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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Rhenium: “Alien Technology” Underscores Importance of Gateway Metals and Co-Products

    At ARPN, we have consistently highlighted the importance of Gateway Metals, which are materials that are not only critical to manufacturing and national security in their own right, but also “unlock” tech metals increasingly important to innovation and technological development. With advancements in materials science, these co-products, many of which have unique properties lending themselves to new applications, are quickly becoming building blocks of 21st Century technologies.

    Rhenium – a Copper co-product – is a case in point; which is why the BBC has made it the subject of a short yet informative clip as part of its “Secrets of the Super Elements” series. Likening Rhenium’s stand-out properties to “alien technology,” the clip provides a great visual explanation of Rhenium’s heat resistance, which has made it an indispensable component for superalloys used in turbine blades for jet aircraft engines.

    Watch the clip here:

    In other words – which the BBC notes elsewhere:

    “[t]he ability of superalloys to operate at such extreme temperatures is what makes your holiday to the Algarve or Florida affordable.”

    Meanwhile, primarily derived as a co-Product of Copper mining, Rhenium is extremely rare, with an average abundance of less than one part per billion in the continental crust.

    USGS pegs global Rhenium production at a total of merely 47 metric tons, with more than 80 percent of that amount going into superalloys.

    To address supply concerns, users are turning to recycling and substitution, however neither represents a panacea, as a piece in the Economist outlined several years ago:

    “General Electric, one of the world’s biggest makers of jet engines, has spent years developing nickel-based superalloys to replace rhenium. But the best GE’s boffins could manage was to reduce the amount of metal required, not eliminate it altogether. Moreover, few manufacturers possess the resources to achieve even such limited progress.”

    What does that mean for domestic use and production? According to revised USGS numbers, U.S. import reliance for Rhenium is at 81 percent. As we previously pointed out:

    “Because the recovery process is complicated and requires special facilities, we are unlikely to fully meet our demand with domestic resources. However, a strong demand for Rhenium is likely here to stay. That, coupled with the fact that we have proven Rhenium reserves in the U.S. (the development of one of which has been projected to generate more than 20 tons of Rhenium per year as a Copper Co-Product, thus significantly reducing our reliance on foreign imports), should suffice to get policy makers’ attention (…).”

    The bottom line: We need to rethink the way we look at some of our old-school mainstay metals, and give the ones that serve as gateway metals – in Rhenium’s case Copper – more thorough consideration. After all, they hold the key to unlocking those “alien technology” “super elements” that keep us safe, afford us everyday convenience, and keep us competitive from an economic perspective.

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  • 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 [...]
  • 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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