-->
American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 all the world’s Cadmium is derived as a co-product from Zinc sulfide ore, which is mined in many countries.  In the U.S., according to USGS, two companies produced refined Cadmium in 2015 – one by way of co-product recovery, and the other one by way of recycling of secondary cadmium metal from spent NiCd batteries and other scrap.

    Over the past few years, there have been a slew of European Union directives classifying Cadmium as a toxic “hazardous substance” and prohibiting its use in many consumer products, including NiCD batteries in most power tools and Cadmium-containing quantum dots for light-emitting diodes for displays.  However, usage of industrial-sized NiCd batteries in electricity storage from photovoltaic systems could counter some of the decline in Cadmium usage.

    The current solar power boom could do the same – and once again underscores our Gateway Metal/Co-product Metal focus:  Lab results for Cadmium-Telluride solar cells scored CdTe technology breaking efficiency records when it comes to converting energy in sunlight into electricity.  Just like Cadmium, Tellurium is also a co-product metal (though unlike Cadmium, it is not a Zinc co-product, but rather derived mostly in the Copper refinement process).  As such, both Cadmium and Tellurium are not mined in their own rights — but they are essential to a key 21st Century technology.

    In light of materials sciences’ rapid pace of discoveries of new applications for metals and minerals, other new applications for Cadmium may also be found.

    While exact data are withheld, the U.S. is currently considered a net exporter of Cadmium. However, what is instructive here is the fact that the metal is almost exclusively derived as a co-product – so whatever happens to the Gateway Metal Zinc will in some shape or form affect the supply scenario for Cadmium. Or, in other words, the road to Cadmium leads Through the Gateway.

    Share
  • 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 in 1886, it was initially considered a “weakly conducting metal without much use”, but Germanium has been an important factor in semiconductor technology since the development of the world’s first transistor in 1947 – the purified Germanium semiconductor.   Today, its main uses worldwide, according to USGS, are estimated to be fiber optics, infrared optics, polymerization catalysts, electronics and solar applications.   There has been some fluctuation in domestic consumption – consumption for fiber optics for space-based uses increased while infrared optics use declined — but that decline was partially offset by growth in commercial and personal markets.

    In the semiconducting sector, Germanium was superseded by Silicon as the material of choice, but, according to Purdue University researchers, that may soon change. Silicon’s properties limit the ability to make smaller transistors and more compact integrated circuits, making Germanium all the more attractive for future advances in this field.

    While there is some domestic Germanium production, most of it comes from “either the processing of imported Germanium compounds or the recycling of domestic industry-generated scrap,” while Germanium recovered from zinc concentrates at two domestic mines is exported for processing. All told, the U.S. is 85% import dependent for its domestic Germanium needs.

    Meanwhile, it might be worth taking a look at the British Geological Society’s latest Risk List – an assessment of “current supply risk for elements or element groups which are of economic value” – which assigns Germanium the fourth highest risk score on its “relative supply risk index.”  The main factor here is one that ARPN followers will find familiar: nine of the top ten metals in BGS’s risk list count China as the world’s primary producer.

    Christopher Ecclestone, discussing the issue for InvestorIntel, raises a good point:

    “The Chinese don’t dominate Gallium, Germanium and Antimony because they are the only country that has these metals. It is only because of a conscious policy on the part of the Chinese government and an unconscious acquiescence on the part of West that has allowed this situation to evolve. A goal for 2020 (dare we call it a Five Year Plan) should be to break the Chinese dominance in the top ten metals on this BGS list.” 

    Once again, the path to co-product access leads “Through the Gateway” – in this case, most often Zinc. And in spite of having significant known resources of Zinc, the U.S. is 82% import-dependent on this gateway metal.

    Share
  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Tin, Co-Products and Shifting Paradigms

    While not as flashy as some other metals, Tin’s versatility will continue to drive demand.  We are familiar with its use in food preservation.  Meanwhile, ITRI, the tin industry’s UK-based trade association, highlights the “storage, generation and conservation of energy as key drivers for new applications for the metal over the next 3 to 30 years.” Coupled with its [...]
  • Through the Gateway – Scandium: A Co-Product Metal Ready To Take Off

    We have already established that Indium is becoming a hot tech commodity. Its fellow Tin co-product Scandium is another metal with huge potential in high-tech applications. Its electrical and heat resistant properties lend itself to the application in solid oxide fuel cells, and its optical properties can be used for high-intensity lamps.  The biggest opportunities for Scandium, [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Vanadium – Next-Gen Uses Drive Co-Product Challenge

    As we continue our look “Through the Gateway,” one thing has become abundantly clear already:  Beyond their traditional uses, both Gateway Metals and their Co-Products have become building blocks of our renewable energy future.  This held true for Copper and its Co-Products, but it is also equally true for Aluminum and its Co-Products. While Gallium’s [...]
  • 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 – Building Block of our Sustainable Future

    Probably one of the most important buzzwords of our time is “Sustainability.”  When thinking of the term, mining and industrial metals are probably not the first things that come to mind, but they are in fact integral components of our society’s move towards a greener, more sustainable energy future.  We have already outlined how Copper serves [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Rhenium – Rare and Sexy?

    It has helped make airline travel affordable. It helps keep us safe. And it may just be sexier than Salma Hayek – at least in the eyes of one observer.  We’re talking about Rhenium, yet another metal brought to us largely courtesy of Copper refinement.  A silvery white, metallic element, Rhenium, according to USGS, has “an extremely high [...]

Archives