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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 TelluriumSeleniumRhenium 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 unlocks.

    In spite of the fact that, as we’ve pointed out, the United States is home to vast mineral riches, including Copper, we are still relying on foreign imports to meet our domestic industries’ Copper demand.  With our own reserves and at mining projects ready to come online, the U.S. would not only be able to become self-sufficient with regards to meeting Copper needs, but could even position itself to be a Copper net exporter.  A similar scenario is feasible for a number of other critical metals and minerals, where we could, at a minimum, significantly reduce foreign import dependencies by harnessing our domestic mineral potential.

    Standing in the way of such a development, however, is a combination of decreased exploration spending and an increase in the time it takes for domestic mineral resource extraction projects to come online courtesy of a rigid and outdated permitting process.

    At present, it takes roughly seven to ten years to get a mining project permitted in the United States.   Without compromising environmental standards, that very process is wrapped up in one to two years in Australia, and three to five years in Canada.

    With that said, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

    In a rare show of bipartisanship, the United States Senate has passed legislation that may represent a first step at addressing the United States’ over-reliance on foreign mineral resources. For the first time in years, a set of provisions aimed at improving our near worst-in-the-world permitting process included in Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) energy bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), may actually stand a chance of making it to the President’s desk.  However, only weeks before the summer recess, the path towards reconciling Senate and House versions of the legislation has yet to be cleared.

    At the executive branch level, efforts are also underway.

    Several initiatives, such as the Defense Logistic Agency’s work to overhaul the defense stockpile to appropriately address today’s critical mineral needs, the White House’s Materials Genome Initiative, and the Critical Materials Institute operating under the auspices of the Department of Energy come to mind.

    However, much more must be done.

    As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty told Congress earlier this year:

    I don’t think there’s another nation in the world that can match American ingenuity. We can pioneer the ideas behind wind and solar and so much else – but where will the materials that make these new energy sources real – where will they come from?

    How we answer that question will determine to a large extent whether the U.S. can regain its manufacturing might… Whether America will lead the alternative energy revolution… And whether the U.S. will have the metals and minerals we need to provide the modern military technology we depend on.”

    Having concluded our feature month for Copper and its co-products, we will now move on to discussing our next gateway metal after the 4th of July break. Stay tuned.

    * While the Copper refinement process on occasion also yields access to some Rare Earth Elements (REEs), these quantities are very limited. As ARPN readers will find plenty of REE coverage on our blog, REEs will not receive separate treatment as part of this series.
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  • Through the Gateway: Molybdenum – “The Most Important Element You Yave 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 up by plants from the soil, molybdenum “forms a crucial part of a little enzyme called sulfite oxidase. The enzyme breaks down incoming sulfites and turns them into useful food. Take away molybdenum, and the enzyme, and things get nasty. The lowest-level problem you can look forward to is a severe allergic reaction. Continued molybdenum deprivation causes uric acid to build up in the blood, which brings on horribly inflamed and painful joints. At it worst, molybdenum deficiency takes out the nervous system.”

    Definitely not good.  

    But there’s more to it. Like Rhenium, Molybdenum is essential for creating high-performance alloys used in jet turbines and other defense systems. It is also a critical component of alloyed materials used in water distribution systems, food handling and chemical processing equipment, automotive parts, gas transmission pipes, and heavy construction. As USGS has notedWithout molybdenum as an alloying metal, the superstrength steel used in heavy construction (such as in skyscrapers and bridges) would be more costly; in some instances, the increased weight of alternative materials with equivalent strengths would render construction unmanageable or even impossible.”

    The question of whether or not it is “the most important you’ve never heard of,” aside – Molybdenum’s importance cannot be dismissed. Luckily, the United States is in a good spot with regards to availability to meet domestic needs. 

    In fact, as Molybdenum, unlike its previously discussed Copper co-product peers, is actually a metal of which we are a net exporter, industry continues to seek to develop materials that could benefit from its hardening, strengthening and anti-corrosive properties.  The advent of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is just one example here.

    While we are fortunate to have an abundance of Molybdenum beneath our own soil, one should note that while there is some primary Molybdenum production, including at two mines in the United States, most of the Molybdenum we use is produced as a Copper co-product.   Thus, we should keep Molybdenum on our supply and demand radar, particularly as advances in materials science may increase demand. As USGS points out:

    “Short- to medium-term changes in copper prices can influence the availability of molybdenum. For example, copper mining activity may drop suddenly in response to reduced metal prices, which in turn reduces the total amount of molybdenum that is produced. Although primary molybdenum mines can fill this market gap between byproduct production and overall demand, they have a limited ability to increase their production rate to meet spikes in demand.” 

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  • 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: The Copper Gap That Needn’t Be

    Lately, web searches for “Copper” have seemed to turn up stories about the metal’s woes on the global commodity market on a daily basis.  Like many of its hard-rock commodity peers, Copper has seen its price decline over the past five years. However, there is good reason to believe that the self-corrective nature of commodity [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Copper – Gateway to Renewable Energy

    Whatever your views on global climate change – there is no denying that we find ourselves in the midst of a green energy transition.  As David Sandalow, former under secretary of energy and assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), notes in the New York Times this week, “[s]olar power is [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Pizza, the Age of Rare Metals and Co-Products

    “If you don’t have yeast, you don’t have pizza.” What may seem like a random – albeit logical – conclusion has more to do with critical minerals than you may think.  David Abraham, director of the Technology, Rare and Electronic Materials Center, recently used the yeast/pizza analogy to exemplify the importance of rare metals, which [...]
  • “Measuring Greenness:” A New Metric Takes the Measure of the Metals that Drive the Green Transition

    ARPN followers well understand that a host of metals and minerals are key to the green-tech transition – rare earths like neodymium and mainstay metals like copper for wind turbines, Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenium for the CIGS solar panel technology. The list is long. Yet all too often, Green advocates take a reflexively oppositional stance towards all-things-mining. ARPN [...]

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