American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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, the reason that, given the pace of technological change, we typically don’t wonder much about the inner-workings of how our gadgets do what they do.

    But as ARPN followers know, it’s not magic. Our advances grow out of the revolution in materials science that is powering the technology age.

    In an article in The New Scientist, James Mitchell Crow observed:

    We rarely stop to think of the advances in materials that underlie our material advances. Yet almost all our personal gadgets and technological innovations have something in common: they rely on some extremely unfamiliar materials from the nether reaches of the periodic table. Even if you have never heard of the likes of hafnium, erbium or tantalum, chances are there is some not too far from where you are sitting.”

    The article may be a few years old, but Crow’s premise is as relevant today as it was then:

    From indium touchscreens to hafnium-equipped moonships, the nether regions of the periodic table underpin modern technology – but supplies are getting scarce.”

    Take Tellurium, for example. One of the least common elements on Earth, according to the USGS, it is essential to photovoltaic solar cells. The challenge, however, is that despite its importance, Tellurium is not mined in its own right – it is largely a by- or (as we will explain later), more appropriately a co-product of refining Copper and, to a lesser extent, Lead and Gold.

    A similar scenario unfolds for many other tech metals critical to innovation today.

    As we have argued in our 2012 report “Through the Gateway: Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology,” many of them are “unlocked” by five “gateway metals” – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc.

    Copper ore refining yields access to Molybdenum, Rhenium, Selenium, Tellurium, along with small amounts of REEs. Zinc ore is a gateway to Indium, Germanium and Cadmium. Aluminum processing unlocks Gallium and Vanadium. Tin also provides access to Indium and Vanadium while Nickel is a gateway to Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium.

    When cross-referenced with the 2012 ARPN Risk Pyramid — which graphically weighted and segmented the 46 minerals and metals most cited in a series of reports on the national security applications of strategic materials — and we surveyed and analyzed our degrees of mineral resource dependence, we get the following picture:

    The five gateway metals we focused on – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc—may only represent only 10% of the Risk Pyramid, but, when counting all Rare Earths individually, they unlock 25 of the remaining 41 metals, accounting, all told, for 60% of the whole Risk Pyramid.

    In light of these staggering numbers and the increasing importance of said tech metals to our daily lives and future innovation, we will be taking a closer look at the individual gateway metals and their co-product metals in the coming months –  so, once again, join us, as we take another in-depth look “Through the Gateway.”

  • 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 are produced and used in very small amounts, but are indispensable components of certain high-tech goods.  As he put it in his interview with the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, you only need very little yeast, but without it, you won’t have a decent pizza – and “(i)f you don’t have neodymium, then you don’t have a speaker for your phone.”

    What is important to note, is that many of these rare or tech metals are not mined as stand-alone metals. Says Abraham: 

    “When I was growing up, when I would think about metals, I would think someone was going out West in the 1840s and they were digging and they were trying to find gold, and they would find these little nuggets in the ground. But tellurium and selenium and many other rare metals are not mined for themselves; they are often a byproduct of producing a larger metal, like zinc or copper. And that is an important thing to understand.”

    American Resources followers may remember the concept of “by-product” metals in the context of our “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report. In our 2012 study, we focused on a group of five such “gateway” metals, which are not only critical to manufacturing in their own right, but “unlock” tech metals increasingly indispensible to innovation and development.

    Because of the growing significance of these metals and minerals, we will be taking a deeper look at the five gateway metals we covered in the report – aluminum, copper, nickel, tin and zinc, as well as the tech metals they unlock – on our blog over the coming months.  In doing so, we plan to zero in on some of the cutting edge uses for these tech metals, as well as supply and other issues surrounding them.

    And resource wonks spoiler-alert:  We’re going to argue that it’s time to upgrade our vocabulary when it comes to these indispensable metals — it’s time to scrap the by-products label, and recognize these materials as co-products critical to 21st Century life.

    Join us, as we take another in-depth look “Through the Gateway.”

  • “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 [...]
  • Op-ed: How the EPA Sticks Miners With a Motherlode of Regulation

    The following op-ed by American Resources Principal Dan McGroarty was published in the Wall Street Journal on January 3, 2014. The original text can be found here. How the EPA Sticks Miners With a Motherlode of Regulation The years-long wait for mining permits in the U.S. is the worst in the world. On Dec. 13, [...]
  • Tesla Motors’ Gigafactory to Drive Critical Mineral Demand

    The graphite, lithium and cobalt industries are set for major demand surges as Tesla Motors prepares to break ground on its super-battery plant, the Gigafactory, next month. The high-end EV manufacturer is looking to double the world’s battery output as it seeks to bring the production cost of battery packs down in a bid to [...]
  • Resource-hungry China continues its global quest for minerals

    While the fate of even first steps towards implementing a strategic minerals policy in the U.S. remains questionable, China is expanding its mineral resource footprint virtually all over the globe. According to recent media reports, Chinese companies have made forays into Sri Lanka looking for copper, zinc and aluminium suppliers. While this search was unsuccessful, [...]
  • Anti-Mine Lobbyists’ Hypocrisy Exposed in the Arizona Copper Debate

    ARPN readers know the vehemence of anti-mining activists in the U.S., including groups like Earthworks, whose director admitted during Congressional testimony earlier this year that the group couldn’t identify a single mine that had ever met with its approval. But the cynical tactics on display in the debate taking place around a U.S. House bill [...]
  • U.S. House may take up strategic minerals legislation this week

    The U.S. House of Representatives may take up Congressman Mark Amodei’s (R, Nev.) H.R. 761, the “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013,” this week. The bill ties into the overall context of mineral resource security and our growing minerals deficit, an issue that is of critical importance to our nation’s manufacturing base, [...]
  • McGroarty on The Hill’s Congress Blog: “The U.S. Government has it in its power to act now to close our “copper gap.”

    While China has taken steps to position itself in a “resource war that will increasingly define economic growth and national security in the 21st century,” the United States has subjected itself to a dangerous degree of import dependency for critical minerals – that’s the bottom line of American Resources Principal Daniel McGroarty’s new piece for [...]
  • White House solar panel installation fraught with irony

    With August generally being the slower part of the news cycle, one of the bigger stories last week was that the installation of solar panels on the roof of the White House had begun. Administration officials say in retrofitting the White House building to make it more energy efficient, the President is delivering on a [...]