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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Through the Gateway: Rhodium – Not Just Another Platinum Group Metal

    A rare, silvery white, hard and corrosion-resistant metal, Rhodium is not only one of Palladium’s fellow members of the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs); it, too, happens to be a Nickel co-product.  And, as is the case with Palladium, one of Rhodium’s main uses is in catalytic converters to reduce automobile emissions, as well as in industrial catalysts.

    Alloyed with Platinum and Palladium, in the process of which it serves as a hardening agent, Rhodium is also used in furnace windings, and thermo-coupling elements, to name but a few industrial applications. The exceptional hardness of plated Rhodium, which is derived by electroplating or evaporation, further lends itself to the metal’s application in optical instruments.

    USGS does not track production numbers or net import reliance statistics for Rhodium as a stand-alone metal; however, considering that there is currently only one domestic mining company producing PGMs — and that U.S. import dependence on the two PGMs USGS does track is 90% for Platinum and 58% for Palladium — plus the fact that we import roughly 11,000 kg of Rhodium per year, our import dependence to meet domestic needs is in all likelihood not insignificant.

    As is the case with Palladium, new applications for the metal may become game-changers going forward and may drive up demand. One such recent discovery is the unveiling of a chemical process“using the sun’s thermal energy to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into high-energy fuels.”  In what may turn out to be a big step towards the chemical storage of solar energy, researchers at the Switzerland-based Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the ETH Zurich have developed a procedure to do so using a new material combination of Cerium Oxide and Rhodium.  While this potential application is quite interesting, friends of ARPN will note that a compound comprised of two elements for which the U.S. is significantly import-dependent illustrates once again the constraints on the United States’ ability to capitalize on advanced materials development.

    What we have argued elsewhere, applies for Rhodium, too – the revolution in materials science represents a paradigm shift for traditional supply and demand scenarios for the raw materials that fuel it.  It’s time for a new comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy that embraces these changes -  especially as we move into a potential period of uncertainty on the trade front.

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  • Through the Gateway: Nickel – “The Metal that Brought You Cheap Flights”

    “It made the age of cheap foreign holidays possible, and for years it was what made margarine spreadable. Nickel may not be the flashiest metal but modern life would be very different without it.” 

    We couldn’t have introduced our next Gateway Metal any better than the BBC did in a feature story on Nickel and its uses last year. Nickel’s alloying properties have indeed transformed our lives – and without them, our best bet for long-distance travel might still be by train or ship.   As the BBC outlines, the first jet engines made of steel in the 1930s and 1940s did not have sufficient heat and corrosion resistance.  With Tungsten too heavy and Copper melting at too low a temperature, Nickel’s (with Chromium mixed in) strength, heat and corrosion resistance, low price point and light weight turned out to be the “Goldilocks recipe.”  And, as the BBC writes:

    Today, the descendants of these early superalloys still provide most of the back end of turbines – both those used on jet planes, and those used in power generation.”

    Other uses, again drawing from Nickel’s alloying capabilities, add to Nickel’s importance:  Monel – a Nickel-Copper alloy, is stronger than steel, malleable and corrosion resistant, and comes at a significantly lower price point than other alloys, making it a material of choice “everywhere where corrosion is a concern – from chemists’ spatulas to the protective coating on bicycle sprockets.”

    Invar – a Nickel-Iron alloy is used in precision instruments and clocks because it has the lowest thermal expansion of metals and alloys. Nitinol, a Nickel-Titanium alloy, is considered a “shape memory alloy” – a material that “remembers” their original shape.  The BBC story has a fascinating clip demonstrating Nitinol’s memory, the composition of which can be tuned. This lends itself to applications in medicine, for example, where a rolled up Nitinol stent can be inserted into a blood vessel, and allow blood to flow through it once the body’s temperature prompts the stent to open itself out. Nitinol is also used in military, robotics and safety applications.

    Suffice it to say that Nickel is a material that is here to stay. When factoring in Nickel’s Gateway Metal status, yielding access to materials like Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium (which we’ve discussed a fair amount because of its application in 3D printing technology), its importance only increases.

    Meanwhile, USGS has revised its Nickel supply assessment in recent years. While previous year reports showed no domestic reserves for Nickel, reserves today are pegged at 160,000 metric tons – and one active new Nickel mine in Michigan produced 26,500 metric tons of concentrates for export to Canadian and overseas smelters.   Our net import reliance for Nickel is 37 percent, and new projects in varying stages of development in Minnesota may further reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of Nickel.

    This is a promising development, however to ensure a steady and stable supply of mineral resources fueling 21st Century technologies for our domestic industries, policy makers would be well advised to look at Nickel – and all other Gateway Metals and their Co-Products more comprehensively.

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  • Event: Benchmark Minerals World Tour Comes to Washington DC

    If you are based out of Washington, DC or happen to be in town on October 21, here’s an event you should not miss: Our friends at Benchmark Minerals, a U.K.-based price data collection and assessment company specializing in the lithium ion battery supply chain, are taking their Benchmark World Tour to Washington, DC.   ARPN expert and Benchmark [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Of Pokémon and Co-Products – A Look at Gallium

    All over the world, people are wandering through the streets staring at their smartphones. Whether you’re part of the PokémonGo phenomenon that has taken the world by storm, or whether you can only shake your head, you don’t only have Nintendo to thank for.    One of the Co-Product Metals we’re focusing on this week as part of [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • 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 Have 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, [...]

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