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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Copper and the 2018 Critical Minerals List – Considerations for Resource Policy Reform

    While we’re still waiting for policy makers and other stakeholders to take further action, in 2018 an important step was taken to set the stage for mineral resource policy reform with the release of the Department of Interior’s List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy. Throughout the drafting stage and subsequent commenting phase, ARPN had lamented the omission of Copper and several other gateway metals from the list.

    Citing ARPN’s Dan McGroarty, Earth Magazine contributor Veronica Tuazon zeroes in on this omission in a recent piece for the American Geosciences Institute’s monthly publication.

    “Copper is essential in electrical wiring and transportation and is playing an increasingly large role in alternative energy, as it is a crucial component in wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles, which require four times as much copper as conventional gas vehicles. But it is also the gateway to several elements on the critical list that are produced as a byproduct of copper mining, as Daniel McGroarty of the American Resources Policy Network, a virtual think tank focused on resource development, pointed out in a series of comments submitted about the DOI’s draft critical minerals list. He also noted that zinc, nickel and lead should be included on the list for the same reason. McGroarty argued that copper is of the highest priority because it ‘is the practical access point to at least four minerals on the DOI List,’ referring to cobalt, rhenium, tellurium and, potentially, the rare earths.”

    Tuazon points out that while USGS, which worked with DoI to put together the list of 35, acknowledged the “co-production issue,” Copper was excluded from the list because the risk of supply disruptions for Copper was considered “very low,” according to Steven Fortier, director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center.

    However, says Tuazon:

    “[W]ith rapid technological advancement and growth, what actually is and isn’t critical changes over time and often eludes simple categorizations. Or as McGroarty puts it, ‘as technology changes, what was once considered minor can have major impacts.’ For example, there was virtually no demand for strontium in the United States before the 1960s, when it was suddenly needed in relatively large quantities to reduce radiation emitted by early televisions.”

    While the United States’ net import reliance for copper may currently be pegged at 34 percent it should be noted that we also have a 600,000 MT copper gap each year – the gap between what we consume and what we produce.

    Against the backdrop of Copper’s growing list of applications and increased usage in one of the key growth markets – EV battery technology (as visualized here) – analysts anticipate Copper consumption to greatly “outstrip supply as it is slated to increase more than six times.”

    On a global scale, with over 200 currently-operating Copper mines slated to reach the end of their production cycle before 2035, CRU analyst Hamish Sampson estimated in the spring of 2018 that “unless new investments arise, existing copper mine production will drop from 20 million tonnes to below 12 million tonnes by 2034, leading to a supply shortfall of more than 15 million tonnes.”

    Sampson argued that only if “every single copper project currently in development or being studied for feasibility is brought online before then, including most discoveries that have not yet reached the evaluation stage, the market could meet projected demand.”

    With a lack of mega-projects coming on stream before the mid-2020s and global production for Copper expected to peak by the second half of 2019 one thing is clear: Whether or not Copper (and its fellow gateway metals) is excluded from the list of 35 critical minerals — It cannot be excluded from policy considerations in 2019.

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  • Critical Mineral List Finalized – Now Comes the Hard Part

    “Identifying which minerals are ‘critical’ is the easy part. Working out what to do about them is going to be much harder.” 

    – That’s the conclusion Reuters columnist Andy Home draws in his recent piece on the current Administration’s efforts to develop a strategy to reduce import reliance for metals considered “critical to the economic and national security of the United States.”

    Home’s entry point to the issue is a promising mining project in Nebraska aimed at developing Scandium, Niobium and Titanium – all of which have been officially afforded “critical minerals status” in the Department of the Interior’s recently-released list of 35.

    Writes Home:

    “No-one’s mined niobium in the United States since 1959, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The country relies exclusively on imports, mostly from Brazil.

    The same is true of scandium, a metal which, according to NioCorp, has been used for several decades in ‘cutting-edge Soviet and Russian military technologies’ but not by the U.S. armed forces due to a lack of supply.”

