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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Critical Materials Institute Head Puts Apple’s Goal to Stop Mining in Context

    Recently, tech giant Apple made a bit of a splash with the announcement of a lofty sustainability goal — one the company itself is not sure how to achieve yet.

    Kicking off its new Environmental Responsibility Report with the question “Can we one day stop mining the Earth altogether?,” Apple commits itself to working towards a “closed-loop supply chain, where products are built using only renewable resources or recycled material.”

    However, while Apple currently boasts some of the most robust and rigorous sustainability and recycling programs in the entire tech sector, “the goal of a mining-free iPhone is not only far off; at the moment, it’s scientifically impossible,” writes Jason Koebler for Motherboard.  Scientific confirmation of that statement comes from someone who would know: Alex King, director of the Critical Materials Institute at the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory.

     King, while giving the company credit for making a “noble promise” setting a real “‘stretch goal’ for the company,” points out that while recycling aluminum is easy, the same cannot be said for some of the other materials that make up the iPhone:

    “The current iPhone models use somewhere around 60 or 65 distinct chemical elements, most of which are not recycled at all today and only come from mines.”

    Citing the example of Neodymium — which is used in the iPhone’s speakers and has so far only been recycled in miniscule quantities in research studies rather than on a bigger scale — Benjamin Sprecher, a researcher at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands focused on REE recycling agrees, arguing that “there is no recycling infrastructure in place to produce some of these metals on the scale that Apple requires.”

    Another challenge associated with a “closed loop supply chain” is the question of where materials will come from, if they’re not mined, as, in the words of Alex King,  “[t]hey will certainly not be able to make new iPhones just by recycling the materials in old iPhones. Their recycled materials will most likely come from other kinds of post-consumer scrap.”

    Meanwhile, Apple’s announcement is strategically smart, says Kyle Wiens, CEO for iFixit, precisely because it is ambitious yet vague and has no specific timeline: “It’s 100 percent unattainable today, but it’s a goal that lets them claim progress toward it without proving anything to the rest of us, because it’s a metric that’s independently unverifiable.”

    For the time being, however, with Apple’s promise currently being no more meaningful than say, SpaceX hopes to eventually colonize Mars,” as Koebler bluntly phrases it, policy makers should work towards creating a policy framework that fosters both recycling as well as the responsible harnessing of mineral resources we need today and will increasingly rely on in the future.

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  • USGS Report Bellwether for National Security Crisis?

    For over two decades, the United States Geological Survey has released its Mineral Commodity Summaries report.  And while ARPN followers will know how important this publication is, as it provides a snapshot of our nation’s mineral resource dependencies, in most years its release has gone largely unnoticed beyond the circles of mineral resource wonks.

    This year, a national outlet has taken note – and it may be good timing, as our growing reliance on foreign mineral resources spell trouble.

    Earlier this month, John Moody, Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News, raised the specter of the President and his administration having to face the “very real possibility that China could cut off U.S. access to 17 rare materials vital to our advanced aircraft and guided missile systems,” as China has a near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earths.

    In a new piece for Fox News, Moody, citing the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report, highlights the United States’ 100 percent import dependency for at least 20 metals and minerals, and the fact that China is the most common source for many of these and other metals and minerals listed in the USGS report. According to Moody, this is a serious threat to our future military security – a threat which albeit acknowledged, has so far largely been ignored.

    Moody quotes REE expert and mining industry veteran George Byers, who confirms:

    “That 2017 USGS report is not fake news, (…). You have 29 or 30 studies on critical materials, including rare earths that go back to the early ‘90s. The outcome of each study is to declare ‘we have a crisis, let’s do something about it.’ But all they do about it, is to ask for another study.”

    Pointing to a legislative effort to be spearheaded by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Calif.), which seeks to mandate that the U.S. military obtain Rare Earths sourced domestically – even if this would mean subsidizing those industries – Moody explains the underlying challenge:

    “The problem, these analysts note, is that U.S. production capacity in this area has been allowed to wither to almost nothing, due to plentiful supplies from China that can be produced at a lower price than U.S. made rare earths.

    Even more perilous, China’s own rapacious demand for rare earths is outstripping its ability to supply domestic consumers as well as the U.S., meaning it may be unable to ship goods to the U.S. even if it wants to.

     In addition to rare earths, which are vital components of high-grade permanent magnets used in military aircraft and missile systems, the United States, according to the USGS report, is now 100 percent reliant on foreign countries for supplies of manganese, which is used to make impact resistant steel, among other things. Though readily available in mines in Arizona, Arkansas and Minnesota, it can be imported more cheaply. The USGS study lists American production of manganese last year as: zero.”

    Indeed, Rare Earths – though of critical importance for our domestic manufacturers and our military, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and with trade issues looming and the global race for mineral resources heating up, our failure to respond to these supply challenges may soon come to haunt us.  Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy this year.

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  • 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 [...]
  • Lacking Critical Mineral Resource Strategy on Earth, Congress Passes Law for Space Exploration

    In what may be a prime example of not being able to see the forest for the trees, Congress has passed, and President Obama has signed legislation allowing for the commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water from the moon and asteroids. Some compare the move to “visions of the great opening of [...]
  • German government agency emphasizes domestic resources

    In its Energy Study 2012, the German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA) emphasizes the importance of using domestic raw materials against the backdrop of increased price volatility and supply risk. As summarized by the German daily Handelsblatt, the agency’s core message is as follows (rough translation): Supply shortages are likely to occur not due to due [...]
  • Canadian paper warns of new Cold War over arctic riches

    Working to implement a “strategy to reverse years of neglect and decline in its Far North,” Russia appears ready to re-embrace a Cold War, according to a detailed story in the Toronto Star.  Home to vast mineral resources including oil, zinc, and gold, for example, the Arctic is viewed by Russia as its strategic future, [...]
  • India to overhaul its critical mineral strategy

    The Indian Express ran an excellent article this week on India’s efforts to develop a mineral strategy.  The piece gives a broad overview on the global context of the critical mineral mining environment from an Indian perspective. It points out that China not only accounts for more than 90 percent of global REE supply, but [...]
  • U.S. mineral policies – from the frying pan into the fire?

    In a column for Reuters, market analyst Chris Kimmerle argues that U.S. policy makers need to do more to ensure a steady supply of critical non-fuel mineral resources, and in doing so must address geopolitical risks and other supply challenges. A variety of critical metals and minerals are not only essential components of items ranging [...]
  • Could ‘Rock’ suffer from Rare Earths shortage?

    For those who remember Rare Earth as a rock band, life has come full circle: Smarthouse Lifestyle Technology Guide reports today that audio speaker costs are “set to rocket” due to rapidly rising prices for Neodymium-based magnets. Whether rockers- and other music listeners- will pay more to hear their favorite music, or companies will compromise [...]

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