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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Nickel – The “Metal That Brought You Cheap Flights” Now “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution”

    Another week, another great infographic by Visual Capitalist – this time on the “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution” – Nickel.
    Long an important base metal because of its alloying capabilities, Nickel’s status as a Gateway Metal, yielding access to tech minerals like Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium – all of which are increasingly becoming indispensable components of 21st Century technology – has continued to elevate the metal’s importance.   

    However, as the infographic outlines, it is its application in battery technology that may completely change Nickel’s status going forward. Here, so far, Cobalt and Lithium have been in the spotlight leaving Nickel largely underrated – even though by mass, Nickel already represents the most important component of Lithium-Ion cathodes. In order to increase energy density while reducing raw material costs, analysts expect the overall Nickel content in future battery chemistries to increase even further. 

    Meanwhile, as the infographic shows, most Nickel is not high-grade enough for battery production, with less than 10 percent coming in sulfide form, of which not all is battery-grade material. 

    From a U.S. perspective, USGS has in recent years revised its Nickel supply assessments, as we outlined last year when we discussed the “metal that brought you cheap flights” in the context of our Gateway Metals informational campaign

    “While previous year reports showed no domestic reserves for Nickel, reserves today are pegged at 160,000 metric tons – and one active new Nickel mine in Michigan produced 26,500 metric tons of concentrates for export to Canadian and overseas smelters. Our net import reliance for Nickel is 37 percent, and new projects in varying stages of development in Minnesota may further reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of Nickel.”

    Since then, our import reliance has dropped even further to 25 percent. 

    If demand projections materialize as outlined in the infographic, that is a good thing, though current investments into the Nickel market may not suffice to fully meet demand. 

    Time for our policy makers and other stakeholders to add Nickel to their watch list and get serious about devising a comprehensive mineral resource strategy. 

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  • Moores’ Law: The Rise of Lithium Ion Battery Megafactories and What it Means for Critical Mineral Resource Supply

    Earlier this month, Simon Moores, Managing Director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and member of the ARPN panel of experts testified before the full U.S. Senate Energy Committee on opportunities and risks in the energy storage supply chain.  

    We’re titling his observations as Moores’ Law — which is his for the taking, given the placement of the apostrophe. If he hasn’t used it yet, he should.
     While we already featured Moores’ top line points regarding the rise of Lithium Ion megafactories (also see the chart), we would be remiss if we didn’t share some of his takeaways on the implications for the main critical raw material inputs for this technology – namely Lithium, Graphite, Cobalt, and Nickel — and add some additional thoughts. 

    Lithium

    • For Lithium carbonate and Lithium hydroxide, the “base chemicals that the battery industry seeks,” Benchmark Mineral Intelligence sees a 10-fold increase in the industry’s demand profile over a ten-year timeframe. Lithium is largely sourced from Chile, Argentina and Australia, and is processed into battery grade in the U.S. and China. 

    • Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed for the Reno Gazette Journal, professor emeritus of mining engineering at the University of Nevada, Jaak Daemen, citing an even higher demand profile increase for Lithium, argued that with only one Lithium mine in the U.S., the United States is unprepared to meet demand with the main problem not being the lack of resources, but “a regulatory approach that endlessly delays bringing mines in production.” 

    Graphite

    • Lithium Ion technology uses both naturally mined flake Graphite as well as synthetic Graphite, in which the former accounts for roughly 60% of inputs, and the latter for roughly 40%. According to Moores’s testimony, China dominates natural flake mining at 62% of global production in 2016, followed by Brazil at 23%.  A similar scenario unfolds for refining, most of which also takes place in China. 

    • According to Moores, “[w]hile large flake graphite mines are being developed outside of China in Mozambique, Canada and the US, processing capacity to make anode material is still lagging.”

    • As we previously highlighted, the U.S. currently produces zero Graphite, with the last American Graphite mine having closed 25 years ago. 

    • As Moores points out, however, two Graphite companies are currently seeking to mine and process flake graphite for battery grade material in the U.S., so there is hope the supply picture will change domestically.

    Cobalt

    • According to Moores, 64% of the Cobalt consumed globally in 2016 was mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with China dominating the “refining step in the supply chain with 57% of global capacity.”

    • With Cobalt also being a Co-Product to Gateway Minerals like Copper and Nickel, Moores argues that “the fortunes of Cobalt – now driven by battery demand – is still at the mercy of Nickel and Copper commodities which is drive by industrial demand. This is causing long term planning issues for the EV supply chain.”

    • You can read ARPN’s latest blog item on Cobalt here

    Nickel

    • With advances in battery technology and changing formulas, Moores sees battery grade Nickel demand grow “from 75,000 tpa in 2016 to anywhere between 300-400,000 tpa by 2025.” 

    • Nickel production is in the million of tons a year, and from a U.S. point of view, the supply picture recently changed with our import dependence dropping from roughly 50 percent to currently 25 percent with new domestic projects having come online.  

    • However, as Moores points out, “the battery grade chemical material is specialist with only a handful of major producers outside of China.”

    Ultimately, this is food for thought for any discussion regarding the comprehensive mineral resource strategy our nation sorely needs.

    Says Moores:

    “Where we stand today in 2017, China is not only a the center of mass market EV development and deployment but also of cathode production, battery grade raw material refining and the building of the new battery cell capacity.  Those that control raw material and chemical / cathode refining know how and capacity will control the lithium ion battery supply chain. And those that control the lithium ion battery supply chain will be the biggest influencers on the next generation auto and energy industries.”

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  • Senate Energy Committee Zeroes in on Energy Storage Revolution – Where Will the Battery Megafactories Get the Minerals and Metals They Need?

    Just last week, we highlighted the surge in EV technology and its implications for mineral resource supply and demand.  A timely subject – as evidenced by the fact that the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy held a “Full Committee Hearing “to Examine Energy Storage Technologies” this week.  Simon Moores, Managing Director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence [...]
  • The Surge of EV Technology and Implications for Mineral Resource Supply and Demand

    You may have caught Elon Musk’s exchange with Daimler on Twitter over investment in EV technology earlier this week. Vacuum giant Dyson has also tossed its hat into the ring announcing that it will spend $2.7 billion to develop an electric car. The headlines are piling up, and it’s no longer a secret that demand [...]
  • 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: Nickel – Powering Modern Technology

    Over the course of the last few weeks, we reviewed Nickel and its co-products Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium as part of our trip “Through the Gateway.” We’ve established that the importance of each of the co-products is growing as the revolution in materials science advances. Meanwhile, our import dependence for each of the co-products is [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Scandium Embodies Materials Science Revolution

    As we near the conclusion of our journey “Through the Gateway,” we noticed that one metal has kept popping up in our coverage – Scandium. A co-product of Tin, we also discussed it in the context of the alloying properties of Gateway Metal Aluminum. It is also a co-product of Nickel. There is good reason it keeps popping up. For [...]
  • 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: 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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