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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Advances in Materials Science Warrant Rethink in Resource Policy

    We appreciate them for their traditional applications, but metals like Copper and Tin are far more than your mainstay materials.  We discussed their Gateway Metal status here, but it’s not just the fact that their development yields access to some of the most sought-after tech metals that makes them so indispensible – it’s advances in materials science that elevate their critical mineral status.

    One of the latest examples comes to us via Science, which earlier this month discussed the development of a new cheap chemical catalyst that is able to mimic parts of the photosynthetic process, using solar generated electricity to split CO2 into energy-rich carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen.

    Researchers have long been studying various catalysts that enable CO2 splitting, among them most prominently a mix of Copper and oxygen called copper oxide.  In light of its shortcomings – the catalyst splitting more water than CO2, thus making a less energy-rich compound – a grad student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne last year added a layer of said catalysts on a tin oxide–based electrode.  The new catalyst generated almost pure CO.  The research team went to work making some tweaks to their electrodes – with great success, according to Science:

    “As Graetzel’s team reports this week in Nature Energy, the strategy worked, converting 90% of the CO2 molecules into CO, with hydrogen and other byproducts making up the rest. They also hooked their setup to a solar cell and showed that a record 13.4% of the energy in the captured sunlight was converted into the CO’s chemical bonds. That’s far better than plants, which store energy with about 1% efficiency, and even tops recent hybrid approaches that combine catalysts with microbes to generate fuel.” 

    To date, these efforts remain “squarely in the realm of basic research,” because these newly developed catalysts are still a far cry from generating fuel cost-efficiently.  However, at the pace materials science has been transforming the world we live in, it is not out of the question that this discovery might one day in the not-too-distant future lead to “methods for making essentially unlimited amounts of liquid fuels from sunlight, water, and CO2.”

    It is developments like these that show that old paradigms are out the window.

    Copper is no longer just a mainstay metal and conductor of electricity.  Aluminum is more than just a building material. And Tin is more than just a food container.  They are Gateway Metals yielding access to some of the so-called “minor” metals that are quickly becoming the quintessential building blocks of our 21st Century high-tech and sustainable energy future and manufacturing renaissance. And they have found and are still finding new important and versatile applications at a rapid pace, with the potential of altering both supply and demand pictures drastically.

    Meanwhile, our import dependence for many materials remains high – and needlessly so, as for many we have significant deposits beneath our own soil.

    Take Copper, for example: With estimated reserves of 33 million metric tons of Copper, the United States would be well positioned to close our Copper Gap – recently pegged at more than 600,000 tons per year. However, we are still importing 34 percent of the Copper we consume.

    Given the pace of materials science, isn’t it time that we adjust our mineral resource policy and build a framework that unleashes our nation’s vast mineral potential?

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  • 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 in Congress during the first half of the year, culminating in the inclusion of critical mineral legislation in the House and Senate energy bills, respectively.

    While Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s American Mineral Security Act of 2015 (S. 883) was passed as part of the Senate’s Energy Modernization Policy Act of 2016 (S. 2012), observers were hopeful that the mineral sections of the package would be conferenced with H.R. 1937, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015 - a bill similar to Murkowski’s introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei, R- Nevada, and passed as part of the House of Representatives’ energy package.  Both bills aimed at facilitating domestic resource development by calling for an assessment of critical mineral resource needs and tackling permitting delays, and would have constituted a big step towards reducing our dependence on foreign mineral resources.

    However, as the summer drew on, a successful conference between both chambers’ versions became more and more doubtful, and in spite of all efforts, in December, the push to enact comprehensive energy legislation with strong critical mineral provisions was declared dead by chamber leaders.

    Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped a proposed set of new financial assurance requirements for owners and operators of certain hard rock mining operations. The proposed rule, which ARPN Principal Dan McGroarty discussed in a widely publicized op-ed over in the Summer, would de facto duplicate the responsibilities of other federal agencies, preempt state authority, and in doing so place an undue burden and a potentially devastating blow to the mining industry.  While the EPA published the proposed rule in December, there is a good chance the agency will take a fresh look at the issue with the change of Administrations in January, which is expected to bring a significant shift in policy priorities.

