American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Nickel and Zinc “Only Two New Additions” to Draft Revised Critical Minerals List — A Look at the Government’s Reasoning

    This week we continue our coverage of the just-released draft revised Critical Minerals List, for which the US Geological Survey (USGS) began soliciting public comment last week — this time via Andy Home’s latest.  In a new column for Reuters, Home zeroes in on the “only two new additions” to the draft list. (As ARPN outlined last week, the bulk of the expansion of the list from 35 to 50 minerals and metals is owed to the fact that the Rare Earths and Platinum Group Metals will now be listed individually).

    Arguing that the additions of Nickel and Zinc “reflect… an evolution of the methodology used to determine whether a mineral is critical to the well-being of the U.S. economy,” Home provides a window into the drafters’ reasoning for including them.

    For Nickel, he writes that while a “relatively benign supply profile kept nickel off” in the past, there are two reasons for including it on the updated List.

    Pointing to the only domestic operating Nickel mine in the U.S. and a single producer of Nickel sulphate (which only produces Nickel as a co-product), Home says “the USGS has expanded its criticality criteria to look beyond trade dependency to domestic supply, particularly what it calls ‘single points of failure.’”

    The second reason, according to Home, is “nickel’s changing usage profile from alloy in stainless steel production to chemical component in electric vehicle batteries.”  The rapid uptake of EVs as a key to the net-zero carbon transition has propelled Nickel onto the Critical List.

    While for Zinc, the U.S. domestic supply chain is “less fragile,” according to Home, “the country’s refined zinc import dependency is relatively high,” and “[g]lobal supply trends make this problematic.”

    Homes closes by noting that neither of “…these industrial metals feature on the European Union’s critical minerals list. In part that’s a reflection of Europe’s domestic production base both at the mining and smelting level.  But in part it may be because the USGS is ahead of its European peers in analysing global supply patterns and the resulting potential threats to critical minerals availability.

    Nickel and zinc may not spring to mind when most people think of critical minerals, but as far as the United States is concerned, they both are.”

  • Welcome to Mining 2.0 — Towards Net Carbon Negative?

    Against the backdrop of the accelerating global push towards a low carbon energy future, which as followers of ARPN well know will be mineral-intensive, the mining industry — which currently accounts for between 4% and 7% of man-made greenhouse gases according to a McKinsey & Company report — has in recent years taken significant steps towards reduce its carbon footprint.

    Over the past few months, ARPN has been highlighting several industry initiatives to harness the materials science revolution to sustainably green the future — ranging from overhauling supply chain policies to ensure suppliers conform to certain environmental and social standards, to incorporating renewable power sources into their operations to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development.

    As columnist Andy Home outlines in an incisive new piece for Reuters, the latest push in this realm involves the concept of carbon capture, which he posits “could allow some to move beyond neutrality to become net carbon negative.” 

    Home notes that while “[t]he technology for industrial-scale carbon capture and storage is still in its infancy and largely untested,” there are certain minerals that “do it naturally,” and harnessing their potential could in fact turn miners — who “tend to be the perennial villains in the environmental debate,” into “the unlikely pioneers of large-scale and permanent carbon storage.”

    Enter an Icelandic energy company — Carbfix — that has found a way to not only harness the properties of basalt rock formations which are capable of trapping the gas in a stable form by converting it into carbonate minerals, but also reduce the mineral reaction time of what otherwise “plays out in painfully slow geological time,” as Home puts it. By injecting as much carbon dioxide as possible into water before pumping it into basalt rock, the company has successfully captured more than 73,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from a local geothermal power plant and pumped it underground.

    With its ISAL aluminum smelter also sitting on Icelandic basalt rock formations, global miner Rio Tinto is looking to leverage this process for its operations, entering into a cooperative agreement with Carbfix, which is currently building out onshore infrastructure for its Coda Terminal — the world’s first “cross-border carbon transport and storage hub” — with pilot injections to commence in 2023 and commercial operations scheduled to start mid-2025.

    Meanwhile, the mineralization process harnessed by Carbfix and its partners can also be leveraged when working with magnesium oxide, as evidenced by findings made by researchers at BHP Group’s Western Australian Nickel West operations, where tailings “have been capturing around 40,000 tones per year ‘accidentally and unknowingly’” — which could make the company’s nickel — already billed as “green nickel” with a significantly lower carbon footprint, even “greener still thanks to its tailings dam,” writes Home.

