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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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  • 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: Rio Tinto Partners with Critical Materials Institute (CMI) in Research Partnership to Recover Wide Range of Gateway Metals from Domestic Resources

    For the past few months, the American Resources Policy Network has highlighted the concept of “Gateway Metals” and “Co-Products” in the context of our “Through the Gateway”-campaign. 

    It would appear that people in government and the business community are taking note:  The Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) has just announced it will join with global mining and minerals company Rio Tinto to study new ways to capture Gateway Metals that will be needed in clean power manufacturing.

    Our recent focus is based off of ARPN’s ground-breaking study, “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we zeroed in on a group of five “Gateway Metals,” which are not only critical to manufacturing and national security in their own right, but also “unlock” tech metals increasingly important to innovation and technological development.

    In the context of our informational campaign, we featured the five Gateway Metals we covered in the report – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc – as well as the tech metals they unlock, and discussed some of the cutting edge uses for these tech metals, as well as supply and other issues surrounding them.

    A recurring theme throughout the campaign has been that demand for Co-Product Metals is increasing, but the United States not only has a significant degree of import dependency for many of them, as well as for the respective Gateway Metal – all of which has implications for both the United States’ competitiveness and national security.

    That is why the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) research partnership with Rio Tinto is a promising endeavor, tying into CMI’s mandate to address our nation’s critical mineral needs:

    As Ames Lab describes it,

    “the new initiative aims to ensure that the United States fully leverages domestic mineral and metal resources necessary for global leadership in clean energy manufacturing.

    The Rio Tinto-CMI research partnership will combine Rio Tinto’s operational expertise with CMI’s research capabilities, materials science expertise and computing power.  Focused on the efficient extraction of critical materials from the copper smelting process, the research will have three core work-streams:  Improving recovery rates of critical minerals and metals (rhenium, selenium, tellurium, scandium, etc.) from samples sourced from Rio Tinto’s operating Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and the Resolution Copper project currently under regulatory review and permitting in Arizona.

    1.   Improving recovery rates of critical minerals and metals (rhenium, selenium, tellurium, scandium, etc.) from samples sourced from Rio Tinto’s operating Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and the Resolution Copper project currently under regulatory review and permitting in Arizona.
    2. Exploring potential for increasing recovery rates of rare minerals and metals through processing waste tailings.
    3. Examining process improvements that would facilitate the blending of processed electronic waste (‘e-waste’) with copper concentrates to substantially increase the recovery of valuable metals such as gold, copper, silver, platinum, lithium and rare earths present in spent cellphones, computers and solar panels.”

    The project is emblematic of CMI’s collaborations with private sector companies, which have already proven their value as a tool to help mitigate supply risks for critical raw materials:

    According to a recent GAO report, as of May 1, 2016 CMI “research projects had already resulted in 42 invention disclosures, 17 patent applications, and 1 licensed technology.” This includes the development of a “membrane solvent extraction system” that helps in the recycling, recovery and extraction process of Rare Earth materials.

    Other current CMI public-private partnerships include a project with Simbol Materials on Lithium extraction, and a collaborative effort with INFINIUM, a metals production technology company, to “demonstrate the production of rare-earth magnets sourced and manufactured entirely in the U.S.”

    Of course, as we have consistently outlined, many 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.

    For more context, please refer to the following reports and studies: 

    American Resources Policy Network Gateway Metals Report: Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology

    GAO Report to the Chairman, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources,U.S. Senate: ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES – Strengthened Federal Approach Needed to Help Identify and Mitigate Supply Risks for Critical Raw Materials

    American Resources Critical Metals Report: Reviewing Risk – Critical Metals & National Security

    USGS: Comparison of U.S. net import reliance for nonfuel mineral commodities—A 60-year retrospective (1954–1984–2014)

    White House:  Assessment of Critical Minerals: Screening Methodology and Initial Application (Product of the Subcommittee on Critical and Strategic Mineral Supply Chains of the Committee on Environment,
Natural Resources, and Sustainability of the National Science and Technology Council)

     

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  • White House solar panel installation fraught with irony

    With August generally being the slower part of the news cycle, one of the bigger stories last week was that the installation of solar panels on the roof of the White House had begun. Administration officials say in retrofitting the White House building to make it more energy efficient, the President is delivering on a [...]
  • Environmentalists push energy efficiency but block development of mineral resources required for clean energy transition

    The issue of the White House blocking several Department of Energy regulations was raised at a recent Congressional hearing, the New York Times reports. The rules in question would require greater energy efficiency for appliances, as well as building and lighting. Critics argue that in spite of a 1993 executive order requiring the White House [...]
  • DoE social media event elaborates on agency’s new critical minerals research hub

    Earlier this week, the Department of Energy hosted a social media web event, or “Hangout,” to provide further details on its latest research effort to “address supply disruptions for rare earths and other critical materials” at Ames Laboratory. During the event, David Sandalow, DoE’s Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, and Alex King, the [...]
  • DoE awards funding for new Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at Ames Laboratory

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is stepping up its research efforts in the field of critical and strategic materials. As announced on January 9, the Department is funding the establishment of an “Energy Innovation Hub” through Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Named the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), the new research center will “bring together [...]
  • Department of Energy to Step Up Critical Minerals Research

    The U.S. Department of Energy has announced stepped-up research efforts into critical metals and minerals. Planning to spend up to $120 million, the department aims to create an “Energy Innovation Hub” with the goal to advance green energy technologies relying on critical mineral resources including (but not limited to) rare earths. Says Secretary of Energy [...]
  • Our dangerous metals deficiency: DOE releases its new critical minerals strategy

    The Department of Energy officially released its 2011 Critical Materials Strategy, an update of last December’s inaugural report on metals essential to green-tech applications ranging from wind and solar power to EV batteries and CFL lighting.  Five metals made the critical risk quadrant for both the short-term (today to 2015) and medium-term (2015 to 2025); [...]
  • U.S. DoE’s Sandalow links technology, green energy to resource development

    A high-ranking U.S. Department of Energy official is making the link between American technological progress and green energy to resource development. Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs David Sandalow told a U.S. Senate subcommittee last week that the U.S. must find ways to mitigate supply risk associated foreign dependence on rare earths [...]
  • Day 1: Metals for Energy & Environment Conference

    Our expert, Dan McGroarty is on-hand at the Metals for Energy and Environment conference in Las Vegas. While there, he’s been live-tweeting some of the action. Check out those updates here. And below, he provides a thorough re-cap of “Day 1″ on the front lines: Day one included a full slate of informative presentations, but [...]

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