructure than “cement trucks and Jersey Barriers”, it’s time for an approach conducive to unleashing our arguably vast domestic mineral potential.

    Explains McGroarty:

    “It means getting over the pernicious mindset that 2017 America lives in a postindustrial age, a time when Americans are all ‘symbolic analysts,’ tapping away at keyboards, creating wealth from ones-and-zeros, live-blogging streaming video and the like, no longer dependent of transforming real raw materials into things. That messy business has been off-shored to other places, happy to sell us what we need.” 

    This leaves us at the mercy of the rest of the world — and needlessly so. Concludes McGroarty:

    “Word is that the new infrastructure bill will exceed $1 trillion. Shoring up our infrastructure — broadly understood — is essential, and not just for jobs and GDP, but for the stuff modern dreams are made of — everything from the gadgets we use to occupy our time to the high-performance materials that power the weapons platforms that keep us safe.

    If we approach the Great Infrastructure Debate in this spirit, we could do even more than rebuild our roads, bridges and tunnels. We could build the foundation for a new American Century.”

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  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Scandium Embodies Materials Science Revolution

    As we near the conclusion of our journey “Through the Gateway,” we noticed that one metal has kept popping up in our coverage – Scandium. A co-product of Tin, we also discussed it in the context of the alloying properties of Gateway Metal Aluminum. It is also a co-product of Nickel. There is good reason it keeps popping up. For [...]
  • Through The Gateway: A Look at Gateway Metals, Co-Products and the Foundations of American Technology

    The following is an overview of our “Through the Gateway” informational campaign, in which we outline the importance of Gateway Metals and their Co-Products. Here, we expand on the findings of our “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we focused on a group of five “Gateway Metals,” which are not only critical to manufacturing and [...]
  • Through the Gateway: The Geopolitics of Co-Product Supply – a Look at Scandium

    Throughout ARPN’s work, we have consistently highlighted the geopolitical dimension of mineral resource policy.  Where we source (or fail to source) our metals and minerals is an often forgotten – or ignored – factor, with implications for our domestic manufacturers, and, at times, even for our national security. Case in point – and in keeping [...]
  • Through the Gateway – Scandium: A Co-Product Metal Ready To Take Off

    We have already established that Indium is becoming a hot tech commodity. Its fellow Tin co-product Scandium is another metal with huge potential in high-tech applications. Its electrical and heat resistant properties lend itself to the application in solid oxide fuel cells, and its optical properties can be used for high-intensity lamps.  The biggest opportunities for Scandium, [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Vanadium – Next-Gen Uses Drive Co-Product Challenge

    As we continue our look “Through the Gateway,” one thing has become abundantly clear already:  Beyond their traditional uses, both Gateway Metals and their Co-Products have become building blocks of our renewable energy future.  This held true for Copper and its Co-Products, but it is also equally true for Aluminum and its Co-Products. While Gallium’s [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Of Pokémon and Co-Products – A Look at Gallium

    All over the world, people are wandering through the streets staring at their smartphones. Whether you’re part of the PokémonGo phenomenon that has taken the world by storm, or whether you can only shake your head, you don’t only have Nintendo to thank for.    One of the Co-Product Metals we’re focusing on this week as part of [...]

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