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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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  • Copper and the 2018 Critical Minerals List – Considerations for Resource Policy Reform

    While we’re still waiting for policy makers and other stakeholders to take further action, in 2018 an important step was taken to set the stage for mineral resource policy reform with the release of the Department of Interior’s List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy. Throughout the drafting stage and subsequent commenting phase, ARPN had lamented the omission of Copper and several other gateway metals from the list.

    Citing ARPN’s Dan McGroarty, Earth Magazine contributor Veronica Tuazon zeroes in on this omission in a recent piece for the American Geosciences Institute’s monthly publication.

    “Copper is essential in electrical wiring and transportation and is playing an increasingly large role in alternative energy, as it is a crucial component in wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles, which require four times as much copper as conventional gas vehicles. But it is also the gateway to several elements on the critical list that are produced as a byproduct of copper mining, as Daniel McGroarty of the American Resources Policy Network, a virtual think tank focused on resource development, pointed out in a series of comments submitted about the DOI’s draft critical minerals list. He also noted that zinc, nickel and lead should be included on the list for the same reason. McGroarty argued that copper is of the highest priority because it ‘is the practical access point to at least four minerals on the DOI List,’ referring to cobalt, rhenium, tellurium and, potentially, the rare earths.”

    Tuazon points out that while USGS, which worked with DoI to put together the list of 35, acknowledged the “co-production issue,” Copper was excluded from the list because the risk of supply disruptions for Copper was considered “very low,” according to Steven Fortier, director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center.

    However, says Tuazon:

    “[W]ith rapid technological advancement and growth, what actually is and isn’t critical changes over time and often eludes simple categorizations. Or as McGroarty puts it, ‘as technology changes, what was once considered minor can have major impacts.’ For example, there was virtually no demand for strontium in the United States before the 1960s, when it was suddenly needed in relatively large quantities to reduce radiation emitted by early televisions.”

    While the United States’ net import reliance for copper may currently be pegged at 34 percent it should be noted that we also have a 600,000 MT copper gap each year – the gap between what we consume and what we produce.

    Against the backdrop of Copper’s growing list of applications and increased usage in one of the key growth markets – EV battery technology (as visualized here) – analysts anticipate Copper consumption to greatly “outstrip supply as it is slated to increase more than six times.”

    On a global scale, with over 200 currently-operating Copper mines slated to reach the end of their production cycle before 2035, CRU analyst Hamish Sampson estimated in the spring of 2018 that “unless new investments arise, existing copper mine production will drop from 20 million tonnes to below 12 million tonnes by 2034, leading to a supply shortfall of more than 15 million tonnes.”

    Sampson argued that only if “every single copper project currently in development or being studied for feasibility is brought online before then, including most discoveries that have not yet reached the evaluation stage, the market could meet projected demand.”

    With a lack of mega-projects coming on stream before the mid-2020s and global production for Copper expected to peak by the second half of 2019 one thing is clear: Whether or not Copper (and its fellow gateway metals) is excluded from the list of 35 critical minerals — It cannot be excluded from policy considerations in 2019.

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  • 2018 – A Year of Incremental Progress?

    In case you hadn’t noticed amidst holiday preparations, travel arrangements and the usual chaos of everyday life – 2019 is just around the corner, and with that, the time to reflect on the past twelve months has arrived. So here is ARPN’s recap of 2018:

    Where we began. Unlike previous years, we started 2018 with an unexpected level of optimism on the resource policy front. Not only had USGS released a new study in December of 2017 entitled “Critical Minerals of the United States” which discusses 23 mineral commodities USGS deems critical to the United States’ national security and economic wellbeing, but the report had been followed by what we dubbed “an early Christmas present:” A new executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to publish a list of critical minerals to be followed by a comprehensive report spearheaded by the Department of Commerce outlining a strategy to alleviate our over-reliance on foreign minerals.

    At last, a list. The DOI List was published in February, with a public comment period running through March. ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty filed two sets of comments, the first identifying a group of “gateway” metals critical for defense applications but absent from the DOI List, and the second articulating the gateway/co-product relationships between metals and minerals on the DOI List. While the gateway metals did not make the cut, we considered the final list, released in May, a “great starting point” leaving the question of “how the U.S. Government can match policy to the priority of overcoming our Critical Minerals deficit.”

    Unfortunately, to date, that question has not fully been answered, and the Secretary of Commerce’s report subsequent to the above-referenced Executive Order has yet to be released. But the stage has been set.

    Progress was made on several other fronts:

    • Public-private partnerships to advance R&D in materials science — which we have been featuring as part of our “Profiles of Progress series” — have yielded positive results and have been expanded to cover additional metals and minerals
    • Awareness of the important inter-relationship of “Gateway Metals” and their “Co-Products,” which we highlighted in our April 2018 report is growing, and is becoming a part of the broader mineral resource policy conversation. See for example Ned Mamula’s and Ann Bridges’s just-released book “Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.
    • A just-outlined partnership agreement between Australia and the United States on critical minerals to foster mineral research and development cooperation between the two countries is a welcome development. It could also serve as a precursor to deepening and revitalizing the National Technology Industrial Base (NTIB), which, established in the 1990s to foster technology links between the U.S. and Canada, was expanded in 2016 to include Australia and the UK.
    • And while there has not been a tangible result in terms of the formulation of a critical minerals strategy, another landmark study released this year has underscored the need for comprehensive reform, specifically from a national security perspective: The long-awaited Defense Industrial Base Review outlined nearly 300 supply chain vulnerabilities and sounded the alarm on China represents a significant and growing risk to the supply of materials deemed strategic and critical to U.S. national security. As one of the ARPN expert panel members phrased it: “Fortunately, the report goes beyond problem identification to provide a Blueprint for Action. Though many of these are locked away in a classified annex to the report, the White House has provided some clues as to how it wishes to proceed.”

