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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 with our current focus – Scandium.  As we pointed out last week, the main producers for this co-product mineral, which is “ready to take off,” currently are China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, none of which is among our strongest trading partners.

    Russia is now stepping up its Scandium game. As reported by Platts, Russian Aluminum producer Rusal has just announced production of high purity (exceeding 99%) scandium oxide for the first time at its Urals smelter – an announcement following the launch of a pilot project for processing scandium concentrate into scandium oxide from red mud, a byproduct of alumina refining.  Target production — 96 kilograms per year; not quite 4 pounds per week — shows why Scandium is arguably the rarest of the rare earths.

    The announcement ties into the overall context of Scandium’s growing potential, particularly in the context of the aluminum-scandium alloys we discussed last week.

    Russian demand for Scandium has soared in recent years due to its use in various defense applications, including the 5th generation fighter, as well as its modernized version, and may well increase as Russia researches Scandium usage in combat equipment.

    Meanwhile, while some developers are studying the possibility of including co-product development of scandium into their portfolio, the U.S. at present does not produce any scandium, even though the Defense Logistic Agency in 2013 deemed the material “critical” from a national security perspective.

    This year’s U.S. Presidential campaign has sucked up a lot of oxygen — which is about the only element mentioned by the major candidates, despite the fact that any discussion of manufacturing, technology or economic competitiveness is rooted in raw material access.  Perhaps after November, our policy makers will be able to focus their attention on our growing mineral resource dependencies, and devising policies that help American manufacturers gain access to critical materials – the way to which (case in point Scandium) often leads “through the Gateway.”

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  • 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, however, lie in its usability in the creation of extremely strong heat-tolerant and corrosion resistant aluminum alloys.

    Does the name “Scalmalloy” ring a bell?

    ARPN followers will recall our discussion of the “Light Rider” – Airbus subsidiary APWorks’s 3D-printed light-weight motorcycle, for which the company used “Scalmalloy” – a Scandium-Aluminum alloy which features “almost the specific strength of titanium.”  With the rise of 3D printing and in light of Scandium’s formidable ability to form super-strength alloys with aluminum, there is a good chance that demand for Scandium will increase in the near future.

    And that’s the challenge:

    According to USGS, world resources are abundant in relation to demand.  Scandium is more abundant than lead, mercury and precious metals – but it is rarely concentrated in nature “because of its lack of affinity for the common ore-forming anion.”  As a result, commercially viable deposits of Scandium are in fact rare. Because of this low concentration, Scandium is exclusively produced as a co-product during the processing of various Gateway metals, including Tin.  Global production rates range from 10 tons to 15 tons per year – and these figures are on the high end of estimates, others peg primary annual production at only 400 kg per year. In total numbers, that is not much material to work with if new uses proliferate.

    Thus, not surprisingly, while according to USGS the United States currently does not produce any Scandium, developers of multi-metallic deposits are studying the inclusion of scandium recovery into their project plans. Australia and Japan are also looking into Scandium co-product development.  For now, however, the U.S. (in what is already a familiar challenge) has to rely on the main Scandium producers, which at this point in time include China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine – arguably not our strongest trading partners.

    With numerous applications, many of them associated with aluminum alloys, having been filed, Scandium is a metal to watch.  What is currently holding the metal back is the lack of a reliable supply.  Should that change, it may well take off. As John Kaiser of Kaiser research put it: “This obscure metal is going to go ballistic in the next few years.”  As friends of ARPN will appreciate, the question is whether U.S. scandium dependency will deepen — or whether U.S. policymakers will understand that resource development policy is key to American innovators’ access to another critical metal.

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  • 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 [...]
  • Resource-hungry China continues its global quest for minerals

    While the fate of even first steps towards implementing a strategic minerals policy in the U.S. remains questionable, China is expanding its mineral resource footprint virtually all over the globe. According to recent media reports, Chinese companies have made forays into Sri Lanka looking for copper, zinc and aluminium suppliers. While this search was unsuccessful, [...]
  • McGroarty on The Hill’s Congress Blog: “The U.S. Government has it in its power to act now to close our “copper gap.”

    While China has taken steps to position itself in a “resource war that will increasingly define economic growth and national security in the 21st century,” the United States has subjected itself to a dangerous degree of import dependency for critical minerals – that’s the bottom line of American Resources Principal Daniel McGroarty’s new piece for [...]
  • Too little, too late? The West’s response to China’s REE stranglehold

    In an effort to challenge China’s near-total supply monopoly and the geopolitical power play that came with it, countries around the world have taken steps to seek alternative sources of supply. With new production coming online in the U.S. and Australia in recent years, along with small-scale production in India, U.S. Geological Survey figures document [...]

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