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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Scandium Has Yet to Go “Ballistic” — Will Recent Developments Change the Material’s Odds to Shine?

    “This obscure metal is going to go ballistic in a few years,” John Kaiser of Kaiser Research told the Investing News Network a few years ago. The metal he was referring to is Scandium — a material that is “as strong as titanium, as light as aluminum, and as hard as ceramic.” It’s a material that has become one of the poster children of our nation’s critical mineral resource dependencies — though you are most likely to have heard of the element group it is assigned to: the Rare Earths. Like its 16 peers in the REE group, scandium itself is not necessarily rare, but it is “rarely concentrated in nature, making commercially viable deposits extremely scarce.”

    Most frequently harnessed as a co-product in the refining process of other metals such as tin and nickel, processing has proven difficult.

    Thus, in spite of breakthrough new applications for the material, especially in the context of the lightweighting revolution (readers may recall the Light Rider), Kaiser’s prediction has yet to materialize.

    There are indications, however, that its time is about to come as the materials science revolution marches on.

    A new piece for Investing News Network takes a closer look at the current scandium market and discusses current production, new market entrants, and scandium’s potential to shine in the future.

    The piece, which draws from a recent Kaiser Research study citing “an enormous latent demand for scandium if it ever became available on a primary scalable basis,” highlights two recent market events in the scandium space that, according to Kaiser “have the potential to launch scandium demand growth over the next decade towards a 1,000 (tonne per annum) market worth $2 billion:”

    “For one, Rio Tinto announced in early 2020 that it has developed a route to recovery for scandium at its Sorel-Tracy facility in Quebec, where it produces titanium slag from the Lac Tio iron-titanium deposit. [More information on this development here.]

    Secondly, Scandium International Mining filed an application in late 2019 for a patent protecting a method for recovering scandium and other metals from the waste streams of copper oxide leaching operations. In mid-2020, the company announced that copper raffinate tests showed there is enough recoverable scandium using its patent-pending process to match the supply growth coming from Rio Tinto’s recovery of scandium from its titanium upgrading slag.”

    Airbus has long recognized the importance of scandium, and developed the aluminum alloy “Scalmalloy” in partnership with APWORKS several years ago. Earlier this week, the company announced three new concepts for “the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft which could enter service by 2035” — and there’s a good chance that – in light of its properties and Airbus’s work in the field – scandium may have found its way into the concepts.

    With lightweighting becoming increasingly important in aeronautics and the automobile industry, and breakthroughs as the ones referenced above, the odds for scandium to finally “go ballistic” may have just increased significantly.

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  • Russia Pushes for Global Rare Earth Market Share as U.S. Struggles to Move Forward With Critical Minerals Initiatives

    Russia is certainly making headlines this week. 

    Quite obviously, much of the media attention is focused around President Vladimir Putin’s declaration that Russia has approved a vaccine for the coronavirus (after less than two months of testing) — but developments in the critical minerals realm also warrant attention:

    A top Russian government official has told Reuters that Russia plans an investment of $1.5 billion in rare earth minerals in its quest to become the biggest REE producer after China by 2030.

    The move comes at a time when other countries, including the United States, are trying to curb their over-reliance on foreign critical minerals against the backdrop of growing tensions with China, which has long held the pole position in the race to control the global REE supply chain.

    According to Reuters, Russia is looking to attract investors for eleven projects designed to increase the country’s share of global REE output to 10% by 2030, allowing for Russia to “become almost self-sufficient in rare earth elements by 2025 and start exports in 2026.”

    While it appeared that U.S. efforts to promote domestic critical mineral resource development were finally gaining traction in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic having laid bare our mineral resource supply chain challenges and over-reliance on foreign (and especially Chinese) supplies, policy may once more become the victim of politics in this watershed election year. 

    Reform-minded lawmakers have put forth several legislative initiatives, and have even formed a bipartisan “Critical Materials Caucus.”  However, while critical minerals provisions were added to the latest round of COVID relief stimulus packages, chances of their passage have been dwindling as partisan tensions continue to flare.
    As attempts to keep the momentum for resource-related policy reform appear to have come to an impasse in Congress, researchers are forging ahead to provide innovative solutions that not only transform the way we use certain metals and minerals, but have the potential to help alleviate our over-reliance issues. 

