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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    In the semiconducting sector, Germanium was superseded by Silicon as the material of choice, but, according to Purdue University researchers, that may soon change.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: Of Diaper Rash Cream, Fertilizer and Battery Technology – A Look at Zinc

    If you’re a parent of young children, you’ll probably appreciate Zinc for its medicinal properties – a good diaper rash cream or sunscreen for the little ones comes with a good dose of Zinc oxide.

    Otherwise, you may have come across this metal primarily as an anti-corrosion agent used to prevent metals like steel and iron from rusting, or as an alloying agent, for example in brass, bronze, nickel silver and aluminum solder.  Zinc oxides and sulfates are also used in vulcanized rubber, phosphorescent applications, as well as heat sinks in laptops and cell phones.

    New and interesting uses may increase demand going forward. One such area is agriculture, with China and India turning to Zinc as an addition to fertilizers to improve crop yields and to ultimately reduce mineral deficiencies in end-consumers.

    Another growth market lies in Zinc’s applications in battery technology, itself a growing segment in its own right.  Here, Zinc’s flexibility lends itself to application in wearable battery technology. Zinc batteries’ ability to quickly recharge constitutes another big selling point.

    Furthermore, as we continue our look “Through the Gateway” one should not forget Zinc’s Gateway Metal status – yielding access to metals and minerals as diverse and critical as Cadmium, Indium, Gallium and Germanium, the properties and supply and demand pictures of which we will explore over the next few weeks.

    Domestically, according to USGS, Zinc was mined in five states at 15 mines in 2015. However, we may be heading for trouble.   In spite of the fact that the United States is home to significant Zinc reserves, our degree of import dependence has risen from roughly 71% in 2012 to 82% in 2015. While our main supplier nations are Canada, Mexico and Peru, recent developments in China, which accounts for roughly 40% of global Zinc production, may affect the supply scenario going forward. As Bloomberg reported recently, Chinese smelters are having trouble securing sufficient raw materials and may have to cut production, and analysts see structural deficits looming.

    Zinc’s growing importance due to new applications and its Gateway Metal status is only another reason why policy makers would be well advised to look at our domestic manufacturing base’s mineral resource supply needs (and the needs of parents trying to prevent diaper rashes and sunburns) comprehensively, and strategically — because more often than not, turning to the vast mineral riches beneath our own soil could help prevent supply shortages and ultimately fuel the renaissance of American manufacturing.

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  • Through the Gateway: Tin, Co-Products and Shifting Paradigms

    While not as flashy as some other metals, Tin’s versatility will continue to drive demand.  We are familiar with its use in food preservation.  Meanwhile, ITRI, the tin industry’s UK-based trade association, highlights the “storage, generation and conservation of energy as key drivers for new applications for the metal over the next 3 to 30 years.” Coupled with its [...]
  • 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: Indium – Taking Virtual Reality Mainstream?

    Here we [Pokémon] go again.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, and we find another reason to talk about an augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm. But there’s a good reason: Pokémon Go may be giving us a glimpse into our future, or more precisely, the future of smartphone technology.  [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Molybdenum – “The Most Important Element You Have Never Heard Of?”

    A writer for Gizmodo has dubbed it the “most important element you have never heard of.”  Writes Esther Inglis-Arkell: “Molybdenum, with its 42 protons and 54 neutrons, sits right in the middle of the periodic table being completely ignored. It’s not useless. (…) It just doesn’t have that indefinable sexiness about it.” Inglis-Arkell explains Molybdenum’s biochemical relevance: Taken [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Rhenium – Rare and Sexy?

    It has helped make airline travel affordable. It helps keep us safe. And it may just be sexier than Salma Hayek – at least in the eyes of one observer.  We’re talking about Rhenium, yet another metal brought to us largely courtesy of Copper refinement.  A silvery white, metallic element, Rhenium, according to USGS, has “an extremely high [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Selenium – More Than Just a Dietary Supplement

    Chances are, you’ve heard of Selenium.  As a trace element, it is an essential mineral found in small amounts in the body, with antioxidant properties. It is also a much-used suite of tools to automate web browsers across many platforms — which is why weeding out our news alerts for stories relevant to ARPN followers can be time-consuming. [...]

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