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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Through the Gateway: A Scholarly Look

    Over the course of the past few months, we have featured two classes of metals and minerals, which we believe deserve more attention than they are currently being awarded.  Expanding on the findings of our 2012 “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we focused on a group of five “Gateway” metals which “unlock” a series of “Co-Products” – tech metals increasingly indispensable to innovation and development.

    In spite of the fact that the five Gateway Metals Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc and their Co-Products are growing in significance, stakeholders in academia, policy making and industry have been slow to take note of the correlation between them.  One notable exception is a study by N.T. Nassar, T.E. Graedel, and E.M. Harper, published in Science Advances in April of 2015.

    The authors of By-product metals are technologically essential but have problematic supply cast their net a bit wider using a somewhat more scholarly approach and different terminology to describe “Gateway Metals” and “Co-Products” – they refer to them as “Host Metals” and “By-Product” or “Companion Metals.”  Nomenclature aside, their findings and conclusions are similar to the ones we have drawn.

    Of particular interest is their depiction of the periodic table of elements showing “companionality” based on data for 62 metals and metalloids.  Their conclusion: “61%, or 38 of the 62 metals evaluated, have the majority (that is, >50%) of their global production obtained as a companion.” 

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    The bottom line, according to Nassar, Graedel and Harper, should sound familiar to American Resources followers: 

    “It is undeniable that the widespread use of companion metals has resulted in markedly improved performance in many product sectors. Sustaining those uses may become a challenge going forward because of the dependence of companion metal supplies on the production of host metals. (…)

    As it now stands, much of modern technology depends on metals whose supplies are uncertain and whose market transactions are largely opaque; in concert, this produces a supply situation that may prove difficult to sustain.”

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  • Through the Gateway: Rhodium – Not Just Another Platinum Group Metal

    A rare, silvery white, hard and corrosion-resistant metal, Rhodium is not only one of Palladium’s fellow members of the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs); it, too, happens to be a Nickel co-product.  And, as is the case with Palladium, one of Rhodium’s main uses is in catalytic converters to reduce automobile emissions, as well as in industrial catalysts.

    Alloyed with Platinum and Palladium, in the process of which it serves as a hardening agent, Rhodium is also used in furnace windings, and thermo-coupling elements, to name but a few industrial applications. The exceptional hardness of plated Rhodium, which is derived by electroplating or evaporation, further lends itself to the metal’s application in optical instruments.

    USGS does not track production numbers or net import reliance statistics for Rhodium as a stand-alone metal; however, considering that there is currently only one domestic mining company producing PGMs — and that U.S. import dependence on the two PGMs USGS does track is 90% for Platinum and 58% for Palladium — plus the fact that we import roughly 11,000 kg of Rhodium per year, our import dependence to meet domestic needs is in all likelihood not insignificant.

    As is the case with Palladium, new applications for the metal may become game-changers going forward and may drive up demand. One such recent discovery is the unveiling of a chemical process“using the sun’s thermal energy to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into high-energy fuels.”  In what may turn out to be a big step towards the chemical storage of solar energy, researchers at the Switzerland-based Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the ETH Zurich have developed a procedure to do so using a new material combination of Cerium Oxide and Rhodium.  While this potential application is quite interesting, friends of ARPN will note that a compound comprised of two elements for which the U.S. is significantly import-dependent illustrates once again the constraints on the United States’ ability to capitalize on advanced materials development.

    What we have argued elsewhere, applies for Rhodium, too – the revolution in materials science represents a paradigm shift for traditional supply and demand scenarios for the raw materials that fuel it.  It’s time for a new comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy that embraces these changes -  especially as we move into a potential period of uncertainty on the trade front.

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  • A Look at Gateway Metal Import Dependence: Copper – 25 Years of Rising Dependence

    If our trip Through the Gateway holds one lesson so far, it’s that old patterns and paradigms are out the window.  Advances in technology and materials sciences have changed the applications for many mainstay metals and are fueling demand.   As we have outlined, the same applies for numerous rare tech metals, which are primarily sourced [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Vanadium – Next-Gen Uses Drive Co-Product Challenge

    As we continue our look “Through the Gateway,” one thing has become abundantly clear already:  Beyond their traditional uses, both Gateway Metals and their Co-Products have become building blocks of our renewable energy future.  This held true for Copper and its Co-Products, but it is also equally true for Aluminum and its Co-Products. While Gallium’s [...]
  • Independence Day – A Time To Celebrate Our Freedom, Yet Be Mindful of Growing Dependencies

    It’s that time of the year again. We’re filling our shopping carts with food and drinks, making sure we have enough gas for the grill, and buying some fireworks. The 4th of July, and with that, Independence Day, has arrived. But our country’s 240th birthday is more than a good reason to throw a barbecue in honor [...]
  • Through The Gateway – We Have the Reserves, So Why Aren’t We A Copper Net Exporter?

    Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken you on a journey “Through the Gateway.” We have looked at some of the key properties and supply and demand picture for Copper, as well as Copper’s co-products Tellurium, Selenium, Rhenium and Molybdenum.* It has become abundantly clear that Copper is a critical mineral, not just as a stand-alone traditional mainstay metal, but also as a gateway to the (mostly) rare tech metals it [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Gateway Metals and the Metals they Unlock Underpin Modern Technology

    Are you reading this post on a smart phone, a laptop or tablet?  Will you scroll down using your finger to swipe the screen?  Safe to say you don’t give much thought to how these functions work — even though they’re often less than a decade old.  That’s the wonder of technology — or rather, [...]

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