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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Metals in the Spotlight – Aluminum and the Intersection between Resource Policy and Trade

    While specialty and tech metals like the Rare Earths and Lithium continue to dominate the news cycles, there is a mainstay metal that has – for good reason – been making headlines as well: Aluminum. 

    Bloomberg recently even argued that “Aluminum Is the Market to Watch Closely in 2019.” 

    Included in the 2018 list of 35 minerals deemed critical to the United States national security and economy, aluminum is the No. 1 material by annual DoD usage, and a shortage of aluminum metal was cited in a nonclassified defense study as having ‘already caused some kind of significant weapon system production delay for DoD.’ 

    The U.S. is home to significant bauxite deposits, from which aluminum is sourced, but we import a significant percentage of the aluminum consumed domestically.  Unlike with other metals and minerals, however, this represents a marked decrease in geopolitical risk, as most of our aluminum imports are sourced from one of our closest trading partners, Canada, which accounted for 56% of total aluminum imports from 2013-2016.

    While viewed in isolation and from the upstream end of the supply chain at the minesite, the U.S. is increasingly import-dependent for the aluminum it needs, but viewed in the context of an integrated North American supply chain between the United States and Canada, our neighbor to the North is helping the U.S. close a significant domestic production shortfall.

    Thus, many were startled by the Administration’s decision earlier last year to impose trade tariffs on Canadian-made aluminum and steel under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.

    Followers of ARPN may recall that the USMCA, the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal to replace NAFTA struck in November 2018, had opened a window to drop these tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico, which stand in the way of a fully integrated North American defense supply chain and, particularly with regards to Canada, “ignore nearly 80 years of deep defense cooperation with our northern neighbor.”

    Unfortunately, the provision remained intact in the November agreement, prompting more than 45 groups representing a wide range of business sectors to renew their call for an end on the Section 232 tariffs in 2019.  In a coalition letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last week, the signatories argue that

    “for many farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, the damage from the reciprocal trade actions in the steel dispute far outweighs any benefit that may accrue to them from the USMCA. The continued application of metal tariffs means ongoing economic hardship for U.S. companies that depend on imported steel and aluminum, but that are not exempted from these tariffs. Producers of agricultural and manufactured products that are highly dependent on the Canadian and Mexican markets are also suffering serious financial losses.”  

    Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are preparing draft legislation to strip the Administration of the tool it used to impose the above-referenced tariffs, which it is considering to use to implement further duties on car and car part imports.  

    According to Politico, the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, the draft bill’s working title, would strip the president of the unilateral power to “make a final determination on whether to levy import restrictions if a Commerce Department analysis determines that foreign imports are undermining U.S. economic interests in a way that poses a threat to national security,” by requiring congressional approval of any such tariffs proposed under Section 232.  If passed, the legislation would also require a retroactive vote to approve any tariffs imposed under Section 232 within the last four years — including the ones on aluminum and steel the USMCA negotiators failed to strike. 

    With the tariffs removed, the November USMCA agreement could well become a springboard to take the strategic North American alliance to a new level.”  

    Here’s hoping Washington will not fail America.  

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  • Jadarite and the Materials Science Revolution – “Kryptonite” to Alleviate Mineral Supply Concerns?

    In 2007, a new mineral found in Serbia made headlines around the world. “Kryptonite Discovered in Mine” wrote the BBC about the discovery of a material the chemical formula of which – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – happened to match the one of the famed kryptonite stolen by Lex Luthor from a museum in the movie “Superman Returns.”

    Dr. Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at London’s Natural History Museum, whose help researchers enlisted when they found themselves unable to match their discovery with anything scientifically-known, told the BBC he was “shocked to discover this formula was already referenced in the literature – albeit literary fiction,” and said:

    “The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”

    As Jadarite has nothing to do with the real element Krypton, an colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas often used in fluorescent lamps, the mineral could not be called “kryptonite.” Instead, Jadarite, which contains Boron and Lithium, both of which are known to followers of ARPN for a number of applications, received its official name thanks to the geographic location of its discovery, the  Jadar Valley.

    The reason why most people will not have heard of the mineral is that Serbia is the only place in the world where Jadarite has been found – and to date, it has not been commercially developed.

    Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, which yields research breakthroughs on a daily basis, this may soon change, however. As Mining Review Africa reports, researchers at Rio Tinto’s Technical Development Centre in Bundoora outside of Melbourne, Australia, are working to develop a new chemical procedure to process the material.  A pilot processing plant has been housed within a large shipping container, to allow it to be deployed to the mine site in Serbia.

