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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 in 1886, it was initially considered a “weakly conducting metal without much use”, but Germanium has been an important factor in semiconductor technology since the development of the world’s first transistor in 1947 – the purified Germanium semiconductor.   Today, its main uses worldwide, according to USGS, are estimated to be fiber optics, infrared optics, polymerization catalysts, electronics and solar applications.   There has been some fluctuation in domestic consumption – consumption for fiber optics for space-based uses increased while infrared optics use declined — but that decline was partially offset by growth in commercial and personal markets.

    In the semiconducting sector, Germanium was superseded by Silicon as the material of choice, but, according to Purdue University researchers, that may soon change. Silicon’s properties limit the ability to make smaller transistors and more compact integrated circuits, making Germanium all the more attractive for future advances in this field.

    While there is some domestic Germanium production, most of it comes from “either the processing of imported Germanium compounds or the recycling of domestic industry-generated scrap,” while Germanium recovered from zinc concentrates at two domestic mines is exported for processing. All told, the U.S. is 85% import dependent for its domestic Germanium needs.

    Meanwhile, it might be worth taking a look at the British Geological Society’s latest Risk List – an assessment of “current supply risk for elements or element groups which are of economic value” – which assigns Germanium the fourth highest risk score on its “relative supply risk index.”  The main factor here is one that ARPN followers will find familiar: nine of the top ten metals in BGS’s risk list count China as the world’s primary producer.

    Christopher Ecclestone, discussing the issue for InvestorIntel, raises a good point:

    “The Chinese don’t dominate Gallium, Germanium and Antimony because they are the only country that has these metals. It is only because of a conscious policy on the part of the Chinese government and an unconscious acquiescence on the part of West that has allowed this situation to evolve. A goal for 2020 (dare we call it a Five Year Plan) should be to break the Chinese dominance in the top ten metals on this BGS list.” 

    Once again, the path to co-product access leads “Through the Gateway” – in this case, most often Zinc. And in spite of having significant known resources of Zinc, the U.S. is 82% import-dependent on this gateway metal.

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  • 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, [...]
  • 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 [...]

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