    Thus, he says, it comes as no surprise to find these materials on the list, which features a mix of “supply challenged” tech metals and more conventional materials for which USGS has deemed the entire supply chain “problematic.”

    ARPN’s Dan McGroarty has called the list a “great starting point” but also pointed out that it does not include materials like Copper, which “is the gateway to 5 ‘co-product’ metals that are listed as critical, but are not mined in their own right.  And the U.S. has a 600,000 MT copper gap each year – the gap between what we consume and what we produce.”

    With the list of 35 completed, focus will shift towards the report featuring policy recommendations, which the Commerce Department will have to submit to the President by August 16.

    Home says:

    “[I]ncreasing domestic supply across the spectrum of the periodic table is going to be a core recommendation in the report.” 

    This recommendation, as followers of ARPN know, will hinge largely on the improvement of our nation’s outdated and cumbersome permitting structure for mining projects.

    Home also looks at current efforts at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to reduce our over-reliance on foreign mineral imports, which involve keeping our nation’s current “stockpile” of materials current and R&D efforts in the field of recycling and substitution.

    The bottom line, however, as Home rightfully argues, is that all of these efforts “can only be part of a broader strategy that will have to be both multidimensional and highly flexible.”  In today’s fast-paced high tech world in which the ongoing materials science revolution constantly presents us with new uses for metals and minerals, supply and demand pictures can change dramatically on extremely short notice.

    As Home notes, making a critical list is the easy part.  For stakeholders the hard part comes next.

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  • Copper Gap Looms as Demand for EV Tech Continues to Surge

    While just a few short years ago, Rare Earth Element coverage dominated non-fuel mineral resource news cycles, it is the metals and minerals that fuel electric vehicle and battery technology that are making headlines these days. Here, the spotlight has been on Cobalt, Lithium, and, to a lesser extent, Nickel and associated supply and demand [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress: CMI Public-Private Partnership Studies New Ways to Capture Gateway Metals and Critical Co-Products

    As part of our latest feature series “Materials Science Profiles of Progress,” in the context of which we highlight positive steps towards the development of the comprehensive mineral resource strategy our country is so sorely lacking, we’re zeroing in on a promising public private partnership that recently celebrated its first birthday. In October of last [...]
  • Nickel – The “Metal That Brought You Cheap Flights” Now “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution”

    Another week, another great infographic by Visual Capitalist – this time on the “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution” – Nickel. Long an important base metal because of its alloying capabilities, Nickel’s status as a Gateway Metal, yielding access to tech minerals like Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium – all of which are increasingly becoming [...]
  • Advances in Materials Science Warrant Rethink in Resource Policy

    We appreciate them for their traditional applications, but metals like Copper and Tin are far more than your mainstay materials.  We discussed their Gateway Metal status here, but it’s not just the fact that their development yields access to some of the most sought-after tech metals that makes them so indispensible – it’s advances in materials [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Nickel – Powering Modern Technology

    Over the course of the last few weeks, we reviewed Nickel and its co-products Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium as part of our trip “Through the Gateway.” We’ve established that the importance of each of the co-products is growing as the revolution in materials science advances. Meanwhile, our import dependence for each of the co-products is [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Scandium Embodies Materials Science Revolution

    As we near the conclusion of our journey “Through the Gateway,” we noticed that one metal has kept popping up in our coverage – Scandium. A co-product of Tin, we also discussed it in the context of the alloying properties of Gateway Metal Aluminum. It is also a co-product of Nickel. There is good reason it keeps popping up. For [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Cobalt – A Critical Mineral Under Scrutiny

    A lustrous, silvery blue, hard ferromagnetic, brittle element, Cobalt’s physical properties are similar to Iron and Nickel. It forms various compounds, stable in air and unaffected by water.  Main uses include many alloys, including superalloys used in aircraft engine parts and high-speed steels, as well as magnets, and catalysts, to name but a few. It’s [...]
  • 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 [...]

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