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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum Alloys – Versatility On Steroids

    Last year, researchers developed a material “that’s as strong and light as titanium, another expensive material, but at just a tenth of the cost.” They were able to achieve this feat by tweaking Aluminum’s alloying properties at the nano level.

    Aluminum’s properties as a stand-alone metal already make it one of the most versatile materials in engineering and construction, and as engineering database Total Materia notes“a mere recital of its characteristics is impressive.”  It is lightweight, but extremely durable, has a high resistance to corrosion, boasts good electric and thermal conductivity, and reflects both heat and light. It is highly malleable, and can be treated with many different surface finishes.

    Add to that its alloying capabilities, which were first harnessed around 1911, and Aluminum’s versatility soars to new heights. The addition of other metals and minerals, including fellow Gateway Metals Copper and Zinc, but also Iron, Silicon, Magnesium or Manganese, to pure aluminum further enhanced its properties.   Multiple alloys make up America’s “favorite beverage container,” the aluminum can, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg – aluminum alloys are used in a wide range of industries today.

    Because of the wide range of alloying options, and with international designations becoming a mess with some countries merely assigning numbers in the order of their development, the uniform International Alloy Designation System (IADS), a designation system previously developed by the Aluminum Association of the United States, became the international standard for Aluminum alloy designation in the 1970s.  Based on this system, Aluminum alloys are assigned a four-digit number of which the first digit represents a general series or class, characterized by its main alloying elements.

    Some of the main categories of Aluminum alloys are “Commercially Pure Aluminum,” “Heat-Treatable Alloys,” and “Non-Heat Treatable Alloys,” but new alloy compositions continue to be developed.  According to the Aluminum Association, which has put together a great series of infographics on Aluminum alloys, the number of registered active compositions has grown to more than 530 from the 75 initially registered at the time of the classification system’s initial inception in 1954.

    AA-Infographic-Alloys-v5

    The development of a Titanium-like iron-aluminum alloy, which ultimately could be used in “everything from bicycles to airplanes” only underscores that Aluminum is more than tin foil and beverage cans. As materials sciences advance, we can expect the number of registered alloys to continue to grow, and we will be able to reap the benefits.

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  • Independence Day – A Time To Celebrate Our Freedom, Yet Be Mindful of Growing Dependencies

    It’s that time of the year again. We’re filling our shopping carts with food and drinks, making sure we have enough gas for the grill, and buying some fireworks. The 4th of July, and with that, Independence Day, has arrived. But our country’s 240th birthday is more than a good reason to throw a barbecue in honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue to safeguard our freedom today.

    The 4th of July also represents an opportune moment to reflect on what it means to be independent.  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.   Our nation’s mineral resource policy is a case in point:

    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.  Hopefully, in the midst of our national birthday celebrations, our policy makers are taking note.

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  • 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 Tellurium, Selenium, Rhenium 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • 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: 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, [...]
  • As Japan Retreats, US Dozes Off Again On Critical Minerals

    Over the course of the last few months, slumping prices have prompted Japanese companies to reassess their rare metals strategies and cancel cooperative agreements that were once considered a high priority. As Nikkei Asian Review reports, state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) has cancelled a joint exploration contract for a tungsten mine in [...]
  • Minerals don’t just fuel domestic industries, but also a stronger U.S. trade balance

    ARPN followers are used to our coverage of metals and minerals shortages, and the need to develop more sources of domestic supply.  But the value of U.S.-produced minerals is best evidenced in the ability to meet global needs.  Take borates, one of the relatively few minerals where the U.S. is a net exporter. The issue [...]
  • American Geosciences Institute Webinar on “The Science and Supply of America’s Critical Minerals and Materials”

    Earlier this week, the American Geosciences Institute hosted a webinar entitled “Underpinning Innovation: The Science and Supply of America’s Critical Minerals and Materials.” Speakers for the event, which was co-sponsored by a variety of expert organizations, included: Lawrence D. Meinert, Mineral Resources Program, U.S. Geological Survey; Steven M. Fortier, National Minerals Information Center, U.S. Geological [...]
  • Is Cobalt on Your Radar Yet?

    Last week, we highlighted what has been one of the bright spots in the metals and minerals sphere in recent months – Lithium.  Potentially one of the most important critical materials of our time because of its application in battery technology, its rise to stardom has cast a shadow on another material that may be [...]

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