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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 “unlock” a series of “Co-Products” – tech metals increasingly indispensable to innovation and development.

    In spite of the fact that the five Gateway Metals Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc and their Co-Products are growing in significance, stakeholders in academia, policy making and industry have been slow to take note of the correlation between them.  One notable exception is a study by N.T. Nassar, T.E. Graedel, and E.M. Harper, published in Science Advances in April of 2015.

    The authors of By-product metals are technologically essential but have problematic supply cast their net a bit wider using a somewhat more scholarly approach and different terminology to describe “Gateway Metals” and “Co-Products” – they refer to them as “Host Metals” and “By-Product” or “Companion Metals.”  Nomenclature aside, their findings and conclusions are similar to the ones we have drawn.

    Of particular interest is their depiction of the periodic table of elements showing “companionality” based on data for 62 metals and metalloids.  Their conclusion: “61%, or 38 of the 62 metals evaluated, have the majority (that is, >50%) of their global production obtained as a companion.” 

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    The bottom line, according to Nassar, Graedel and Harper, should sound familiar to American Resources followers: 

    “It is undeniable that the widespread use of companion metals has resulted in markedly improved performance in many product sectors. Sustaining those uses may become a challenge going forward because of the dependence of companion metal supplies on the production of host metals. (…)

    As it now stands, much of modern technology depends on metals whose supplies are uncertain and whose market transactions are largely opaque; in concert, this produces a supply situation that may prove difficult to sustain.”

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  • 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: A Look at Cadmium

    Most of us have heard of Cadmium as a component of NiCd (Nickel-Cadmium) batteries.  To date, this also happens to be the most frequent use for the metal, accounting for about 85% of the Cadmium consumed globally in 2015. A silvery metal with a bluish surface tinge, Cadmium is corrosion-resistant and its oxides are insoluble in water.  Nearly [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Of Diaper Rash Cream, Fertilizer and Battery Technology – A Look at Zinc

    If you’re a parent of young children, you’ll probably appreciate Zinc for its medicinal properties – a good diaper rash cream or sunscreen for the little ones comes with a good dose of Zinc oxide. Otherwise, you may have come across this metal primarily as an anti-corrosion agent used to prevent metals like steel and iron from [...]
  • Pizza, the Age of Rare Metals and Co-Products

    “If you don’t have yeast, you don’t have pizza.” What may seem like a random – albeit logical – conclusion has more to do with critical minerals than you may think.  David Abraham, director of the Technology, Rare and Electronic Materials Center, recently used the yeast/pizza analogy to exemplify the importance of rare metals, which [...]
  • China to accelerate overseas pursuit of nonferrous metals

    As reports about China’s restrictive mineral export policies continue to dominate the resource news cycles, don’t expect Beijing to slow down its aggressive pursuit of access to critical metals and minerals around the world. According to China Daily’s European edition, senior Chinese industry officials have announced that Chinese miners will accelerate the exploration of overseas [...]
  • Happy zinc month! – Zinc a driving force in China’s strategy in Latin America

    Continuing our informational campaign to highlight the breadth of our nation’s metals and minerals needs, we’re going to drill down into the utilities of and challenges associated with zinc this month. In its ongoing efforts to satiate its growing appetite for mineral resources, China – long having enlarged its footprint in Africa – has recently [...]
  • The race for Arctic riches

    A handful of countries situated near the top of the world are racing to firm up their territorial claims to untold amounts of oil, natural gas, gold, zinc, copper and other metals. A new piece from the U.K. Guardian highlights this renewed scramble for resource rights beneath the Arctic icecap. I treated this story in [...]

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