American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 as co-product metals in the refinement process for our Gateway Metals Copper, Aluminum, Tin, Zinc and Nickel.

    With access to these tech metals being contingent on the availability of their respective Gateway Metal(s), the geopolitical dimension of resource policy becomes all the more important.   Not too long ago, a USGS analysis painted a troubling picture, showing that across the board, our reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame.

    We decided to zero in import dependence percentages specifically for our Gateway Metals, using the last 25 years of data provided by USGS in its Mineral Commodity Summaries.  A look at the trend line for our first Gateway Metal, Copper, which provides us with access to Rhenium, Molybdenum, Selenium and Tellurium confirms that the United States’ degree of import dependence for Copper has grown drastically since the end of the Cold War:

    Copper_dependence                                                                                        Source: USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries

    This needn’t be.  As we have previously pointed out, with our own reserves and at mining projects ready to come online, the U.S. would not only be able to become self-sufficient with regards to meeting Copper needs, but could even position itself to be a Copper net exporter.  In the process, the U.S. would also provide our domestic manufacturers with stable access to its co-products, which are some of the key tech metals we’ve come to rely upon to drive 21st Century innovation.

    We will review our nation’s import dependence numbers for some of the other Gateway Metals in separate posts, but a look at Copper alone makes clear that it is time for a new, more comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy.

  • 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 rusting, or as an alloying agent, for example in brass, bronze, nickel silver and aluminum solder.  Zinc oxides and sulfates are also used in vulcanized rubber, phosphorescent applications, as well as heat sinks in laptops and cell phones.

    New and interesting uses may increase demand going forward. One such area is agriculture, with China and India turning to Zinc as an addition to fertilizers to improve crop yields and to ultimately reduce mineral deficiencies in end-consumers.

    Another growth market lies in Zinc’s applications in battery technology, itself a growing segment in its own right.  Here, Zinc’s flexibility lends itself to application in wearable battery technology. Zinc batteries’ ability to quickly recharge constitutes another big selling point.

    Furthermore, as we continue our look “Through the Gateway” one should not forget Zinc’s Gateway Metal status – yielding access to metals and minerals as diverse and critical as Cadmium, Indium, Gallium and Germanium, the properties and supply and demand pictures of which we will explore over the next few weeks.

    Domestically, according to USGS, Zinc was mined in five states at 15 mines in 2015. However, we may be heading for trouble.   In spite of the fact that the United States is home to significant Zinc reserves, our degree of import dependence has risen from roughly 71% in 2012 to 82% in 2015. While our main supplier nations are Canada, Mexico and Peru, recent developments in China, which accounts for roughly 40% of global Zinc production, may affect the supply scenario going forward. As Bloomberg reported recently, Chinese smelters are having trouble securing sufficient raw materials and may have to cut production, and analysts see structural deficits looming.

    Zinc’s growing importance due to new applications and its Gateway Metal status is only another reason why policy makers would be well advised to look at our domestic manufacturing base’s mineral resource supply needs (and the needs of parents trying to prevent diaper rashes and sunburns) comprehensively, and strategically — because more often than not, turning to the vast mineral riches beneath our own soil could help prevent supply shortages and ultimately fuel the renaissance of American manufacturing.

  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Tellurium – A Rare Metal With Abundant Demand

    It may not have felt like it, but spring is here, and love is in the air (not just according to us, but also according to science). We’re here to help – and thought we’d share this gem of a pick-up line (available on T-shirts online): “You must be made of Copper and Tellurium, because you [...]
  • Through the Gateway: The Copper Gap That Needn’t Be

    Lately, web searches for “Copper” have seemed to turn up stories about the metal’s woes on the global commodity market on a daily basis.  Like many of its hard-rock commodity peers, Copper has seen its price decline over the past five years. However, there is good reason to believe that the self-corrective nature of commodity [...]