    In 2016, a trend we had previously noted continued – the increasing importance of metals and minerals previously often dubbed “minor metals.”  The growth of the battery technology sector, which ARPN expert Simon Moores’ recent event in Washington, D.C. discussed, represents only one facet of this development.

    Many of these high tech metals and minerals have become indispensible building block of 21st Century tech, and are derived mainly by way of “Co-Product”-development – i.e. as part of the development of more common “Gateway Metals” like Copper, Aluminum, Zinc, Nickel and Tin, for example.   Acknowledging the disparity between the growing importance of these materials and the lack of public discourse on the subject, we embarked on an online informational campaign aimed at shedding light on the relevance and correlation between Gateway and Co-Product Metals.  In case you missed the series or parts thereof, here’s a handy summary post with links to everything we’ve published on the subject.

    As we’ve pointed out as part of our campaign, much remains to be done, as our foreign mineral resource dependencies – particularly for many of the Co-Products we featured, but also for some of the Gateway Metals – are significant, and, in some instances deepening.

    We would be remiss, however, if we didn’t point out a positive development here:

    In October, The Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) announced it will join with global mining and minerals company Rio Tinto to study new ways to capture Gateway Metals needed in clean power manufacturing.

    As we’ve previously pointed out:

    “[M]any challenges remain and we are a far cry from the comprehensive critical minerals strategy our nation would need. However, efforts like the latest CMI-Rio Tinto public private partnership represent a promising step towards reducing our foreign dependencies for many of the mineral resources that are necessary for our society’s shift towards a clean energy future, and for our domestic manufacturers to thrive and be competitive.”

    On the whole, 2016 represents another mixed bag for mineral resource policy, however, there are indications that with the new Administration taking over in Washington, D.C., we may see a shift towards a more comprehensive and strategic look at our nation’s critical mineral needs.

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  • 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: 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Tin, Co-Products and Shifting Paradigms

    While not as flashy as some other metals, Tin’s versatility will continue to drive demand.  We are familiar with its use in food preservation.  Meanwhile, ITRI, the tin industry’s UK-based trade association, highlights the “storage, generation and conservation of energy as key drivers for new applications for the metal over the next 3 to 30 years.” Coupled with its [...]
  • Through the Gateway: The Geopolitics of Co-Product Supply – a Look at Scandium

    Throughout ARPN’s work, we have consistently highlighted the geopolitical dimension of mineral resource policy.  Where we source (or fail to source) our metals and minerals is an often forgotten – or ignored – factor, with implications for our domestic manufacturers, and, at times, even for our national security. Case in point – and in keeping [...]
  • Through The Gateway: Indium – Taking Virtual Reality Mainstream?

    Here we [Pokémon] go again.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, and we find another reason to talk about an augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm. But there’s a good reason: Pokémon Go may be giving us a glimpse into our future, or more precisely, the future of smartphone technology.  [...]
  • Compliance with conflict minerals rule remains challenging for manufacturers

    Compliance with federal law and a new SEC rule regarding the sourcing of so-called conflict minerals — Tungsten, Tin, Tantalum and Gold from the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and surrounding regions — remains challenging. For U.S. manufacturers to navigate and properly follow the new guidelines is just one piece of [...]
  • May’s Metals of the Month – the “Three T’s:” Tungsten, Tin and Tantalum

    After a few-month-long hiatus, it is time to bring back our Metals of the Month feature on the blog. In its context, we have been highlighting the breadth of our mineral needs and potential by showcasing the utilities of metals and minerals for which the United States is largely import-dependent, as well as associated challenges. [...]
  • Tin as a Critical Metal?

    A piece on Pro Edge Newswire, the re-branded and expanded home for Rare Metal Blog, asks if Tin is a “critical metal.” And indeed, in spite of the fact that it has been mined since 3000 BC, it appears to have all the makings of a critical metal with its many new applications and a [...]

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