American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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.

    However, more relevant from our vantage point are this rare mineral’s other uses.  According to USGS, Selenium, which is known to have semiconducting properties, is used in glass manufacturing to decolorize the green tint caused by iron impurities, and — increasingly important to new applications — to reduce solar heat transmission.  In catalysts, it enhances selective oxidation, in plating solutions, it improves appearance and durability, and in gun bluing, it improves appearance and provides corrosion resistance.  It is further used in rubber-compounding chemicals, in the electrolytic production of manganese, and in copper, lead, and steel alloys to improve machinability.

    Perhaps its most important use today is its application in solar technology.  Like Tellurium, Selenium plays a critical role in the performance of thin-film photovoltaic cells.  While Tellurium is used in combination with Cadmium for CdTe technology, Selenium is alloyed with Copper, Indium and Gallium, creating a material commonly referred to as CIGS.

    Both CdTe and CIGS technologies were the new kids on the block during the first solar boom, though Selenium’s  photoconductive properties were already discovered by British scientist Willoughby Smith in 1873. Companies engaged in both technologies have since vied for front-runner status  in the solar world by attempting to improve the respective material’s efficiencies.  While CIGS seemed to have a leg up up until recently, new test results for CdTe are promising. The bottom line, however: both materials, and with that Tellurium and Selenium, are in high demand.

    What holds true for most tech metals and minerals, applies here too: substitution may occur, but technological advances in materials sciences will likely continue to fuel demand. Selenium may have been replaced by organic photoreceptors in some plain paper copiers, but new nano-technological applications, for example in electronics, are already being tested by researchers.

    As is the case with Tellurium, most Selenium used in the United States is derived from residues produced during the refining process of Copper, so the supply of Selenium is of course directly affected by the supply of Copper.

    If you’ve read our last post about Tellurium, you probably have Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” stuck in your head now. You’re welcome.

  • 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 cycles will take hold, and Copper fundamentals remain strong, particularly as Copper, which as we have pointed out, is far more than an “old school” industrial mainstay metal and in fact may well be dubbed the “Gateway to Renewable Energy.”

    It is important to note that the current global copper oversupply does not translate into a Copper surplus in the United States – according to the latest USGS Mineral Commodities Summaries, we still import 36% of the Copper we consume.

    That wasn’t always the case. As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty has pointed out:

    “American policymakers once treated copper as a strategic metal.  It was held in the National Defense Stockpile during the Cold War.  When the Soviet Union imploded two decades ago, the U.S. produced 93 percent of the copper we consumed.  Copper was sold out of the stockpile – which today stands at zero.  In the past 20 years, copper imports have increased five-fold, to 35 percent.

    In other words, we’ve gone from a situation of near self-sufficiency to a shortfall of more than 600,000 tons per year – demand that must be met by imports.”

    A similar scenario has unfolded for many other metals and minerals, and in many cases, needlessly so, as the United States has significant known mineral resources with an estimated net worth of $6.2 trillion beneath our own soil.  With estimated reserves of 33 million metric tons of Copper, the United States is well positioned to close the Copper Gap – a move that would be beneficial on several levels:

    “Indeed, American miners could help the U.S. become a copper exporter – just as American farmers feed the world.  American alternative energy manufacturers, seeking to build wind turbines and solar panels, would enjoy sources of selenium and tellurium here in the U.S.”

    However, a number of policy hurdles – among them chiefly a rigid and outdated permitting process for domestic mining projects – stand in the way of such a development.

    In the long term, we can expect commodity prices to pick up again. While we wait for the long term to arrive, the prudent course of action would be to tackle these policy obstacles head on.

    We will be looking at some of these issues, as well as current efforts and policy prescriptions in more detail in separate posts.  In the meantime, our focus will shift to Copper’s co-products, many of which have become critical tech metals in their own right. 


  • “A case study in critical metals inaction” – ARPN’s McGroarty on Rhenium

    In a new piece for Investor Intel, our very own Dan McGroarty sounds the alarm on a little-noticed but troubling passage in the U.S. House-passed Defense Authorization Act for 2014.  Said section in Title III acknowledges the importance of Tungsten and Molybdenum powders, including Tungsten Rhenium (WRe) wire to a variety of Department of Defense [...]
  • While U.S. is slow to even begin permitting reform, Queensland, Australia speeds up already expeditious process

    An overhaul of the approvals process in Queensland, Australia will cut the time it takes to issue an exploration permit in half, according to the state’s government.  The change applies to exploration permits only, and government officials are very clear that a granted exploration permit is not a right to mine. Nonetheless, the new process represents [...]
  • Six-state mining ban on public lands: Administration policy contradicts stated goal

    In a recent op-ed for the Pueblo Chieftain, National Mining Association president and CEO Hal Quinn and Colorado Mining Association president Stuart Sanderson discuss the U.S. Administration’s recent decision to take more than 300,000 acres of federal public lands in six Western states, including Colorado, off limits for mineral exploration. Embedding it into the context [...]
  • What Happened to the Commitment to “Shovel-Ready” Jobs?

    At a time when the U.S. economy is still struggling, it is particularly troubling to see that real opportunities to foster job creation are being wasted by poor policy-making in Washington, DC. As Forbes reports, Caterpillar Inc.’s mining segment is facing severe pressure from a decline in capital spending from mining industries, owed in part [...]
  • More market manipulations from China?

    According to media reports surfacing this week, China is looking to cut essentially cut mining rights for REE producers in half – to 67 points down from 113. Analysts tie the move into China’s overall effort to “strengthen its pricing power in the international rare earth market.” This wouldn’t be the first time China, which [...]
  • Fraser Institute to host third Mining Business Risks Summit in November

    The Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think tank and the intellectual home for three of our policy experts, has teamed up with CRU Group, the leading independent business analysis and consultancy group focused on metals and mining, again to host their third Mining Business Risks Summit, to be held in Toronto, Canada, 1-2 November [...]
  • America’s Plan du Nord? Mining’s benefits for Alaska

    A profile of Alaska’s mining industry in Petroleum News showcases the benefits the sector provides to the state, including “substantial and growing contributions” to Alaska’s economy and its communities. Here are some of the piece’s key points: In 2011, the mining industry accounted for 4,500 direct and 4,500 indirect jobs, most of which were year-round [...]
  • New Zealand Government Seeks to Accelerate Mining Permits

    While the U.S. Government continues to talk about critical minerals access and the dangers of foreign dependency, New Zealand’s government is taking action. According to MiningNe.ws, the New Zealand government is “looking at ways of speeding up approvals for big mining projects because endless court action is “frustrating” companies and costing them millions.” Here are [...]