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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Happy Independence Day! We’re Free, Yet So Dependent

    stephanie-mccabe-24620Happy Birthday, America! Another trip around the sun, and we’re back on the eve of the 4th of July gearing up for parades, barbecues and fireworks in honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue to safeguard our freedom today.

    Last year, we used this opportunity to point out that while we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent.  Of course, since we are who we are, ARPN looked at U.S. mineral resource policy as a case in point.  We feel our post is still very timely, and perhaps even more so today, as some of our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further since last year.  Take a look:

    “As our friends at the National Mining Association have aptly pointed out in their latest email message to their supporters (subscription only),  ‘minerals make possible much of the technology that enables national defense’ and  ‘keep our nation and our troops safe and fuel innovations that improve veterans’ quality of life.’

    Recognizing the importance of critical metals and minerals, the United States began placing an emphasis on securing access to these materials in the 1950s.   However, a recent USGS analysis paints a troubling picture.  An analysis of data collected between 1954 and 2014 shows that our reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame – both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance. As we previously pointed out:

    ‘The data clearly shows that whereas the number of nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number has increased to 47 in 2014.  And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and surged to 19 in 2014.’

    What’s more, there has been a drastic shift in provider countries:

    ‘Whereas in 1954 the U.S. sourced metals and minerals largely from our trading partners, our diversified supply sources today also include a number of countries that are ranked as ‘unfree’ and ‘less free’ on various indices, thus raising the specter of supply disruptions given the volatility of geopolitical realities.’

    ARPN followers know that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted.  Most recently, using the example of Copper, we’ve pointed this out as part of our ‘Through the Gateway’ informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-Products, arguing that:

    ‘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.  A similar scenario is feasible for a number of other critical metals and minerals, where we could, at a minimum, significantly reduce foreign import dependencies by harnessing our domestic mineral potential.’

    James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of the very nation the birthday of which we’re about to celebrate, once said:

    ‘I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.’

    USGS has alerted us to one of those gradual and silent encroachments.  They come in the form of decreased exploration spending and an increase in the time it takes for domestic mineral resource extraction projects to come online courtesy of a rigid and outdated permitting process.

    As indicated above, since last year, our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further:  According to this year’s USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries, the number of metals and minerals for which the United States is 100% is now pegged at 20. Meanwhile, there are now a whopping 50 metals and minerals for which we are more than 50% import dependent – compared to 43 in 2015.

    For those 50, China, which is known to play politics with its resource supplies, is listed 28 times as a major import source — up from 21 times in the previous year.

    Our ongoing failure to devise policies aimed at better harnessing our domestic resource potential has deepened our mineral resource dependencies – with real risks and implications for U.S. national security, the resurgence of American manufacturing and our competitiveness in 21st Century high tech innovation.

    On a positive note, and in contrast to previous years, it appears that this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries and the trends it shows have garnered more attention in both media and academia.   Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy.  Hopefully, in the midst of our national birthday celebrations, our policy makers are taking note.

    Photo credit:
    Stephanie McCabe

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  • Scandium – Ready to “Take Off”?

    Remember the Light Rider?  A few months ago, we highlighted this high-tech motorcycle, which, because it is held together by an intricate web of “Scalmalloy,” is perhaps the lightest motorcycle in the world. Scalmalloy is an “aluminum alloy powder ‘with almost the specific strength of titanium’ [used] to build incredible structures by fusing thin layers of the material together.” One of its key components is Scandium – which explains the first syllable of its somewhat curious name, Aluminum being the middle-portion, with the “M” standing for Magnesium.

    It is new applications like these that are making Scandium an increasingly indispensable tech metal, particularly in the context of the lightweighting revolution – a development marked by the “growing imperative to lightweight transportation, buildings, and infrastructure systems.” 

    Scandium gives superplasticity to Aluminum alloys, making them more resistant to strain and bending forces, increasing the alloy’s welding capability, and allowing for the usage of replacing heavier metals with lighter-weight materials like Aluminum.  Aircraft manufacturers have long been interested in Scandium and Scandium-alloyed Aluminum materials because use of Aluminium-Scandium alloys has helped reduce aircraft weights by 15% to 20%, without compromising the strength of the building material.

    It’s a lesson learned long ago by the Soviet Union – whose MIG fighter series was — and in the Russian era, still is – dependent on Scandium, which the Soviets had and the West lacked.  So the geopolitics of Scandium supply is an old story, setting up for a new chapter in our tech-driven 21st Century.  (Add in the need for a reliable refined Aluminum supply, including smelting, which these days depends heavily on Canadian facilities, and it’s clear our supply chain dependencies are interlaced – but that’s a post for another day.)