    The Department of Energy has stepped up its efforts to promote collaboration between its research hubs and the private sector to look for ways to diversify mineral resource supply, develop substitutes and drive recycling of critical minerals and rare earth elements. Some recent initiatives include “using a high-speed shredder that turns old computer hard drives into scrap containing significant amounts of REE content,” and “recovering nickel, cobalt and manganese from disassembled electric vehicle battery packs.”

    Meanwhile, in the private sector, a rare earths pilot plant processing facility situated in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, which will focus on group separation on REEs in to heavy, middle, and light rare earths, has received the required permits and officially opened. According to media reports“USA Rare Earth’s pilot plant is the second link in a 100% US-based rare earth oxide supply chain, drawing on feedstock from its Round Top deposit.”

    Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit,  the U.S. had begun to enter into cooperative agreements with allied nations to ensure future supplies of critical materials, specifically with Canada and Australia. 

    Against the backdrop of the upcoming 2020 elections, finding policy consensus may be more than an uphill battle.  However, for the sake of our national security and economic wellbeing, lawmakers would be well-advised to reach out across the political aisle to foster a policy environment that promotes an all-of-the-above approach on critical minerals and harnesses the United States’ vast domestic mineral potential.   

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  • Beyond the Rhetoric Lies the Hard Reality of Materials Supply — ARPN’s McGroarty on U.S. Ban of Huawei’s 5G in the Context of Resource Policy

    In a new piece for The Economic Standard, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty discusses critical mineral resource challenges associated with “the great U.S.-China decoupling.”  He does so against the backdrop of the U.S. decision to ban Huawei’s 5G network and imposition of travel sanctions on Huawei employees — a move McGroarty says may well be called the “first battle of [...]
  • Independence Day 2020 – Critical Mineral Resource Policy in a Watershed Year

    It’s that time of the year again – Independence Day is upon us.  This year, things are different, though. If you’re like us, it kind of snuck up on you, and it took seeing the booths selling fireworks in the parking lots to realize it’s July already.  After all, we just came off the longest month of [...]
  • ARPN’s Wirtz: “COVID Should Be the Last Warning the U.S. Needs to Bolster Mineral Resource Security”

    ***Posted by Daniel McGroarty*** “The current coronavirus pandemic has exposed significant supply chain challenges associated with our over-reliance on foreign (and especially Chinese) raw materials,” — writes ARPN’s Sandra Wirtz in a new piece for The Economic Standard:   “PPE has become the poster child, but whether it’s smart phone technology, solar panels, electric vehicles, or [...]
  • ARPN’s McGroarty for The Economic Standard: Red Swan – a Leaked 2010 Cable on Critical Infrastructure/Key Resource Vulnerabilities Provided Warning Signs We Failed To Act On

    In a new piece for The Economic Standard, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty argues that while the “intellectual shrug” of “who could have seen this coming” tends to be a common reaction to our new normal of sheltering in place and social distancing, there were warning signs for a coming crisis we failed to recognize for what they were, and act [...]
  • ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty for RealClearPolitics: “Time to Reduce Reliance on China for Medicine AND Critical Minerals”

    In a new piece for RealClear Politics, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty argues that while the current focus on ending the dangerous dependence on critical medicines needed to combat COVID-19 is more than warranted, Congress and the administration “may want to broaden their focus from critical medicines to critical minerals.” Read his full piece here: Getting Critical [...]
  • To Reduce Supply Chain Vulnerabilities, U.S. Should Tap Domestic Mineral Resources More

    Over the past few weeks, the spread of the coronavirus has begun to expose the supply chain challenges associated with an over-reliance on foreign raw materials, the effects of which will be felt across broad segments of manufacturing. In a new piece for PennLive Patriot-News, Michael Stumo, CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America [...]
  • Coronavirus Underscores Perils of Resource Dependence – A Look at Rare Earths

    While many first think of the human dimension and health implications of the recent outbreak and ongoing spread of the coronavirus — and quite rightly, given the potentially  fatal consequences — the crisis with pandemic potential has ramifications that reach far beyond the health sector. In a new piece for Tech Metal News, Shane Lasley takes a [...]
  • U.S.-Canadian Critical Minerals Collaboration Moves Into Next Round

    It’s official. On January 9, 2020, the governments of the United States and Canada formally announced the finalization of the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration to advance “our mutual interest in securing supply chains for the critical minerals needed for important manufacturing sectors, including communication technology, aerospace and defence, and clean technology.” [...]

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