    While carbon capture via tailings could significantly “shift the carbon dial down towards neutrality,” industry collaboration with carbon transport and storage hubs like the Coda Terminal in Iceland may well pave the way for making mining operations net carbon negative.

    Moving from Iceland and Australia to the U.S., Talon Metals Corp is studying ways to harness the carbon capture potential at its Tamarack nickel, cobalt and copper project in Minnesota, both via tailings and rock injection.

    As Home argues, the significance of the carbon capture opportunity cannot be overstated, and could inject “a whole new dimension into the heated debate around new mines and metals plants” as the Biden Administration grapples with reconciling its green credentials with the acknowledged need for domestic resource production.

    Thanks to the ongoing materials science revolution the future may have arrived. Welcome to Mining 2.0.

    Concludes Home:

    “Mining is ‘the most toxic industry in America’, according to Becky Rom, national chair of The Campaign To Save The Boundary Waters, an environmental group opposed to the Twin Metals project.

    Would new projects attract such venom if they could prove that they were part of the environmental solution rather than the problem?

    We may not have long to find out.

    The idea of a nickel mine or aluminium smelter being net negative in terms of carbon emissions may seem far-fetched, but the reality may be coming sooner than you think.”

  • New Publication Alert – Metal Tech News Releases Comprehensive Primer on Critical Minerals

    Shane Lasley has done it again.  Known to followers of ARPN for his stellar reporting on critical mineral resource issues from an Alaskan perspective, his Metal Tech News project has published what may just be the most comprehensive North American primer on critical minerals: Critical Minerals Alliances is a magazine covering more than twenty metals and minerals critical to North American [...]
  • Summer Critical Mineral Import Data Provides Fresh Impetus for Comprehensive Resource Policy Reform

    In the wake of several eye-openers regarding our nation’s critical mineral supply chain woes — the coronavirus pandemic, increasing trade tensions with adversary nations like China, and reports underscoring the mineral intensity of our green energy future — the bipartisan infrastructure package passed by the U.S. Senate before the August recess contained a series of [...]
  • “Undoubtedly Good News for Industrial Metals” – a Look at the Senate-passed Infrastructure Package

    In a recent piece for Reuters, columnist Andy Home unpacks the U.S. Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure package.   While the bill has yet to make it through the U.S. House of Representatives and a likely conference committee, it is worth taking a look at what its passage could mean for the critical minerals sector. According to Home, the [...]
  • DoE Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Calls for Immediate Investment in “Scaling up a Secure, Diversified Supply Chain for High-Capacity Batteries Here at Home”

    The Biden Administration made clear early on that it is committed to pursuing a low-carbon energy future, and battery technology is a key driver underpinning the shift away from fossil fuels. Just a few weeks ago, when touting his infrastructure package at Ford’s electric vehicle plant in Dearborn, President Joe Biden declared: “The future of [...]
  • Biden Administration 100-Day Supply Chain Report Holds Surprise for Some: And the Winner is… Nickel?

    Critical Minerals policy-wonks:  if you wagered that Rare Earths would be the leading elements in the Biden 100-Day Report in terms of mentions, you’d be wrong. That’s right — we took a look at the Biden Administration’s just-released 100-day supply chain assessment, and created a word cloud based on the number of mentions (footnotes included) of [...]
  • Decarbonization Goals Expose Bottleneck in Critical Mineral Supply Chains — Us

    [Note from Sandra Wirtz: As ARPN digs through the White House Supply Chain Report, we are completing the week with posts that “preview” metals and minerals prominently mentioned in the Report – beginning with copper.] “The road to decarbonisation will be paved with copper (…) and a host of other minerals, all critical for electric [...]
  • Europe Comes to Terms with Mineral Supply Challenges, Unveils Action Plan

    As the U.S. explores its options when it comes to diversifying our critical minerals supply chains away from China in the wake of COVID-19, Europe is coming to grips with its own mineral supply challenges. According to European metals association Eurometaux, the region “has reached a critical fork in the road,” as it grapples with [...]
  • Resource Alert:  North of 60 Mining News Has Launched “Critical Minerals Alaska” Magazine and Dedicated Webpage

    Over the past few weeks, China’s threat to play the “rare earths card” has generated quite a buzz and, along with growing concerns over supply chains for battery tech, has directed much-needed attention to our nation’s over-reliance on foreign mineral resources.  As followers of ARPN know, many of these issues are in fact home-grown, as the United [...]