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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Through the Gateway: Vanadium – Next-Gen Uses Drive Co-Product Challenge

    As we continue our look “Through the Gateway,” one thing has become abundantly clear already:  Beyond their traditional uses, both Gateway Metals and their Co-Products have become building blocks of our renewable energy future.  This held true for Copper and its Co-Products, but it is also equally true for Aluminum and its Co-Products. While Gallium’s ability to form compounds with various elements lends itself to its application in smartphones and other wireless devices, as well as solar technology, Vanadium – another material “unlocked” by Aluminum – is making an entry.

    Traditionally known as an alloying component in various steels, where its strengthening properties come to bear, it has been used in the building and construction industry for a long time.  Ferrovanadium alloys have also been used in protective military vehicles while a Titanium-Aluminum-Vanadium alloy is used in jet engines and high-speed aircraft.

    More recently, however, the material’s use in energy storage technology has been making headlines.  With the demand for renewable energy continuing to soar, the energy storage market itself is booming.  As Cleantechnica.com explains:

    “Since wind and solar energy come and go, energy storage fills a critical gap in terms of availability and reliability. (…) So far, lithium-ion (Li-ion) technology has staked a claim to the gold standard for energy storage in terms of performance relative to cost. (… ) However, other energy storage technologies have an eye on the prize as well.”

    First generation flow battery technology using Vanadium was initially mired by inefficiencies and costliness, but research efforts, in particular by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), have since resulted in significant improvements of the technology.  A breakthrough came with PNNL’s 2011 development of a flow battery design, which added a new electrolyte mix to traditional Vanadium batteries.  This led to a 70 percent increase in storage capacity.

    The vastly improved third generation technology is now being applied in national grid modernization efforts: Earlier last month, a new collaboration between industry, the utility EPB of Chattanooga and three U.S. national laboratories using Vanadium flow battery technology was launched in an effort to “develop metrics for evaluating renewable energy and storage integration and demonstrate the benefits of leading energy storage technology to our nation’s grid modernization efforts.”

    The bottom line:  demand for Vanadium may well increase as technology advances, with new challenges looming large.  It’s a story with a familiar theme for ARPN followers — the co-product challenge:

    According to USGS, Vanadium is at least as plentiful as Nickel and Zinc – at least in terms of its availability in the earth’s crust. However, it rarely occurs in deposits that can be economically mined for the element alone. Between 2009 and 2013, some co-product vanadium production occurred domestically (though not from Bauxite mining for Aluminum), but it has since been suspended. As a result, the United States is currently 100% import dependent for its domestic Vanadium needs – in spite of the fact that “domestic resources and secondary recovery are adequate to supply a large portion of domestic needs.”

    This once more begs the question – isn’t it time for a more comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy?

     

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  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum – Fueling the Renaissance of American Manufacturing

    Aluminum is not only one of the most sustainable materials these days, it is also making headlines – most recently during the North American Leaders Summit, also dubbed “Three Amigos Summit” held at the end of June in Ottawa, Canada.  Invoking challenges associated with China’s trade policy, President Obama called for the North American countries to work together to “ensure a level playing field for the steel and aluminum industries here in North America.”

    The stakes are high, and with demand on the rise for durable, lightweight and sustainable materials, the Aluminum industry’s contribution to the U.S. economy — and with that, to the renaissance of U.S. manufacturing — is significant.

    And that significance is measurable.  According to an April 2016 study conducted by economic research firm John Dunham & Associates, the U.S. aluminum industry provides 161,000 direct jobs, and accounts for nearly 551,000 additional jobs created through multiplier effects. Expressed in dollar figures, that means the U.S. aluminum industry’s direct contribution to the U.S. economy has reached $75 billion. When accounting for induced impacts, that number shoots up to $186 billion — more than one percent of national GDP. The Aluminum Association has a great infographic on this:

    AA-Impact-Infographic-Web-600px-W

    While the U.S. is home to significant bauxite deposits, from which aluminum is sourced, we import a significant percentage of the aluminum consumed domestically.  Unlike with other metals and minerals, this represents a marked decrease in geopolitical risk, as most of our aluminum imports are sourced from one of our closest trading partners, Canada. In fact, in 2015, Canadian-sourced imports accounted for 65% of crude aluminum, 21% of semimanufactures, 64% of scrap, and 54% of total aluminum imports.

    In other words, 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 in the context of an integrated North American supply chain between the two trading partners, a look at USGS’s 2014 Minerals Yearbook reveals that Canada is helping the U.S. close a 3.4 million ton domestic aluminum production shortfall by supplying more than 2.2 million tons of crude ingot and 227,000 tons of semifabricated aluminum.

    The geopolitics of resource supply are complex and constantly changing.  Trade gives us a more complete picture — but the fundamental fact remains that in our tech-dependent era, manufacturing might is rooted in reliable resource supply.

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  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]

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