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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • China’s REE Stranglehold Comes Back Into Focus

    If the first few weeks with a new administration at the helm in Washington, DC are any indication, we will see more efforts to make sweeping changes in federal policy in the coming weeks.  One area where President Donald Trump promised changes on the campaign trail is trade – and specifically relations with China.

    In a new piece for Fox News, Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News, John Moody zeroes in on trade relations with China, and raises the specter of the President and his administration becoming the victim of exactly the job-exporting policies he railed against and face the very real possibility that China could cut off U.S. access to 17 rare materials vital to our advanced aircraft and guided missile systems.”

    Followers of ARPN will know that the 17 rare materials in question are the so-called “Rare Earths,” (REEs), which are essential components of 21st Century technology, with applications ranging from personal gadgets to clean energy technology, and national defense, to name but a few.   Says Moody:

    “For precisely the reasons Candidate Trump cited for the decline of American manufacturing and the loss of U.S. jobs, China is now in a position to cut off our supply of processed rare earth elements if it feels Trump is pushing too hard on trade and economic issues—or anything else.”

    Defense and resource analyst Jeff Green, who is also a member of the American Resources panel of experts, confirms China’s “Trump card,” to which the piece’s title cleverly alludes:

    “Absolutely, China could cut off the supply. (…) Processing rare earths is the end of the hose. China controls the spigot the hose is attached to.”

    China being the main global producer of REEs, has long held a near-total supply monopoly for REEs, which it has not shied away from exploiting for political gain. For a few short years, a North American mining company sourced REEs domestically, thereby reducing our import reliance for REEs (with the lowest degree of net import reliance pegged at 63% in 2013).  For a number of reasons, however, the company went bankrupt in 2015, bringing our import reliance back up to 100%, with the bulk of our domestic supply still coming from China.

    While there is – at least in the short term – no silver bullet to this predicament, the case of REE dependence goes to show that resource policy does not occur in a vacuum, and is intrinsically intertwined with trade, economics and other policy areas. It also underscores the need to finally devise policies that help reduce our mineral resource dependencies by creating a framework allowing for the responsible development of our nation’s vast mineral and metal riches.

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  • 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.

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  • 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. A decision to [...]
  • 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 [...]

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