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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 to new applications, are quickly becoming building blocks of 21st Century technologies.

    Rhenium – a Copper co-product – is a case in point; which is why the BBC has made it the subject of a short yet informative clip as part of its “Secrets of the Super Elements” series. Likening Rhenium’s stand-out properties to “alien technology,” the clip provides a great visual explanation of Rhenium’s heat resistance, which has made it an indispensable component for superalloys used in turbine blades for jet aircraft engines.

    Watch the clip here:

    In other words – which the BBC notes elsewhere:

    “[t]he ability of superalloys to operate at such extreme temperatures is what makes your holiday to the Algarve or Florida affordable.”

    Meanwhile, primarily derived as a co-Product of Copper mining, Rhenium is extremely rare, with an average abundance of less than one part per billion in the continental crust.

    USGS pegs global Rhenium production at a total of merely 47 metric tons, with more than 80 percent of that amount going into superalloys.

    To address supply concerns, users are turning to recycling and substitution, however neither represents a panacea, as a piece in the Economist outlined several years ago:

    “General Electric, one of the world’s biggest makers of jet engines, has spent years developing nickel-based superalloys to replace rhenium. But the best GE’s boffins could manage was to reduce the amount of metal required, not eliminate it altogether. Moreover, few manufacturers possess the resources to achieve even such limited progress.”

    What does that mean for domestic use and production? According to revised USGS numbers, U.S. import reliance for Rhenium is at 81 percent. As we previously pointed out:

    “Because the recovery process is complicated and requires special facilities, we are unlikely to fully meet our demand with domestic resources. However, a strong demand for Rhenium is likely here to stay. That, coupled with the fact that we have proven Rhenium reserves in the U.S. (the development of one of which has been projected to generate more than 20 tons of Rhenium per year as a Copper Co-Product, thus significantly reducing our reliance on foreign imports), should suffice to get policy makers’ attention (…).”

    The bottom line: We need to rethink the way we look at some of our old-school mainstay metals, and give the ones that serve as gateway metals – in Rhenium’s case Copper – more thorough consideration. After all, they hold the key to unlocking those “alien technology” “super elements” that keep us safe, afford us everyday convenience, and keep us competitive from an economic perspective.

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  • 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 of which are considered “safe bets” due to lower operating risks and high technology standards.  Providing a private sector viewpoint, Stephen McIntosh, group executive for growth and innovation at Rio Tinto, says:

    At quiet periods in the cycle, we will typically press out into non-OECD countries (…) But at the moment, we’re focusing on the OECD, predominately the Americas, and predominately for copper.

    The development comes at a critical time when U.S. mineral resource dependencies are deepening, as the USGS’s just-released Mineral Commodity Summaries report shows.   And while for Copper (which is one of the main metals discussed in the Reuters piece) our overall dependence may have slightly dropped, demand is likely to grow significantly — due to increased infrastructure and clean tech investments (both areas in which Copper is becoming increasingly indispensible), and because of its status as a Gateway Metal (to scarce specialty metals like Rhenium, Selenium, Tellurium, Cobalt and in some instances the Rare Earths).

    While Reuters reports on these developments largely from a market perspective, there may be policy considerations at work, here, too:

    The mining industry’s pivoting back towards the United States may reflect a growing optimism that with a new Administration at the helm in Washington, DC, policies devised at creating a regulatory environment that is more conducive to responsible domestic resource development may stand a better chance.  Here’s hoping that their optimism is well founded – America’s economic well-being, as well as our competitiveness and national security would be well-served.

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  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: The Geopolitics of Co-Product Supply – a Look at Scandium

    Throughout ARPN’s work, we have consistently highlighted the geopolitical dimension of mineral resource policy.  Where we source (or fail to source) our metals and minerals is an often forgotten – or ignored – factor, with implications for our domestic manufacturers, and, at times, even for our national security. Case in point – and in keeping [...]
  • Through The Gateway: Indium – Taking Virtual Reality Mainstream?

    Here we [Pokémon] go again.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, and we find another reason to talk about an augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm. But there’s a good reason: Pokémon Go may be giving us a glimpse into our future, or more precisely, the future of smartphone technology.  [...]

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