    Against the backdrop of the current EV battery technology fueling demand for Lithium, these efforts, if successful, could help alleviate mineral supply concerns in the long run.

    While recent stories about an oversupply have caused Lithium prices to slide, analysts believe that the fundamentals for Lithium are strong and long-term demand will shore up again. As Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s Andrew Miller recently told Reuters:

    “The demand for lithium isn’t really in question, it’s just a matter of when that demand really kicks in. (…) You just have to look at the number of battery factories that are being built around lithium-ion technology.” 

    As for Borates, while arguably considered the less “sexy” component in the Jadarite mix, fundamentals may be changing here, too.  As Chris Cann recently noted for Mining Journal, while the borates space has “historically, closely tracked global GDP numbers as the ability of the world’s population to buy more household products has driven the use of boric acid, (…), Borates are now linked to two areas of potentially strong growth.” 

    The two areas he references are the traditional application in agriculture/household, as well as the lesser-known use of Borates in electronics, “where Boron-laden permanent magnets are widely consumed, including as the most commonly used magnets for hybrid and electric vehicles.” 

    The bottom line is this – with advances in materials science disrupting and fundamentally altering the supply and demand picture for metals and minerals on a regular basis, the time to devise a comprehensive mineral resource strategy that accounts for these fast-paced changes has come.  Our nation’s competitiveness and national security depends on it.

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  • Critical Minerals Alaska – Rhenium Riches in Alaska Could Help Alleviate Supply Issues

    The BBC has dubbed Rhenium — another metal included in the Department of the Interior’s Final List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy — a “super element” with standout properties that can be likened to “alien technology.” Thus, it comes as no surprise that Shane Lasley, writing for North of 60 Mining [...]
  • ARPN Expert Panel Member: Defense Industrial Base Report “A Significant Step Forward for the U.S. Military”

    With the long-awaited Defense Industrial Base report finally released, analysts have begun pouring over the 146-pages-long document. One of the first issue experts to offer commentary in a national publication was Jeff Green, president of Washington, D.C.-based government relations firm J.A. Green & Company, and member of the ARPN panel of experts. Writing for Defense [...]
  • Soon To-Be-Released Defense Industrial Base Study May “Revolutionize Approach to Supply-Chain Security and  Strategic Materials”

    A good year ago, a presidential Executive Order (E.O. 13806) mandated the completion of a study to assess the “Manufacturing Capacity, Defense Industrial Base, and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.” According to a well-informed administration source, this defense industrial base study is now nearing completion, reports Breaking Defense. However, as Sydney J. Friedberg [...]
  • “Critical Minerals Alaska:” A Familiar Scenario for Tungsten – Chinese Domination and U.S. Prospects

    Pop quiz: Which metal has “the highest melting point of all the elements on the periodic table, (…) is a vital ingredient to a wide-range of industrial and military applications,” has made the Department of Interior’s final list of 35 metals deemed critical to U.S. national security, “yet none of this durable metal is currently [...]
  • Chinese Worries over Critical Mineral Supply Should Provide Impetus for U.S. Policy Reforms

    Escalating trade tensions have brought the issue of China’s near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earth Elements back to the front pages of American newspapers. If that isn’t reason enough for policy makers to use the momentum that has been building for the formulation of a comprehensive critical mineral strategy and an overhaul of policies standing [...]
  • A “Dangerous Dependence:”  Mineral Resource Security Goes Mainstream

    In recent weeks, we have seen a flurry of articles and commentaries in national publications discussing reforms to address our ever-growing reliance on foreign mineral resources.  The two most recent examples are member of the ARPN expert panel Jeffery A. Green’s piece in Real Clear Defense entitled “Dangerous Dependence on China for Critical Minerals Runs [...]
  • ICYMI – Video and Supporting Documents for AGI Webinar on “Tracking the Global Supply of Critical Materials”

    Last month, the American Geosciences Institute ran a webinar entitled “Tracking the Global Supply of Critical Materials.”  Speakers for the event, which discussed “efforts to gather information and develop tools that can be used to ensure a secure national and global supply of mineral resources, and identify and quantifying vulnerabilities in this supply, among others,” [...]
  • Lithium – A Material “Coming of Age” is Case in Point for Mineral Resource Policy Reform

    As we have outlined, last month’s executive order on critical minerals could have far-reaching implications for our national security and economic wellbeing.  If you needed a case in point – look no further than Lithium. One of the hottest commodities of the day, Lithium, as ARPN expert panel member and managing director of Benchmark Mineral [...]

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