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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Why Cobalt Should be High on Your Radar

    In a recent article, the Financial Times zeroes in on one of the metals followers of ARPN will know is becoming increasingly indispensable to 21st Century clean energy technology: Cobalt. 

    Once an obscure metal you rarely heard about, this co-product of Nickel and Copper is increasingly afforded “critical mineral status” – primarily because of its application in Lithium-ion battery technology.

    The Financial Times calls out electric carmaker Tesla for only once mentioning the word “cobalt” in a 111-page draft prospectus for a proposed $1.5bn senior note offering:

    “This cursory mention of the electric carmaker’s dependence on the metal must have passed a formulaic test of what securities laws require. It may not, however, pass a laugh test among those familiar with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of world cobalt production and is the principal prospective source of new supply. Tesla has always been a company of the future funded by investors’ equity. The problem with a debt issue (the $1.5bn note matures in 2025), is that there is a more certain date with material reality.

    It has become more apparent that cobalt supply could be the choke point for the mass production of electric vehicles that are capable of replacing the standard car or light truck.”

     The Financial Times piece correctly argues that the most significant barrier to EV mass production is not so much price – even though prices have indeed soared – it is the availability of supply. As we have previously pointed out

    “On a global scale, 93 percent of the Cobalt refined in China – the world’s biggest Cobalt consumer – originates in the DRC, which, at 3,400,000 metric tons, is also home to the world’s largest Cobalt reserve.
    Roughly 62 percent of global refined Cobalt is sourced in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where production conditions involving involve child labor and poor environmental standards in some instances, have invited sharp criticism, but have prompted tech companies to re-evaluate their sourcing strategies.”

    And while optimists point to new Cobalt development projects around the world and argue that “lithium-ion batteries’ cobalt requirements can be engineered down,” there is no near-term silver bullet. Substitution will require significant amounts of time, testing and investment, and the DRC will remain a crucial factor. 

     Caspar Rawles, analyst for Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, recently put it bluntly: 

    “While there are a number of new cobalt projects being developed around the world, quite simply: there will be no electric vehicle industry without DRC cobalt.” 

    Domestic projects coming online are welcome developments to alleviate certain pressures and concerns, and should be part of a comprehensive overall mineral resource strategy for the United States but they can only be a starting point. Cobalt needs to be high on everyone’s radar, not a footnote in dusty financial documents. 

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  • Africa Taking Center Stage in China’s Quest for Resources

    It is “the single largest source of mineral commodities for the United States, particularly for resources like rare earth elements, germanium, and industrial diamonds,” according to the United States Geological Survey, which notes in its most recent Mineral Commodity Summaries report that “of the 47 mineral commodities that the United States is more than 50 percent reliant on foreign sources, 24 came in part from [this country].”

    It is the big elephant in the global resource policy room: China. And its footprint is growing – as we recently outlined, in the Arctic, and in Africa. A recent comprehensive Financial Times piece by David Pilling outlines Beijing’s growing multifaceted involvement on the African continent. As Pilling writes: 

    “In the past 15 years, […] the level of engagement by Chinese state-owned enterprises, political leaders, diplomats and entrepreneurs has put centuries of previous contact in the shade.”

    China’s engagement ranges from loans over investments for construction of roads, ports and railways to involvement in peacekeeping missions. According to Pilling, who cites think tank figures, China-Africa trade has risen from a mere $10 billion to 220 billion since 2000, while China’s foreign direct investment stocks went up from just 2 per cent of US levels to 55 per cent. Meanwhile, about one-sixth of all loans to Africa come from China.

    Most recently, and not surprisingly, Cobalt – a critical component of EV battery technology – has been in the crosshairs of Chinese companies, which have purchased multibillion-dollar stakes in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At 3,400,000 metric tons, the DRC is home to the world’s largest Cobalt reserve and roughly 62 percent of global refined Cobalt is sourced here.

    What does this mean for the rest of the world – and for the U.S. in particular? Writes Pilling:

    “The China-Africa relationship — partly spontaneous and partly the fruit of an orchestrated push from Beijing — is shifting the commercial and geopolitical axis of an entire continent that many western governments had all but given up on. While Europeans and Americans view Africa as a troubling source of instability, migration and terrorism — and, of course, precious minerals — China sees opportunity. Africa has oil, copper, cobalt and iron ore. It has markets for Chinese manufacturers and construction companies. And, perhaps least understood, it is a promising vehicle for Chinese geopolitical influence.”

    The global resource wars are continuing to heat up, but the U.S., for too long hamstrung by outdated policies and regulatory red tape, has been slow to even get off the starting block. There are indications this is changing, as evidenced by a current U.S. Commerce Department investigation into whether aluminum and steel imports from China and elsewhere constitute a threat to national security, among other things.

    As China continues its global quest for resources, now would be a good time for policy makers and stakeholders formulate a comprehensive U.S. mineral resource strategy our country has been sorely lacking. 

     

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  • Boron: Of “Slime,” Materials Science and Trade Balances

    If you have preschoolers or grade schoolers at home on summer break, chances are you’ve already had to make “slime.”   Researching the various recipes to make the latest kids’ craze, you will likely also have come across one often-used ingredient: Borax. While Borax has long been a traditional staple in American laundry rooms, borates are increasingly becoming [...]
  • Scandium – Ready to “Take Off”?

    Remember the Light Rider?  A few months ago, we highlighted this high-tech motorcycle, which, because it is held together by an intricate web of “Scalmalloy,” is perhaps the lightest motorcycle in the world. Scalmalloy is an “aluminum alloy powder ‘with almost the specific strength of titanium’ [used] to build incredible structures by fusing thin layers of the material together.” One [...]
  • Rhenium: “Alien Technology” Underscores Importance of Gateway Metals and Co-Products

    At ARPN, we have consistently highlighted the importance of Gateway Metals, which are materials that are not only critical to manufacturing and national security in their own right, but also “unlock” tech metals increasingly important to innovation and technological development. With advancements in materials science, these co-products, many of which have unique properties lending themselves [...]
  • Urban Mining – No Panacea but Important Piece of the Resource Strategy Puzzle

    Advances in materials science continue to transform the way we use metals and minerals, and in doing so, also change the supply and demand scenarios for many materials. As we recently pointed out on the ARPN blog, demand for Cobalt has been soaring thanks to its applications in battery technology and the growing popularity of electronic [...]
  • Cobalt Demand on the Rise – But What About Supply?

    Once an obscure metal most people had rarely heard about, Cobalt, a co-product of Nickel and Copper, is becoming a hot commodity and is increasingly afforded “critical mineral” status. The main reason for this development is Cobalt’s application in Lithium-ion battery technology. Soaring demand for rechargeable batteries and the growing popularity of electric cars have sent the [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Germanium – Semiconductor of the Future?

    Our first Zinc co-product, Germanium, is a silvery metalloid.  According to USGS, “in nature, it never exists as the native metal in nature” and “is rarely found in commercial quantities in the few minerals in which it is an essential component.” That said, the “most commercially important germanium-bearing ore deposits are zinc or lead-zinc deposits formed at low temperature.” Discovered [...]
  • Event: Benchmark Minerals World Tour Comes to Washington DC

    If you are based out of Washington, DC or happen to be in town on October 21, here’s an event you should not miss: Our friends at Benchmark Minerals, a U.K.-based price data collection and assessment company specializing in the lithium ion battery supply chain, are taking their Benchmark World Tour to Washington, DC.   ARPN expert and Benchmark [...]

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