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  • 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.

  • Senate Committee Chairman in Critical Minerals Hearing: No “Immaculate Conception” – iPhones, Fighter Jets, Solar Panels, All These Things Don’t Just Appear Out of Thin Air

    Earlier this week, the full U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to “examine the Department of the Interior’s final list of critical minerals for 2018 and opportunities to strengthen the United States’ mineral security.”

    Panelists included representatives from USGS and the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) as well as industry stakeholders and other interested parties.

    Below is a video of Committee Chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s opening remarks:

    While stressing that the issue of mineral resource security is not a new one, Sen. Murkowski outlined in clear terms why the United States Congress should give it its full attention, and take action to alleviate our ever-groaning over-reliance on foreign mineral resources.

    Sen. Murkowski also called out those who fail to connect the dots, and fail to understand that, as we previously phrased it, “you need stuff to make stuff:”

    “We have to get away from this ‘immaculate conception’ theory of your iPhone, fighter jets, solar panels, all these things just happen, they just appear out of thin air. We have to acknowledge the fact that many of the materials that are used to make them actually come from the ground. We have to dig them up, and that is an inconvenient truth for some.”

    She concluded:

    “I recognize that some are reluctant to address the main driver of this problem, and I look to our broken federal permitting system. But I believe that we can make some improvements, that we have to make improvements, and we must do this all while we are protecting the environment. The U.S. has the highest safety standards for mining anywhere in the world. We have the experience and expertise needed to do it right. We need to work on our workforce. We also live in a world where permitting delays and litigation deter investment in our country, so we want to speak to that.”

    For the full list of witnesses and written testimony click here.

  • Chinese Worries over Critical Mineral Supply Should Provide Impetus for U.S. Policy Reforms

    Escalating trade tensions have brought the issue of China’s near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earth Elements back to the front pages of American newspapers. If that isn’t reason enough for policy makers to use the momentum that has been building for the formulation of a comprehensive critical mineral strategy and an overhaul of policies standing [...]
  • Full Senate Committee to Examine DOI Critical Minerals List and U.S. Mineral Resource Dependence

    Bearing testimony to the growing importance assigned to the issue of critical minerals, the full U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing to “examine the Department of the Interior’s final list of critical minerals for 2018 and opportunities to strengthen the United States’ mineral security” on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, [...]
  • Happy Birthday, America – Onward to Resource Independence Day?

    It’s that time of the year again – we load up our shopping carts with fireworks and burger buns, and gear up for parades to honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue our safeguard our freedom today. Many of us will have already traveled this week – and according to AAA, [...]
  • Copper – Key Building Block of Our (Green Energy) Future

    Sometimes the title says it all: “Copper and cars: Boom goes beyond electric vehicles,” writes Mining.com contributor Frik Els. And indeed, while there is some uncertainty in light of the specter of a trade war looming between the United States and China, triggering a market pullback, the longer term outlook for Copper remains “rosy” precisely [...]
  • “From Bad to Worse” – Why the Current Focus on Critical Minerals Matters

    Earlier this spring, the Department of the Interior released its finalized Critical Minerals List.  Jeffery Green, president and founder of government relations firm J.A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts reminded us in a recent piece for Defense News why the current focus on our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources [...]
  • Critical Mineral List Finalized – Now Comes the Hard Part

    “Identifying which minerals are ‘critical’ is the easy part. Working out what to do about them is going to be much harder.”  – That’s the conclusion Reuters columnist Andy Home draws in his recent piece on the current Administration’s efforts to develop a strategy to reduce import reliance for metals considered “critical to the economic and [...]
  • The Daily Caller: DOI Critical Minerals List Highlights United States’ Over-Reliance on Foreign Mineral Resources

    Heavily quoting from ARPN’s statement on the issue, The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch earlier this month reported on the Department of the Interior’s finalized list of minerals deemed critical for U.S. national security. Writes Bastasch: “President Donald Trump’s administration’s release of a list of 35 critical minerals highlights just how reliant the U.S. is on [...]
  • McGroarty for IBD: “Time to Make the Connection Between Critical Minerals and National Defense”

    “For want of a nail … the kingdom was lost” Invoking the old proverb dating back to the 13th Century as a cautionary tale and reminder that “the most sophisticated defense supply chain is only as strong as our weakest link,” ARPN’s Dan McGroarty argues in a new piece for Investor’s Business Daily that the [...]