American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Race to Control Battery Tech Underscores Need for Comprehensive Resource Policy 

    Against the backdrop of the ongoing electric vehicle revolution, automakers are increasingly forced to deal with the realities of resource supply.  One of these realities was spelled out in clear terms by a Wall Street Journal report which stated:

    “There’s a Global Race to Control Batteries – and China is Winning.  Chinese companies dominate the cobalt supply chain that begins at mines in Congo.”

    Meanwhile, amidst growing demand for what is one of the key materials underpinning EV technology, the price for Cobalt has almost doubled over the past two years. Realizing the increasingly risk of a “bottleneck in the supply of materials used in the standard power source of the world’s growing fleet of electric vehicles,” automakers are stepping up their efforts to “not only boost the amount of energy batteries can hold using the same amount of raw materials, but also to switch to more abundant metals,” writes Henry Sanderson in a new piece for the Financial Times.

    Sanderson — who had previously outlined some of the R&D efforts currently underway ranging from work on all-solid-state batteries to more conventional efforts including the shift towards batteries that use more Nickel and up to 75 percent less Cobalt — cites consultancy group Wood Mackenzie, which estimates that low-cobalt batteries “will make up the majority of the electric car market by 2025.”

    However, even with a shift to low-Cobalt batteries factored into the equation, demand for Cobalt is still expected to more than double, as zero-Cobalt solid state battery tech is not considered feasible.

    Meanwhile, the current efforts to diversify away from the metal may increase demand for another material – Vanadium. While generally more abundant that Cobalt, new challenges loom large here, too.  As we previously pointed out:

    “It’s a story with a familiar theme for ARPN followers — the co-product challenge:

    According to USGS, Vanadium is at least as plentiful as Nickel and Zinc – at least in terms of its availability in the earth’s crust. However, it rarely occurs in deposits that can be economically mined for the element alone. Between 2009 and 2013, some co-product vanadium production occurred domestically (though not from Bauxite mining for Aluminum), but it has since been suspended. 

    As a result, the United States is currently 100% import dependent for its domestic Vanadium needs – in spite of the fact that ‘domestic resources and secondary recovery are adequate to supply a large portion of domestic needs.’”

    With all the investments poured into research and development, the materials science revolution may well yield the next breakthrough at some point.  However, regardless of which technology will win the day – the race for pole position in the EV technology sector only underscores the need for a comprehensive policy framework that accounts for the ever-changing realities of mineral resource supply and demand over the patchwork approach we have so far witnessed.

  • Cobalt’s Star Rising Even Further in Light of Breakthrough New Applications?

    Cobalt is a rising star among critical minerals, in large part because of its key role in battery technology.  However, that’s hardly the only reason. The ongoing materials science revolution has produced a new long-term use for Cobalt that may prove to be a technological breakthrough:

    A California-based company has announced that it has found a way to accelerate chip performance using Cobalt instead of more traditional materials used as conducting materials in transistor contacts and interconnects such as Tungsten and Copper.

    Says Dr. Prabu Raja, senior Vice President of Applied Science’s Semiconductor Products Group:

    “Five years ago, Applied anticipated an inflection in the transistor contact and interconnect, and we began developing an alternative materials solution that could take us beyond the 10nm node. (…) Applied brought together its experts in chemistry, physics, engineering and data science to explore the broad portfolio of Applied’s technologies and create a breakthrough Integrated Materials Solution for the industry. As we enter the big data and AI era, there will be more of these inflections, and we are excited to be having earlier and deeper collaborations with our customers to accelerate their roadmaps and enable devices we never dreamed possible.”

    One benefit of using Cobalt over the traditionally used materials is that these were “no longer scalable beyond the 10nm foundry node because their electrical performance has reached physical limits for transistor contacts and local interconnects.” The use of Cobalt removes a bottleneck that prevented the achievement of “full performance potential of FinFET transistors.” 

    According to the company, Cobalt may be “challenging to integrate,” but yields “lower resistance and variability at small dimensions, improved gapfill at very fine dimensions; and improved reliability.”

    The ongoing revolution in materials science – which we have previously characterized as “a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies” — represents a paradigm shift for traditional supply and demand scenarios for the raw materials that fuel it.

    This specific new application will not change the supply and demand scenario for Cobalt overnight, but it is another reminder that the continued advance of technology underscores the need for comprehensive policy reform rather than a patchwork of piecemeal approaches.

  • The U.S. Hunt for Cobalt – a Rising Star Among Critical Minerals – Is On

    “Gold once lured prospectors to the American west – but now it’s cobalt that is sparking a rush,” writes the BBC in a recent feature story about Cobalt, which, as ARPN followers will know, is a “key component in the lithium-ion batteries that power electronic devices and electric cars.”  Once a somewhat obscure metal, Cobalt [...]
  • “Critical Minerals Alaska” – Rising Demand and Supply Side Complications Combine as Catalysts to Establish Domestic Sources of Cobalt

    In his latest installment of “Critical Minerals Alaska” – a feature series for North of 60 Mining News that “investigates Alaska’s potential as a domestic source of minerals deemed critical to the United States,” Shane Lasley takes a closer look at Cobalt, one of the key metals underpinning the current EV technology revolution. Once an [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress: CMI Expands Collaborative Research Focus to Include Lithium and Cobalt

    The Critical Materials Institute (CMI), a Department of Energy research hub under the auspices of Ames Laboratory, is expanding its research on tech metals “as rapid growth in electric vehicles drives demand for lithium, cobalt.” According to a recent Ames Lab press release, the Institute will focus on maximizing the efficiency of processing, usage and [...]
  • Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s World Tour Returns to U.S. this May

    Our friends from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence – formidable experts when it comes to battery tech and the mineral resources driving it – are returning to the U.S. in May for another round of their World Tour. This year’s tour will “focus on the supply chains for the next generation of battery technologies,” and seek to [...]
  • Sweden Tosses Hat Into Ring In Race For Materials Underpinning EV Revolution

    As the race for the metals and minerals driving the electric vehicle revolution heats up, and China continues to jockey for pole position, Sweden is tossing its hat into the ring.  According to recent media reports, the Swedish government has earmarked 10 million kronor ( roughly one million Euros) to explore the option of digging [...]
  • 2018 – A Tipping Point For U.S. Resource Policy and Related Industries?

    The following is a guest post by ARPN expert panel member Chris Berry, Founder, House Mountain Partners. His expertise focuses on, but is not limited to, energy metals including Lithium, Cobalt, Graphite, Vanadium and Rare Earths. The Executive Order recently signed by President Trump to prioritize domestic natural resource development couldn’t have come at a [...]
  • Automakers Pledge to Uphold Ethical and Socially Responsible Standards in Materials Sourcing. Where Will the Metals and Minerals Come From?

    Late last month, international automakers made headlines when pledging “to uphold ethical and socially responsible standards in their purchases of minerals for an expected boom in electric vehicle production.” As Reuters reported, a group of 10 car manufacturers have formed an initiative to “jointly identify and address ethical, environmental, human and labor rights issues in [...]
  • Nickel – The “Metal That Brought You Cheap Flights” Now “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution”

    Another week, another great infographic by Visual Capitalist – this time on the “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution” – Nickel. Long an important base metal because of its alloying capabilities, Nickel’s status as a Gateway Metal, yielding access to tech minerals like Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium – all of which are increasingly becoming [...]