American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • U.S. Over-Reliance on Critical Minerals — Are the Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

    The current coronavirus pandemic has shed a light on an inconvenient truth. We have become over-reliant on foreign (and especially Chinese) raw materials. As we previously outlined, “PPE has become the poster child, but whether it’s smart phone technology, solar panels, electric vehicles, or fighter jets — critical minerals are integrated into all aspects of U.S. supply chains — and, in spite of the fact that the United States is rich in mineral resources, we have maneuvered ourselves into a situation where we often find ourselves at the mercy of China.”

    It’s no secret that China is less friend than foe, and has a history of playing politics when holding leverage over its adversaries.

    With COVID-19, the chickens are coming home to roost.

    In a new piece for Foreign Policy, Jacob Helberg, senior advisor at the Stanford University Program on Geopolitics and Technology, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, outlines how “China’s recent weaponization of supply chains and information networks exposes the grave dangers of the American deindustrialization that Jobs accepted as inevitable.”

    He writes:

    “Since March alone, China has threatened to withhold medical equipment from the United States and Europe during the coronavirus pandemic; launched the biggest cyberattack against Australia in the country’s history; hacked U.S. firms to acquire secrets related to the coronavirus vaccine; and engaged in massive disinformation campaigns on a global scale. China even hacked the Vatican. These incidents reflect the power China wields through its control of supply chains and information hardware. They show the peril of ceding control of vast swaths of the world’s manufacturing to a regime that builds at home, and exports abroad, a model of governance that is fundamentally in conflict with American values and democracies everywhere. And they pale in comparison to what China will have the capacity to do as its confrontation with the United States sharpens.”

    Warning that “[n]eglecting to quickly safeguard the access and integrity of American supply chains and information networks in the face of successive warnings would be a costly strategic mistake and a blow to U.S. national sovereignty,” Helberg makes the case for a U.S. domestic reindustrialization.

    He argues:

    “In this new cold war, a deindustrialized United States is a disarmed United States—a country that is precariously vulnerable to coercion, espionage, and foreign interference. Preserving American preeminence will require reconstituting a national manufacturing arrangement that is both safe and reliable—particularly in critical high-tech sectors. If the United States is to secure its supply chains and information networks against Chinese attacks, it needs to reindustrialize. The question today is not whether America’s manufacturing jobs can return, but whether America can afford not to bring them back.”

    As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty recently pointed out, the first word in “supply chain” is “supply” – and, as followers of ARPN know, the vulnerability issue on the front end of our mineral resource supply chains in particular is largely homegrown:

    U.S. reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the course of the past 65 years, both in terms of number and type, as well as as a percentage of import reliance. Along with the rise in import dependency came a drastic shift in provider countries.

    Whereas the number of non-fuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number 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 currently stands at 17. In the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report, China continues to be the elephant in the data room, and is listed 25 times as one of the major import sources of metals and minerals for which our net import reliance is 50% or greater.

    As such, it has been encouraging to see that in the wake of the above-referenced developments, U.S. policymakers on Capitol Hill, in the Cabinet Departments and at the White House have begun to strategic materials and critical minerals issues with a new seriousness.

    Reform-minded lawmakers have put forth several legislative initiatives, and have even formed a bipartisan “Critical Materials Caucus.” However, while critical minerals provisions were added to the latest round of COVID relief stimulus packages, chances of their passage have been dwindling as partisan tensions continue to flare.

    Opponents of comprehensive reform and increased domestic mining tend to argue that trade with allied partners, as well as mitigation strategies like recycling and reuse obviate the need for domestic mining. However, they fail to account for new estimations that material supply pressures will increase dramatically in the coming years in the context of a low-carbon transition. Earlier this year, the World Bank released a study estimating that that production of metals and minerals like graphite, lithium and cobalt will have to increase by nearly 500 percent by 2050 to meet global demand for renewable energy technology. And just last week, Nedal Nassar, chief of the Materials Flow Analysis Section at the National Minerals Information Center, U.S. Geological Survey stressed in a Mining and Metallurgical Society of America webinar that “a combination of trends and issues raise concerns regarding the reliability of supply for certain non-fuel mineral commodities.”

    Of course, recycling and reuse, as well as increased cooperation with our close allies to secure critical materials supply are important strategies as we strive to address our supply chain vulnerabilities for a post-COVID context — and it is encouraging to see that progress is being made here. [see our blog for examples of research breakthroughs, successful public-private partnerships, and updates on partnership agreements with allied nations.]

    The scope of the mineral resource supply challenge, however, warrants an “all-of-the-above” approach we have come to know from the energy policy discourse. As ARPN’s McGroarty outlined in a panel discussion last year, in the context of working toward “resource independence” that means a focus on new mining, recycling and reclamation of new minerals from old mine tailings, as well as leveraging cooperative agreements with allied nations.

    And China’s recent actions outlined by Helberg show that the time to act is now.

