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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 science that elevate their critical mineral status.

    One of the latest examples comes to us via Science, which earlier this month discussed the development of a new cheap chemical catalyst that is able to mimic parts of the photosynthetic process, using solar generated electricity to split CO2 into energy-rich carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen.

    Researchers have long been studying various catalysts that enable CO2 splitting, among them most prominently a mix of Copper and oxygen called copper oxide.  In light of its shortcomings – the catalyst splitting more water than CO2, thus making a less energy-rich compound – a grad student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne last year added a layer of said catalysts on a tin oxide–based electrode.  The new catalyst generated almost pure CO.  The research team went to work making some tweaks to their electrodes – with great success, according to Science:

    “As Graetzel’s team reports this week in Nature Energy, the strategy worked, converting 90% of the CO2 molecules into CO, with hydrogen and other byproducts making up the rest. They also hooked their setup to a solar cell and showed that a record 13.4% of the energy in the captured sunlight was converted into the CO’s chemical bonds. That’s far better than plants, which store energy with about 1% efficiency, and even tops recent hybrid approaches that combine catalysts with microbes to generate fuel.” 

    To date, these efforts remain “squarely in the realm of basic research,” because these newly developed catalysts are still a far cry from generating fuel cost-efficiently.  However, at the pace materials science has been transforming the world we live in, it is not out of the question that this discovery might one day in the not-too-distant future lead to “methods for making essentially unlimited amounts of liquid fuels from sunlight, water, and CO2.”

    It is developments like these that show that old paradigms are out the window.

    Copper is no longer just a mainstay metal and conductor of electricity.  Aluminum is more than just a building material. And Tin is more than just a food container.  They are Gateway Metals yielding access to some of the so-called “minor” metals that are quickly becoming the quintessential building blocks of our 21st Century high-tech and sustainable energy future and manufacturing renaissance. And they have found and are still finding new important and versatile applications at a rapid pace, with the potential of altering both supply and demand pictures drastically.

    Meanwhile, our import dependence for many materials remains high – and needlessly so, as for many we have significant deposits beneath our own soil.

    Take Copper, for example: With estimated reserves of 33 million metric tons of Copper, the United States would be well positioned to close our Copper Gap – recently pegged at more than 600,000 tons per year. However, we are still importing 34 percent of the Copper we consume.

    Given the pace of materials science, isn’t it time that we adjust our mineral resource policy and build a framework that unleashes our nation’s vast mineral potential?

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  • 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 significant, and ranges from 58 percent for Palladium to 100 percent for Scandium.

    For Nickel, the U.S. domestic supply picture has recently changed, with our import dependence dropping from roughly 50 percent to currently 37 percent with new projects having come online.

    Here, too, new uses may increase demand going forward.  We already touched on Nickel’s alloying capabilities, which underscore its versatility and staying power. However, it is its application in battery technology that may become a game changer for the metal’s supply and demand going forward.

    In light of across-the-board predictions of higher battery use over the course of the next few years, and in particular in the consumer and electric vehicle segments, analysts see demand for its component metals – including Nickel – soaring.

    The bottom line – Gateway Metals not only provide us with access to many co-product metals that underpin modern technology.  They are also important building blocks of the 21st Century.  With our domestic manufacturers increasingly relying on a stable supply of Gateway Metals and their co-products, the time to devise a comprehensive mineral resource policy framework is now.

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  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: “Fairy Dust” Supply Woes Loom

    As we continue our look Through the Gateway, comes a stern reminder by way of Canada that the geopolitics of resource supply represents a complex issue warranting comprehensive policy approaches.   And it literally concerns a metal that touches us — more precisely, we touch it — every day, too many times to count. A decision to [...]
  • Through the Gateway: A Look at Cadmium

    Most of us have heard of Cadmium as a component of NiCd (Nickel-Cadmium) batteries.  To date, this also happens to be the most frequent use for the metal, accounting for about 85% of the Cadmium consumed globally in 2015. A silvery metal with a bluish surface tinge, Cadmium is corrosion-resistant and its oxides are insoluble in water.  Nearly [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Germanium – Semiconductor of the Future?

    Our first Zinc co-product, Germanium, is a silvery metalloid.  According to USGS, “in nature, it never exists as the native metal in nature” and “is rarely found in commercial quantities in the few minerals in which it is an essential component.” That said, the “most commercially important germanium-bearing ore deposits are zinc or lead-zinc deposits formed at low temperature.” Discovered [...]
  • A Look at Gateway Metal Import Dependence: Copper – 25 Years of Rising Dependence

    If our trip Through the Gateway holds one lesson so far, it’s that old patterns and paradigms are out the window.  Advances in technology and materials sciences have changed the applications for many mainstay metals and are fueling demand.   As we have outlined, the same applies for numerous rare tech metals, which are primarily sourced [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Of Diaper Rash Cream, Fertilizer and Battery Technology – A Look at Zinc

    If you’re a parent of young children, you’ll probably appreciate Zinc for its medicinal properties – a good diaper rash cream or sunscreen for the little ones comes with a good dose of Zinc oxide. Otherwise, you may have come across this metal primarily as an anti-corrosion agent used to prevent metals like steel and iron from [...]

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