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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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  • 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. [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Tellurium – A Rare Metal With Abundant Demand

    It may not have felt like it, but spring is here, and love is in the air (not just according to us, but also according to science). We’re here to help – and thought we’d share this gem of a pick-up line (available on T-shirts online): “You must be made of Copper and Tellurium, because you [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Copper – Far More Than Your “Old School” Industrial Metal

    We’re kicking off our online informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-products by taking a closer look at one of the most well-known industrial mainstay metals – Copper. Lately, “old school” Copper – long acknowledged as an indispensable building block of the industrial age — has been undergoing turbulent times on the global commodity [...]
  • If Orange Is the New Black, Then “Co-product” is the New “By-Product”

    As we set out to take an in-depth look “Through the Gateway” over the course of the next few months, we will be zeroing in on the five gateway metals we examined as part of our 2012 report – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc, as well as the tech metals they“unlock.” These materials have increasingly found [...]

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