  • New USGS Methodology Identifies 23 Mineral Commodities at Greatest Risk to Supply Disruption

    A new risk tool developed by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners identifies 23 metals and minerals relevant to U.S. manufacturing that are at greatest risk to supply disruption.

    The methodology, entitled “Evaluating the Mineral Commodity Supply Risk of the U.S. Manufacturing Sector” and published in Science Advances was developed to help meet the goals outlined in the 2019 interagency report entitled “A Federal Strategy to Ensure a Reliable Supply of Critical Minerals,” which was released  pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order 13817 of 2018.

    The report evaluated the global supply of and U.S. demand for 52 mineral commodities for the years 2007 to 2016.

    Researchers determined that “[t]he supply risk of mineral commodities to U.S. manufacturers is greatest under the following three circumstances: U.S. manufacturers rely primarily on foreign countries for the commodities, the countries in question might be unable or unwilling to continue to supply U.S. manufacturers with the minerals; and U.S. manufacturers are less able to handle a price shock or from a disruption in supply.”

    The subset of 23 metals and minerals identified in the methodology as posing the greatest supply risk for the U.S. manufacturing sector includes some rare earth elements, cobalt, niobium and tungsten.

    The authors of the report point out that supply risk (SR)  is “dynamic, increasing and decreasing with changing global market conditions that are specific to each commodity and industry” and that [a] commodity with supply that is not at high risk today may become at high risk in the future as production and consumption patterns shift.”  However, they found that “significant changes in SR over short periods of time are rare,” and while “SR scores can and do change markedly, the subset of commodities with the highest SR has been largely consistent throughout the time period examined.”

    With risk arising at the “confluence of the three factors: hazard, exposure and vulnerability,”supply risk can be achieved by reducing any of these three. The authors point to the 2019 interagency report spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Commerce which effectively called for an “all-of-the-above“ approach of diversifying supply, fostering trade relations with strong allies, developing domestic primary and secondary resources and capabilities, recycling and substitution, as well as stockpiling to reduce exposure to supply disruptions. 

    They conclude that “[t]he degree to which any one of these strategies can be successful at minimizing the risk to an acceptable level depends on the specific commodity and the industries involved, as well as what is deemed to be an acceptable level of risk.”

    Here’s USGS’s full-size infographic to accompany the report:

  • 2020 Mineral Commodity Summaries:  Domestic Mineral Resource Production Increases While Foreign Dependencies Continue

    Last week, USGS released its 43rd Mineral Commodity Summaries – a comprehensive snapshot of global mineral production which gives us a window into where we stand as a nation in terms of mineral resource security.   Perhaps most instructive from an ARPN perspective is the chart depicting U.S. Net Import Reliance — previously casually referred to as [...]
  • U.S. and Australia Formalize Critical Minerals Partnership

    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has signed a project agreement with its Australian counterpart, GeoScience Australia, to jointly develop a “better understanding of both countries’ critical mineral reserves.”  The agreement is the result of ongoing agency-level talks between the United States and Australia and the recent announcement of a forthcoming formal roll out of an “action [...]
  • Release of USGS’s 2019 Mineral Commodity Summaries Once More Underscores Need for Resource Policy Reform

    The partial shutdown of the federal government at the beginning of this year had delayed its release, but last week, USGS published its 2019 Mineral Commodity Summaries. Followers of ARPN will know that we await the publication’s release with somewhat bated breath every year, as especially “Page 6” – the chart depicting U.S. Net Import [...]
  • McGroarty Warns of Real World Problem for 21st Century American Warrior

    In a new commentary for Investor’s Business Daily, ARPN principal Daniel McGroarty warns of “America’s unilateral disarmament in the resource wars.”  Invoking the world of Marvel comics, in which Vibranium is the imaginary metal used for Captain America’s shield, IronMan’s exoskeleton, and Black Panther’s energy-absorbing suit, McGroarty argues that the 21st Century American warrior (perhaps [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Copper and the 2018 Critical Minerals List – Considerations for Resource Policy Reform

    While we’re still waiting for policy makers and other stakeholders to take further action, in 2018 an important step was taken to set the stage for mineral resource policy reform with the release of the Department of Interior’s List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy. Throughout the drafting stage [...]
  • 2019 New Year’s Resolutions for Mineral Resource Policy Reform

    Out with the old, in with the new, they say. It‘s new year‘s resolutions time.  With the end of 2017 having set the stage for potentially meaningful reform in mineral resource policy, we outlined a set of suggested resolutions for stakeholders for 2018 in January of last year.  And while several important steps  were taken [...]
  • The “Indispensable Twins” of Critical Minerals – Niobium and Tantalum

    In the latest installment of his “Critical Minerals Alaska” series for North of 60 Mining News, Shane Lasley zeroes in on what USGS has dubbed the “indispensable twins” – Niobium and Tantalum. Both share “nearly indistinguishable physical and chemical properties” and are “critical to the defense, energy and high-tech sectors.”  Meanwhile, neither Niobium nor Tantalum are mined in the United States, so their inclusion [...]