    Opportunities and upticks. In terms of trend lines, the rise of battery tech continues to dominate the agenda, as evidenced by the volume of posts on our blog covering this field. And, based on the analysis provided by our friends at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence we expect this development to continue in 2019.

    We have also witnessed an uptick in activity on the trade front in 2018 with tariffs and trade agreements dominating the agenda.

    • Chinese-U.S. tensions escalated in 2018 resulting in the imposition of various tariffs targeting the other nation. Initially included on a provisional list of tariffs to be imposed on Chinese goods released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this summer, Rare Earth metals and their compounds were ultimately excluded from the final list of tariffs, underscoring the growing awareness of their strategic importance in the United States. Other omissions from the tariff lists give a window into strategic vulnerabilities.
    • The U.S. Administration won agreement to replace NAFTA with the USMCA — the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement in November. The talks had opened a window to drop the so-called Section 232 tariffs — named for a seldom-used section of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act — on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico, which stand in the way of a fully integrated North American defense supply chain and, particularly with regards to Canada “ignore nearly 80 years of deep defense cooperation with our northern neighbor.” Unfortunately, the provision remained intact in the November agreement, but, as ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty recently outlined in a piece for The Hill: “The opportunity is here, to use the momentum generated by the new USMCA agreement as a springboard to take the strategic North American alliance to a new level.”

    Meanwhile, a glaring missed opportunity in 2018 has a silver lining:

    Congressional conferees for the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) failed to retain key critical minerals provisions in the final conference report including the Amodei amendment ARPN followers will be familiar with. 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.

    However, the NDAA’s Section 873, “Prohibition on acquisition of sensitive materials from non-allied foreign nations,” amends Subchapter V of chapter 148 of title 10, U.S. Code by inserting section 2533c – which, among other things, effectively prevents the Pentagon from sourcing of Rare Earth Magnets from China. This is a potentially precedent-setting provision which Jeffery A. Green, president and founder of J. A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts called “the single biggest legislative development in the rare earth sector since the 2010 Chinese embargo created an awareness of our military’s reliance on foreign rare earth materials.”

    On the whole, 2018 stands for incremental progress on the mineral resource policy front. However, how we harness this progress in the coming months will decide how future generations will judge this year in the history books. The potential for meaningful reform is here and the stage is set. The stakes are too high to let this opportunity slip away.

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  • U.S. To Partner With Australia on Critical Minerals R&D

    During an industry event in Melbourne, Australian Resources Minister Matt Canavan announced that Australia and the United States are going to sign a preliminary agreement to foster mineral research and development cooperation between the two countries. The announcement comes on the heels of the release of U.S. Department of Interior’s list of 35 metals and [...]
  • Mark Your Calendars for AEMA’s 124th Annual Meeting Dec. 2-7

    We blinked – and the holidays are upon us already. It’s a busy time of the year for everyone, but if you’re still looking for a worthwhile event to put on your calendar this December look no further: Our friends at the American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) will be holding their 124th Annual Meeting from [...]
  • Critical Minerals Alaska – Rhenium Riches in Alaska Could Help Alleviate Supply Issues

    The BBC has dubbed Rhenium — another metal included in the Department of the Interior’s Final List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy — a “super element” with standout properties that can be likened to “alien technology.” Thus, it comes as no surprise that Shane Lasley, writing for North of 60 Mining [...]
  • Beyond Golf Clubs and Aircraft – “Critical Minerals Alaska” Zeroes in on Titanium 

    In the latest installment of his “Critical Minerals Alaska” series for North of Sixty Mining News, Shane Lasley zeroes in on Titanium – an “abundant element that has become an important industrial commodity only within the past 150 years,” according to USGS. As Lasley writes, “Titanium conjures images of the durable and lightweight metal used to build aircraft, replacement hips, [...]
  • Infographic Visualizes the Electrification of Vehicle Fleet

    Followers of ARPN may have noticed that much of our recent blog coverage has focused on EV battery tech.  Here are a few examples: Vanadium’s Time to Shine? Race to Control Battery Tech Underscores Need for Comprehensive Resource Policy Lithium – Challenges and Opportunities Underscore Need for Domestic Resource Policy Overhaul Of course, there are [...]
  • Exemptions from U.S. China-directed Tariff List Speak to “Strategic Vulnerabilities” in Resource Realm

    Last month, we highlighted how the exclusion of Rare Earths from the list of tariffs to be imposed on Chinese goods released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this summer spoke to the growing awareness of their strategic importance in the United States. However, Rare Earths were not the only items [...]
  • Move Over, Lithium and Cobalt, Graphite and Graphene are About to Take Center Stage – Courtesy of the Ongoing Materials Science Revolution

    Earlier this week, we pointed to what we called the “new kid on the block” in battery tech – Vanadium.  It appears that what held true for music, is true in this industry as well – “new kids on the block” arrive in groups. Now, all puns aside – as Molly Lempriere writes for Mining-Technology.com, [...]
  • A Non-Flashy Yet Essential Critical Mineral – Barite   

    If you haven’t had of Barite, you’re excused – even for avid followers of ARPN Barite is not among the first that come to mind of when you think of critical minerals. It has, however, attained that status with its inclusion in the Department of Interior’s list of 35 metals and minerals considered critical to [...]

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