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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Independence Day – A Time To Celebrate Our Freedom, Yet Be Mindful of Growing Dependencies

    It’s that time of the year again. We’re filling our shopping carts with food and drinks, making sure we have enough gas for the grill, and buying some fireworks. The 4th of July, and with that, Independence Day, has arrived. But our country’s 240th birthday is more than a good reason to throw a barbecue in honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue to safeguard our freedom today.

    The 4th of July also represents an opportune moment to reflect on what it means to be independent.  While we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent.   Our nation’s mineral resource policy is a case in point:

    As our friends at the National Mining Association have aptly pointed out in their latest email message to their supporters (subscription only),  “minerals make possible much of the technology that enables national defense” and  “keep our nation and our troops safe and fuel innovations that improve veterans’ quality of life.”

    Recognizing the importance of critical metals and minerals, the United States began placing an emphasis on securing access to these materials in the 1950s.   However, a recent USGS analysis paints a troubling picture.  An analysis of data collected between 1954 and 2014 shows that our reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame – both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance. As we previously pointed out:

    “The data clearly shows that whereas the number of nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number has increased to 47 in 2014.  And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and surged to 19 in 2014.”

    What’s more, there has been a drastic shift in provider countries:

    “Whereas in 1954 the U.S. sourced metals and minerals largely from our trading partners, our diversified supply sources today also include a number of countries that are ranked as ‘unfree’ and ‘less free’ on various indices, thus raising the specter of supply disruptions given the volatility of geopolitical realities.”

    ARPN followers know that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted.  Most recently, using the example of Copper, we’ve pointed this out as part of our “Through the Gateway” informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-Products, arguing that:

    “With our own reserves and at mining projects ready to come online, the U.S. would not only be able to become self-sufficient with regards to meeting Copper needs, but could even position itself to be a Copper net exporter.  A similar scenario is feasible for a number of other critical metals and minerals, where we could, at a minimum, significantly reduce foreign import dependencies by harnessing our domestic mineral potential.”

    James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of the very nation the birthday of which we’re about to celebrate, once said:

    I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

    USGS has alerted us to one of those gradual and silent encroachments.  They come in the form of decreased exploration spending and an increase in the time it takes for domestic mineral resource extraction projects to come online courtesy of a rigid and outdated permitting process.  Hopefully, in the midst of our national birthday celebrations, our policy makers are taking note.

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  • Through the Gateway: Molybdenum – “The Most Important Element You Yave Never Heard Of?”

    A writer for Gizmodo has dubbed it the “most important element you have never heard of.”  Writes Esther Inglis-Arkell:

    “Molybdenum, with its 42 protons and 54 neutrons, sits right in the middle of the periodic table being completely ignored. It’s not useless. (…) It just doesn’t have that indefinable sexiness about it.”

    Inglis-Arkell explains Molybdenum’s biochemical relevance:

    Taken up by plants from the soil, molybdenum “forms a crucial part of a little enzyme called sulfite oxidase. The enzyme breaks down incoming sulfites and turns them into useful food. Take away molybdenum, and the enzyme, and things get nasty. The lowest-level problem you can look forward to is a severe allergic reaction. Continued molybdenum deprivation causes uric acid to build up in the blood, which brings on horribly inflamed and painful joints. At it worst, molybdenum deficiency takes out the nervous system.”

    Definitely not good.  

    But there’s more to it. Like Rhenium, Molybdenum is essential for creating high-performance alloys used in jet turbines and other defense systems. It is also a critical component of alloyed materials used in water distribution systems, food handling and chemical processing equipment, automotive parts, gas transmission pipes, and heavy construction. As USGS has notedWithout molybdenum as an alloying metal, the superstrength steel used in heavy construction (such as in skyscrapers and bridges) would be more costly; in some instances, the increased weight of alternative materials with equivalent strengths would render construction unmanageable or even impossible.”

    The question of whether or not it is “the most important you’ve never heard of,” aside – Molybdenum’s importance cannot be dismissed. Luckily, the United States is in a good spot with regards to availability to meet domestic needs. 

    In fact, as Molybdenum, unlike its previously discussed Copper co-product peers, is actually a metal of which we are a net exporter, industry continues to seek to develop materials that could benefit from its hardening, strengthening and anti-corrosive properties.  The advent of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is just one example here.

    While we are fortunate to have an abundance of Molybdenum beneath our own soil, one should note that while there is some primary Molybdenum production, including at two mines in the United States, most of the Molybdenum we use is produced as a Copper co-product.   Thus, we should keep Molybdenum on our supply and demand radar, particularly as advances in materials science may increase demand. As USGS points out:

    “Short- to medium-term changes in copper prices can influence the availability of molybdenum. For example, copper mining activity may drop suddenly in response to reduced metal prices, which in turn reduces the total amount of molybdenum that is produced. Although primary molybdenum mines can fill this market gap between byproduct production and overall demand, they have a limited ability to increase their production rate to meet spikes in demand.” 

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  • As Japan Retreats, US Dozes Off Again On Critical Minerals

    Over the course of the last few months, slumping prices have prompted Japanese companies to reassess their rare metals strategies and cancel cooperative agreements that were once considered a high priority. As Nikkei Asian Review reports, state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) has cancelled a joint exploration contract for a tungsten mine in [...]
  • American Geosciences Institute Webinar on “The Science and Supply of America’s Critical Minerals and Materials”

    Earlier this week, the American Geosciences Institute hosted a webinar entitled “Underpinning Innovation: The Science and Supply of America’s Critical Minerals and Materials.” Speakers for the event, which was co-sponsored by a variety of expert organizations, included: Lawrence D. Meinert, Mineral Resources Program, U.S. Geological Survey; Steven M. Fortier, National Minerals Information Center, U.S. Geological [...]
  • Is Cobalt on Your Radar Yet?

    Last week, we highlighted what has been one of the bright spots in the metals and minerals sphere in recent months – Lithium.  Potentially one of the most important critical materials of our time because of its application in battery technology, its rise to stardom has cast a shadow on another material that may be [...]
  • Is Lithium the New Black?

    At a time when mineral commodities have been slumping, one material is proving to be the exception to the rule, leading many to hail lithium as “a rare bright spot for miners, amid cratering prices of raw materials tied to heavy industry such as iron ore to coal.”  Via our friend Simon Moores, managing director [...]
  • U.S. Mineral Resource Dependency Continues to Spell Trouble

    For children, it’s the arrival of the first snow each year – for policy wonks, it’s the release of an annual study.  Whereas kids run to check the window multiple times a day once snow has been forecast, policy wonks continuously check for updates on the release of that study when it’s that time of [...]
  • USGS Rings Alarm Bell: United States’ Mineral Resource Dependencies Have Increased Drastically

    Without fanfare, and largely unnoticed at a time when all eyes in our nation’s political circles are on Iowa, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has released a report that should be required reading for all our policy makers. Analyzing data collected from 1954 through 2014 for more than 90 non-fuel mineral commodities from more [...]
  • Critical mineral Cobalt to become even more indispensable?

    New research from Swiss scientists indicates that Cobalt’s applications in solar technology may spark a surge in demand. While it is certainly not as visible in the news as the oft-discussed Rare Earths, the fact that Cobalt has to be considered a critical mineral is not a secret. In 2011, it was one of only [...]
  • Too little, too late? The West’s response to China’s REE stranglehold

    In an effort to challenge China’s near-total supply monopoly and the geopolitical power play that came with it, countries around the world have taken steps to seek alternative sources of supply. With new production coming online in the U.S. and Australia in recent years, along with small-scale production in India, U.S. Geological Survey figures document [...]

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