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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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  • 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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  • Interview: AEMA’s Laura Skaer – The Mining Industry’s Challenges and a Look Ahead

    For the last few months, politics has sucked up much of the oxygen in Washington, DC and around the country.  With the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States behind us, many of us are hopeful that the time has come to finally shift the focus away from politics toward policy. Against the backdrop [...]
  • McGroarty on Critical Minerals: “It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Infrastructure”

    The New Year is now a little over a week old and the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States is just around the corner.  And while some are still dwelling on 2016 (we offered our post mortem at the end of the year), the time has come to look at what’s in store. One of [...]
  • The EPA’s Latest Push to Regulate Mining Companies – A Solution in Search of A Problem

    If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has its way, the nation’s miners will be saddled with a new regulation that is akin to a solution in search of a problem.  In the process, it would effectively duplicate other federal agencies’ responsibilities, preempt state authority, and potentially cripple an important industry. ARPN President Daniel McGroarty discusses [...]
  • 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: 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: Aluminum – Fueling the Renaissance of American Manufacturing

    Aluminum is not only one of the most sustainable materials these days, it is also making headlines – most recently during the North American Leaders Summit, also dubbed “Three Amigos Summit” held at the end of June in Ottawa, Canada.  Invoking challenges associated with China’s trade policy, President Obama called for the North American countries to [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum – Versatile and Timely

    After showcasing our first Gateway Metal, Copper, and its co-products, it’s time to move on to our next Gateway Metal as part of our “Through the Gateway” informational campaign. Chances are, you used it this past weekend, during and/or after your 4th of July barbecue.  It is being featured as a part of a massive art installation currently hosted by [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Selenium – More Than Just a Dietary Supplement

    Chances are, you’ve heard of Selenium.  As a trace element, it is an essential mineral found in small amounts in the body, with antioxidant properties. It is also a much-used suite of tools to automate web browsers across many platforms — which is why weeding out our news alerts for stories relevant to ARPN followers can be time-consuming. [...]

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