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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 has recently been afforded “Critical Mineral” status on the U.S. Department of Interior’s list of 35 minerals deemed “critical” to U.S. national security.

    Meanwhile, U.S. import reliance for Cobalt is pegged at 72 percent, with recycling providing most of the balance.  As rising demand and supply complications have combined in recent years, battery makers have begun exploring technologies that require less of the material, but, as Alaska journalist Shane Lasley recently pointed out:

    “Researchers and analysts do not see a scenario where the reduction of cobalt per battery can come close to offsetting the growing number of batteries that will be needed in the coming three decades.”

    The dynamics are quickly changing. Writes the BBC:

    “In the past, cobalt supply depended on the markets for copper and nickel, more valuable metals that are typically extracted alongside cobalt.

    But with cobalt prices on the up and consumption projected to rise by between 8% to 10% a year, its status as a by-product has started to change, says George Heppel, senior analyst at research firm CRU Group in London.”

    Thus, not surprisingly, while most of the world’s Cobalt is found is found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a challenge in its own right – there are now about 300 companies worldwide on the hunt for cobalt deposits, writes the BBC.

    In the U.S., companies are staking claims in various states, including Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

    The BBC cites Benchmark Mineral Intelligence analyst Caspar Rawls, who thinks that while U.S. companies only represent a small fraction of the Cobalt market, “they may find they are able to command a premium price for their materials,” and says:

    “Every company in the supply chain is looking to reduce their geopolitical risk, so I think any project outside of the DRC is in a strong position in that sense.” 

    Whether U.S. policymakers understand the gravity of the situation, however, is an open question.

    As we reported last week, Congress has just missed a great opportunity for meaningful policy reform that could have helped the U.S. do just that — “reduce their geopolitical risk” — when conferees for the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) failed to retain key critical minerals provisions in the final conference report.  And in the one clause in the defense bill that does touch on metals and minerals – a section entitled “Prohibition on acquisition of sensitive materials from non-allied foreign nations” – while cobalt appears as a “sensitive material” (in the form of samarium-cobalt permanent magnets), the list of non-allied foreign nations from which the U.S. is not allowed to acquire the materials does not include DRC Congo.

    It’s hard not to conclude that this patchwork approach is no substitute for a coherent, comprehensive policy.

    Meanwhile, the headline from a Wall Street Journal report from earlier this year says it all:  “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.

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  • “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 obscure metal you rarely heard about, this co-product of Nickel and Copper has recently been afforded “critical mineral status” – primarily because of its application in Lithium-ion battery technology. Meanwhile, U.S. import reliance for Cobalt is pegged at 72 percent, with recycling providing most of the balance.  This may change soon. Writes Lasley:

    “With at least one advanced stage exploration project in Alaska looking into the potential of producing cobalt alongside its copper, America’s 49th State could provide a domestic source for this critical metal.”

    In light of recent price surges for Cobalt, battery makers, among them Tesla, are looking to develop technologies that require less of the material. However, as Lasley points out:

    “Researchers and analysts do not see a scenario where the reduction of cobalt per battery can come close to offsetting the growing number of batteries that will be needed in the coming three decades.”

    Simon Moores, managing director at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and member of the ARPN panel of experts agrees, and in a recent tweet challenged Elon Musk to clarify what he meant when tweeting out his assumption that Tesla would reduce cobalt use to zero in their batteries in “next gen.” Moores believes it is “highly unlikely Tesla will be able to eliminate Cobalt from its supply chain entirely” and pegs the probability of such a scenario at one percent.

    With demand on the rise, complex supply chain complications have companies turn to the United States as a potential source of supply.

    As Lasley explains:

    “One of the difficulties is cobalt is seldom mined as a standalone metal. Instead, this increasingly needed battery metal is typically produced as a byproduct at copper and nickel mines. This means that any future cobalt mines would likely need to consider the economics of the moneymaking metal in the deposit.

    “This situation limits producers’ flexibility in adjusting the amount of cobalt mined in response to changes in demand and can result in periods of oversupply or shortage,” according to the USGS.

    While at lower prices, the cost to recover cobalt from copper or nickel mines may not have been economically viable, the demand electric vehicles are putting on this metal has companies taking a closer look at the feasibility of recovering cobalt exploring and developing copper deposits in the United States.”

    Further complicating the situation is Cobalt’s conflict mineral status, which has led to pressures on automakers to source the material outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from which a majority of Cobalt is currently sourced.  This, as Lasley points out, “could add to the catalysts to establish domestic sources of this critical metal.”

    To read the full piece, in which Lasley provides more detail on the feasible Cobalt development projects in Alaska, click here.

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  • 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 [...]
  • Moores’ Law: The Rise of Lithium Ion Battery Megafactories and What it Means for Critical Mineral Resource Supply

    Earlier this month, Simon Moores, Managing Director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and member of the ARPN panel of experts testified before the full U.S. Senate Energy Committee on opportunities and risks in the energy storage supply chain.   We’re titling his observations as Moores’ Law — which is his for the taking, given the placement [...]
  • Senate Energy Committee Zeroes in on Energy Storage Revolution – Where Will the Battery Megafactories Get the Minerals and Metals They Need?

    Just last week, we highlighted the surge in EV technology and its implications for mineral resource supply and demand.  A timely subject – as evidenced by the fact that the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy held a “Full Committee Hearing “to Examine Energy Storage Technologies” this week. Simon Moores, Managing Director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence [...]

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