    In the form of Scalmalloy, with its potential to ultimately help reduce emissions, industry insiders believe the lightweighting revolution will quickly expand from the transportation sector to infrastructure projects.  For Scandium, some expect demand to soar as high as by 800% over the next decade.

    However, there are challenges. A recent post on Investor Intel explains:

    “The problem the aircraft manufacturers face in adoption of Scandium alloys en masse is not one of price or desirability[-] it is of supply. With no primary mines and no sizeable supply[,] there could at some point be an absolute absence of Scandium supply for either competition reasons or geopolitical considerations.”

    Indeed, as we have previously pointed out:

    While on paper, Scandium resources may in fact be abundant, it is rarely concentrated in nature, making commercially viable deposits extremely rare. Because it is at present largely recovered as a co-product during the processing of various Gateway Metals, including Tin and Nickel, total global production rates are quite low (see our previous post).  Scandium may also be present in certain Copper and Rare Earth deposits.”

    In order to meet this anticipated jump in demand, several mining companies – most recently in Russia and Australia – have begun exploring the possibility of primary Scandium recovery.  In the U.S., which is currently 100% import dependent to meet our domestic Scandium needs and has to rely on China and Russia, developers of multi-metallic deposits are also studying the inclusion of scandium recovery into their project plans.

    The potential for Scandium to “take off” is clearly there. However, for this to happen, Investor Intel’s Christopher Ecclestone cautions that supply has to be secured first:

    “It is clear that the industry wants to apply the benefits that Scandium brings but it is not going to go out on the limb and hope that the adage ‘Build it and they will supply us’ proves to be true. As we all know that train is heading down the track fullspeed towards Tesla that has foolishly failed to secure its supply of Cobalt and Lithium for the future. The likes of Boeing and Airbus are not so naïve.

    Thus when a significant supply of Scandium is guaranteed then the synergies between aeronautics and Scandium mining will come into play and the uptake of product will be potentially enormous.”

     Change cannot happen overnight – particularly in a regulatory environment that does not favor resource development.  From a U.S. perspective, much will depend on whether domestic stakeholders are able to improve our policy framework to unleash our own resource potential.

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  • Rhenium: “Alien Technology” Underscores Importance of Gateway Metals and Co-Products

    At ARPN, we have consistently highlighted the importance of Gateway Metals, which are materials that 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. With advancements in materials science, these co-products, many of which have unique properties lending themselves [...]
  • As Resource Dependence Deepens, Miners Pivot Back to U.S. For Exploration

    Against the backdrop of market prices recovering and supply woes looming, mining companies are expected to increase spending on exploration for the first time in five years, reports news agency Reuters. In what may spell good news for the United States, analysts anticipate the biggest expenditure increases to occur in the United States, Canada and Australia, all [...]
  • 2016 – A Mixed Bag for Mineral Resource Policy

    It’s that time of the year again.  And as people are gearing up for the New Year, we are taking the opportunity to take stock of the last twelve months, and want to highlight a few select notable developments of relevance to ARPN followers. From a mineral resource policy perspective, we saw some positive developments [...]
  • Through the Gateway: A Scholarly Look

    Over the course of the past few months, we have featured two classes of metals and minerals, which we believe deserve more attention than they are currently being awarded.  Expanding on the findings of our 2012 “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we focused on a group of five “Gateway” metals which [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Rhodium – Not Just Another Platinum Group Metal

    A rare, silvery white, hard and corrosion-resistant metal, Rhodium is not only one of Palladium’s fellow members of the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs); it, too, happens to be a Nickel co-product.  And, as is the case with Palladium, one of Rhodium’s main uses is in catalytic converters to reduce automobile emissions, as well as in industrial catalysts. Alloyed with [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Palladium – A Catalyst For Comprehensive Resource Policy?

    For some, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word Palladium is boots – made popular by the French Legion and the Grunge movement of the 1990s. Others may be more familiar with the element Palladium, a member of the Platinum-Group Metals (PGMs), and as ARPN would argue, of greater interest to us [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Through The Gateway: A Look at Gateway Metals, Co-Products and the Foundations of American Technology

    The following is an overview of our “Through the Gateway” informational campaign, in which we outline the importance of Gateway Metals and their Co-Products. Here, we expand on the findings of our “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we focused on a group of five “Gateway Metals,” which are not only critical to manufacturing and [...]

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