American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Graphite: At the Core of Your Pencil, 21st Century Technology, and Geopolitical Resource Warfare

    It may be its most well-known use, but Graphite today is at the core of more than just your pencil – it is at the core of 21st Century consumer technology.  Just ask Elon Musk. The Tesla Motors CEO and futurist recently insinuated that the label “Lithium-Ion battery” may actually be a misnomer for the batteries that power our favorite gadgets and, increasingly, also electric vehicles:

    “Our cells should be called Nickel-Graphite, because primarily the cathode is nickel and the anode side is graphite with silicon oxide… [there’s] a little bit of lithium in there, but it’s like the salt on the salad.”

    The bottom line – Graphite is one of the most indispensable mineral resources.

    Graphite’s rise to stardom prompted Washington Post reporter Peter Whoriskey to write a feature story about the Graphite supply chain and the problems associated with Graphite mining.  According to Whoriskey, most of the Graphite contained in Lithium-Ion batteries used by Samsung, LG, GM, Toyota and other consumer companies can ultimately traced back to China, the world’s biggest Graphite producer. Writes Whoriskey:

    “The companies making those products promote the bright futuristic possibilities of the “clean” technology. But virtually all such batteries use graphite, and its cheap production in China, often under lax environmental controls, produces old-fashioned industrial pollution.”

    However, the fact that much of the world’s production of tech metals is concentrated in China has implications beyond the environment.  With much of China’s mining industry consolidated in state-owned industries, resource policy is increasingly becoming an instrument of geopolitical warfare.  As critical minerals expert David Abraham has pointed out elsewhere in the context of China’s ever-tightening grip on rare metals: 

     “If a goal of Beijing is to bolster its green companies by providing cheap, accessible materials to downstream manufacturing, owning a resource company provides a great way to do that. Could Beijing use its ownership stake to decide who can buy which resources and at what price? Yes.”

    From a U.S. perspective, in the case of natural Graphite, this is indeed worrisome, as the United States, according to USGS, currently is 100% import-dependent for its domestic manufacturing needs, with the last U.S. Graphite producer ceasing production in 1991.

    Once again, our deep Graphite dependency problem is largely home-grown.

    While domestic natural Graphite reserves are considered small by international comparison, there are natural Graphite deposits under development in the U.S.. New technologies to turn natural Graphite into high-grade spherical Graphite, which is used by Electric Vehicle (EV) battery technology, are also readily available.

    With stringent environmental standards in place and cleaner, new techniques that minimize the impact on the communities in which the deposit is developed at our disposal, harnessing our domestic Graphite resources would allow us significantly lessen our dependence on foreign supplies and also reduce China’s geopolitical leverage in the 21st Century resource wars.

  • Through the Gateway: “Fairy Dust” Supply Woes Loom

    As we continue our look Through the Gateway, comes a stern reminder by way of Canada that the geopolitics of resource supply represents a complex issue warranting comprehensive policy approaches.  

    And it literally concerns a metal that touches us — more precisely, we touch it — every day, too many times to count.

    decision to close metallurgical operations at the Kidd Creek Copper-Zinc-Silver deposit in Ontario, Canada, will effectively remove more than ten metric tons of Indium – a co-product metal the Gateway Metals to which include Zinc and Tin – from the global market.   As MetalBulletin points out, the mine is not closing per se, but concentrates from the mine will be taken to a different smelter without Indium processing capabilities, meaning the Indium is effectively going to be lost.

    While ten metric tons does not sound like much, this is significant, as we’re talking about Indium here, which is one of the rarer tech co-product metals. USGS pegs total global refinery production of Indium at 755 metric tons in 2015.  With the United States not producing any Indium – making us 100% import-dependent — and Canada – which is our biggest supplier of Indium – accounting for 66 metric tons, removing more than ten metric tons from the global market is a big deal just in terms of numbers.

    But why is this relevant? Aside from being a key component for the construction of CIGS (i.e. Copper, Indium, Gallium, Selenide solar panels) Indium happens to be the “fairy dust” that turns a regular computer, tablet or smart phone screen into a touch screen.   The majority of newer smart phone and tablet makers have turned to ITO (Indium Tin Oxide) to form the conductive layer, which is used to monitor changes in electrical state as you touch and swipe the screen.” AZoMaterials has a great write-up and quick video explaining the technology.

    Rumors that new IGZO (Indium, Gallium, Zinc Oxide) semiconductor technology has found its way into the displays of the just-released iPhone 7 (we discussed this a few weeks ago here  have not yet been confirmed, but the bottom line is that Indium is one of the tech metals that is growing in importance. 

    Last year, the United States consumed 124 metric tons of refined Indium. With Canada removing a significant percentage of Indium from the global market, the United States may now be forced to turn to China to meet demand even more than before – a daunting proposition. 

    Meanwhile, there is a serious disconnect with regards to resource policy.  Most policy makers – and candidates for political office for that matter – fail to connect the dots – everyone is in favor of strengthening our manufacturing base, but they fail to acknowledge that we need “stuff” to make “stuff.”  Maybe if their touchscreens stopped working all of a sudden they’d get the memo, and would focus on devising a comprehensive mineral resource strategy.  Word of a potential Indium shortage may cause our eyes to glaze over — but if we lose touch with our touch-screens, maybe then we’ll get a feel for the role co-product metals play in our 21st Century lives.

  • Through the Gateway: Germanium – Semiconductor of the Future?

    Our first Zinc co-product, Germanium, is a silvery metalloid.  According to USGS, “in nature, it never exists as the native metal in nature” and “is rarely found in commercial quantities in the few minerals in which it is an essential component.” That said, the “most commercially important germanium-bearing ore deposits are zinc or lead-zinc deposits formed at low temperature.” Discovered [...]
  • 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, [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • The “Electronification of Everything” Raises Specter of “War Over the Periodic Table”

    Via our friend and ARPN expert Simon Moores’ Twitter feed, we came across a three-part must-read series for Bloomberg View, in which author and policy expert David S. Abraham discusses the role of rare earths in today’s increasingly high-tech world.   Perhaps most interestingly, Abraham clarifies a common misconception in part two of the series: “Although [...]
  • The Geo-Politics of Rare Earths: China Reported to Add to Stockpile

    ARPN readers know that one of the core tenets of the Resource Wars thesis is that the market for strategic and critical metals is never immune to government interventions. Witness today’s Bloomberg report: “China Said to Add 10,000 Tons to Rare Earths Stockpiles.” Bloomberg reports: “China may stockpile more medium-to-heavy rare earths this year such [...]
  • China’s growing love affair with Platinum and its implications for U.S. policy

    “It happens to all commodities. At one time or another, China falls in love with you and barring a drought or striking miners somewhere, your price becomes dependent on Chinese mood swings” – that’s the conclusion drawn by Forbes contributor Kenneth Rapoza, who zeroes in on China’s growing love affair with Platinum. An extremely rare [...]
  • Greenland’s mining decisions likely to refuel race for Arctic riches

    In what may become a groundbreaking decision, Greenland’s parliament has voted to lift a long-standing ban on uranium mining, opening the door to Rare Earths exploration and development in the Artic territory. A-semi-autonomous part of Denmark, Greenland is hoping this decision and the expected industrial boom will bring it closer to achieving economic and ultimately [...]