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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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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

    White House Solar Panels

    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 promise he made in October 2010.

    At the time when President Obama made said pledge, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu said:

    “This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home. Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

    While following through on a promise is generally a good thing, one cannot help but notice a slight irony here, as the very renewable energy projects the Administration seeks to promote relies heavily on critical minerals, some of which find themselves in the crosshairs of Administration policy – in spite of the White House’s own Materials Genome Initiative which indicated that securing America’s access to critical minerals was going to be a priority.

    Take copper, for example. An average industrial wind turbine contains more than three tons of it. And while details on the supplier or make of the White House solar panels were not released, there’s a good chance they chose the record-setting CIGS solar panels, which are said to have an energy conversion rate higher than 20 percent. It’s no secret what the letters in the acronym stand for: the “C” stands for Copper, the “I” stands for Indium, the “G” represents Germanium and the “S” stands for selenium, 95 percent of which is derived as a copper byproduct.

    Meanwhile, one of the most promising and possibly biggest copper exploration projects in U.S. history is currently facing unprecedented and – as representatives from both sides of the political spectrum have concluded – inappropriate treatment by the EPA which appears willing to bend to environmentalists’ pressures calling for a pre-emptive veto of the project even before any permit applications have been filed.

    If the Administration is serious about its commitment to a renewable energy future, it should, at a minimum, grant the courtesy of a full and orderly review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – which, in the Administration’s own words represents “the cornerstone of our Nation’s modern environmental protections” – to a project which has the potential to help build this future.

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  • 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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