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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Happy Independence Day! We’re Free, Yet So Dependent

    stephanie-mccabe-24620Happy Birthday, America! Another trip around the sun, and we’re back on the eve of the 4th of July gearing up for parades, barbecues and fireworks in honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue to safeguard our freedom today.

    Last year, we used this opportunity to point out that while we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent.  Of course, since we are who we are, ARPN looked at U.S. mineral resource policy as a case in point.  We feel our post is still very timely, and perhaps even more so today, as some of our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further since last year.  Take a look:

    “As our friends at the National Mining Association have aptly pointed out in their latest email message to their supporters (subscription only),  ‘minerals make possible much of the technology that enables national defense’ and  ‘keep our nation and our troops safe and fuel innovations that improve veterans’ quality of life.’

    Recognizing the importance of critical metals and minerals, the United States began placing an emphasis on securing access to these materials in the 1950s.   However, a recent USGS analysis paints a troubling picture.  An analysis of data collected between 1954 and 2014 shows that our reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame – both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance. As we previously pointed out:

    ‘The data clearly shows that whereas the number of nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number has increased to 47 in 2014.  And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and surged to 19 in 2014.’

    What’s more, there has been a drastic shift in provider countries:

    ‘Whereas in 1954 the U.S. sourced metals and minerals largely from our trading partners, our diversified supply sources today also include a number of countries that are ranked as ‘unfree’ and ‘less free’ on various indices, thus raising the specter of supply disruptions given the volatility of geopolitical realities.’

    ARPN followers know that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted.  Most recently, using the example of Copper, we’ve pointed this out as part of our ‘Through the Gateway’ informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-Products, arguing that:

    ‘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.’

    James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of the very nation the birthday of which we’re about to celebrate, once said:

    ‘I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.’

    USGS has alerted us to one of those gradual and silent encroachments.  They come in the form 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.

    As indicated above, since last year, our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further:  According to this year’s USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries, the number of metals and minerals for which the United States is 100% is now pegged at 20. Meanwhile, there are now a whopping 50 metals and minerals for which we are more than 50% import dependent – compared to 43 in 2015.

    For those 50, China, which is known to play politics with its resource supplies, is listed 28 times as a major import source — up from 21 times in the previous year.

    Our ongoing failure to devise policies aimed at better harnessing our domestic resource potential has deepened our mineral resource dependencies – with real risks and implications for U.S. national security, the resurgence of American manufacturing and our competitiveness in 21st Century high tech innovation.

    On a positive note, and in contrast to previous years, it appears that this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries and the trends it shows have garnered more attention in both media and academia.   Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy.  Hopefully, in the midst of our national birthday celebrations, our policy makers are taking note.

    Photo credit:
    Stephanie McCabe

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  • Advances in Materials Science Warrant Rethink in Resource Policy

    We appreciate them for their traditional applications, but metals like Copper and Tin are far more than your mainstay materials.  We discussed their Gateway Metal status here, but it’s not just the fact that their development yields access to some of the most sought-after tech metals that makes them so indispensible – it’s advances in materials science that elevate their critical mineral status.

    One of the latest examples comes to us via Science, which earlier this month discussed the development of a new cheap chemical catalyst that is able to mimic parts of the photosynthetic process, using solar generated electricity to split CO2 into energy-rich carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen.

    Researchers have long been studying various catalysts that enable CO2 splitting, among them most prominently a mix of Copper and oxygen called copper oxide.  In light of its shortcomings – the catalyst splitting more water than CO2, thus making a less energy-rich compound – a grad student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne last year added a layer of said catalysts on a tin oxide–based electrode.  The new catalyst generated almost pure CO.  The research team went to work making some tweaks to their electrodes – with great success, according to Science:

    “As Graetzel’s team reports this week in Nature Energy, the strategy worked, converting 90% of the CO2 molecules into CO, with hydrogen and other byproducts making up the rest. They also hooked their setup to a solar cell and showed that a record 13.4% of the energy in the captured sunlight was converted into the CO’s chemical bonds. That’s far better than plants, which store energy with about 1% efficiency, and even tops recent hybrid approaches that combine catalysts with microbes to generate fuel.” 

    To date, these efforts remain “squarely in the realm of basic research,” because these newly developed catalysts are still a far cry from generating fuel cost-efficiently.  However, at the pace materials science has been transforming the world we live in, it is not out of the question that this discovery might one day in the not-too-distant future lead to “methods for making essentially unlimited amounts of liquid fuels from sunlight, water, and CO2.”

    It is developments like these that show that old paradigms are out the window.

    Copper is no longer just a mainstay metal and conductor of electricity.  Aluminum is more than just a building material. And Tin is more than just a food container.  They are Gateway Metals yielding access to some of the so-called “minor” metals that are quickly becoming the quintessential building blocks of our 21st Century high-tech and sustainable energy future and manufacturing renaissance. And they have found and are still finding new important and versatile applications at a rapid pace, with the potential of altering both supply and demand pictures drastically.

    Meanwhile, our import dependence for many materials remains high – and needlessly so, as for many we have significant deposits beneath our own soil.

    Take Copper, for example: With estimated reserves of 33 million metric tons of Copper, the United States would be well positioned to close our Copper Gap – recently pegged at more than 600,000 tons per year. However, we are still importing 34 percent of the Copper we consume.

    Given the pace of materials science, isn’t it time that we adjust our mineral resource policy and build a framework that unleashes our nation’s vast mineral potential?

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  • 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 [...]
  • EPA Settlement on Pebble Deposit Positive Development for Due Process Advocates

    A few years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a splash when it took unprecedented early action in an effort to derail the development of one of the largest domestic deposits of key strategic mineral resources (Copper, Molybdenum, Gold, Silver and Rhenium) – the so-called Pebble Deposit in Southwestern Alaska.  In spite of the fact [...]
  • As Resource Dependence Deepens, Miners Pivot Back to U.S. For Exploration

    Against the backdrop of market prices recovering and supply woes looming, mining companies are expected to increase spending on exploration for the first time in five years, reports news agency Reuters. In what may spell good news for the United States, analysts anticipate the biggest expenditure increases to occur in the United States, Canada and Australia, all [...]
  • McGroarty on Critical Minerals: “It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Infrastructure”

    The New Year is now a little over a week old and the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States is just around the corner.  And while some are still dwelling on 2016 (we offered our post mortem at the end of the year), the time has come to look at what’s in store. One of [...]
  • 2016 – A Mixed Bag for Mineral Resource Policy

    It’s that time of the year again.  And as people are gearing up for the New Year, we are taking the opportunity to take stock of the last twelve months, and want to highlight a few select notable developments of relevance to ARPN followers. From a mineral resource policy perspective, we saw some positive developments [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Rio Tinto Partners with Critical Materials Institute (CMI) in Research Partnership to Recover Wide Range of Gateway Metals from Domestic Resources

    For the past few months, the American Resources Policy Network has highlighted the concept of “Gateway Metals” and “Co-Products” in the context of our “Through the Gateway”-campaign.  It would appear that people in government and the business community are taking note:  The Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) has just announced it will join with global mining and minerals company Rio [...]
  • Through The Gateway: A Look at Gateway Metals, Co-Products and the Foundations of American Technology

    The following is an overview of our “Through the Gateway” informational campaign, in which we outline the importance of Gateway Metals and their Co-Products. Here, we expand on the findings of our “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we focused on a group of five “Gateway Metals,” which are not only critical to manufacturing and [...]

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