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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 2016 – A Mixed Bag for Mineral Resource Policy

    It’s that time of the year again.  And as people are gearing up for the New Year, we are taking the opportunity to take stock of the last twelve months, and want to highlight a few select notable developments of relevance to ARPN followers.

    From a mineral resource policy perspective, we saw some positive developments in Congress during the first half of the year, culminating in the inclusion of critical mineral legislation in the House and Senate energy bills, respectively.

    While Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s American Mineral Security Act of 2015 (S. 883) was passed as part of the Senate’s Energy Modernization Policy Act of 2016 (S. 2012), observers were hopeful that the mineral sections of the package would be conferenced with H.R. 1937, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015 - a bill similar to Murkowski’s introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei, R- Nevada, and passed as part of the House of Representatives’ energy package.  Both bills aimed at facilitating domestic resource development by calling for an assessment of critical mineral resource needs and tackling permitting delays, and would have constituted a big step towards reducing our dependence on foreign mineral resources.

    However, as the summer drew on, a successful conference between both chambers’ versions became more and more doubtful, and in spite of all efforts, in December, the push to enact comprehensive energy legislation with strong critical mineral provisions was declared dead by chamber leaders.

    Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped a proposed set of new financial assurance requirements for owners and operators of certain hard rock mining operations. The proposed rule, which ARPN Principal Dan McGroarty discussed in a widely publicized op-ed over in the Summer, would de facto duplicate the responsibilities of other federal agencies, preempt state authority, and in doing so place an undue burden and a potentially devastating blow to the mining industry.  While the EPA published the proposed rule in December, there is a good chance the agency will take a fresh look at the issue with the change of Administrations in January, which is expected to bring a significant shift in policy priorities.

    In 2016, a trend we had previously noted continued – the increasing importance of metals and minerals previously often dubbed “minor metals.”  The growth of the battery technology sector, which ARPN expert Simon Moores’ recent event in Washington, D.C. discussed, represents only one facet of this development.

    Many of these high tech metals and minerals have become indispensible building block of 21st Century tech, and are derived mainly by way of “Co-Product”-development – i.e. as part of the development of more common “Gateway Metals” like Copper, Aluminum, Zinc, Nickel and Tin, for example.   Acknowledging the disparity between the growing importance of these materials and the lack of public discourse on the subject, we embarked on an online informational campaign aimed at shedding light on the relevance and correlation between Gateway and Co-Product Metals.  In case you missed the series or parts thereof, here’s a handy summary post with links to everything we’ve published on the subject.

    As we’ve pointed out as part of our campaign, much remains to be done, as our foreign mineral resource dependencies – particularly for many of the Co-Products we featured, but also for some of the Gateway Metals – are significant, and, in some instances deepening.

    We would be remiss, however, if we didn’t point out a positive development here:

    In October, The Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) announced it will join with global mining and minerals company Rio Tinto to study new ways to capture Gateway Metals needed in clean power manufacturing.

    As we’ve previously pointed out:

    “[M]any challenges remain and we are a far cry from the comprehensive critical minerals strategy our nation would need. However, efforts like the latest CMI-Rio Tinto public private partnership represent a promising step towards reducing our foreign dependencies for many of the mineral resources that are necessary for our society’s shift towards a clean energy future, and for our domestic manufacturers to thrive and be competitive.”

    On the whole, 2016 represents another mixed bag for mineral resource policy, however, there are indications that with the new Administration taking over in Washington, D.C., we may see a shift towards a more comprehensive and strategic look at our nation’s critical mineral needs.

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  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]

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