American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Go West – A Look at the Western World in the Context of the Post-Cold War Critical Mineral Realignment

    As world leaders continue to deliberate on the new realities of the post-Cold War world order in Davos this week,  ARPN takes a second look at the realignment underway in the minerals sector.  In this post, we shift our focus to the West, where the “Three Amigos Summit,” as the trilateral North American Leaders’ Summit between the prime minister of Canada, the president of Mexico, and the president of the United States is sometimes called, made some headlines directly relevant to critical minerals issues.

    Leading up to the event, the three countries announced fresh commitments to work together on key sectors, such as semiconductors and critical minerals, as well as on supply chains and advanced workforce training.   As ABC News reports“those agreements include a cabinet-level summit on semiconductors, mapping mineral resources across the North American continent and promoting educational investment.”

    The United States lists a number of countries as strategic partners in its quest to achieve greater “supply chain resilience.”   However, the Three Amigos’ commitments must be viewed in the context of the overall U.S. goal of establishing a more integrated North American supply chain with Canada and Mexico being not only the largest trading partners, but also the only ones with whom the U.S. shares national borders.

    Canada and the United States have already taken their own steps to advance critical mineral supply chain security and decouple from adversary nations, i.e. China, deepened their cooperation bilaterally over the past few years, with a flurry of activities occurring over the past twelve months. Followers of ARPN will recall the invocation of the Defense Production Act and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. (see our Year in Review post for more).

    For Canada, 2022 culminated in the launch of the country’s Critical Minerals Strategy in December 2022, with a stated goal of speeding up the permitting process for new mines in Canada after Ottawa cracked down on Chinese investment into the country’s critical mineral sector in the wake of growing national security concerns.  In line with these policies, the Canadian federal government has just greenlighted Canadian miner Galaxy Lithium Inc.’s project to construct a new lithium mine in Quebec.

    To our south, Mexico, home to significant copper and silver deposits, is also known to have significant rare earths and lithium deposits.  While observers point out that a confluence of technological, legal and political challenges will likely continue to hamper critical mineral resource development leaving Mexico to “continue to assemble electric cars but not provide the materials for many of the key components required for a greener future,” closer cooperation between the Three Amigos in this area is welcome and likely beneficial in the long run, if Mexico is able to address some of its domestic obstacles.

    Leaving North America behind, another key U.S. partner, Australia, is forging ahead with its push to strengthen critical mineral supply chains for its own industries and for the benefit of its partners. Earlier this week, the federal government in Canberra released guidelines for “new grants to help develop Australia’s critical minerals sector, support downstream processing, create jobs across regional Australia and support global efforts to achieve net-zero.”

    Across the Atlantic, the European Union in September of 2022 proposed European Critical Raw Material Act, which aims to boost domestic critical minerals production, diversify supply chains and ramp up recycling efforts and which is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2023.

    In a broader global context, the United States, Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have banded together to form the Minerals Security Partnership, an initiative to bolster critical mineral supply chains while ensuring that “critical minerals are produced, processed and recycled in a manner that supports the ability of countries to realize the full economic development benefit of their geological endowments” (see our post on the launch here).

    Formation of the MSP, in the words of Reuters’s Andy Home, may signify a “tectonic realignment with far-reaching implications” as it — against the backdrop of Russia’s war on Ukraine and mounting tension with China — is “defined as much as anything by who is not on the invite list — China and Russia,” and likened it to the creation of a “metallic NATO (…) though no-one [was] calling it that just yet.”

    While “the shape of an alternative international system is unclear,” as the New York Times posited earlier this week in a piece on a newly emerging post-Cold War world order, it appears that the great realignment has begun, and we can expect to see more developments along these lines in the coming months.

  • A New Critical Minerals World Order? — A Look at the Post-Cold War Realignment in the Wake of Covid, War in Ukraine and Geopolitical and Economic Tension

    This week, world leaders are gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. They are facing, as the New York Times’s Roger Cohen (NYT) titled his reporting on the meeting, a “New World Order.”  

    Leaders must “pivot to the new reality provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the growth of extreme inequalities and aggressive Russian and Chinese autocracies,” writes the NYT.

    In the critical mineral realm, these recent events have served as a catalyst for the new “Great Game,” which the geopolitics of mineral resource supply had triggered and which had gained momentum with the adoption of the Paris agreement in 2015 which in turn had committed countries to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewables.

    Over the course of the last few months, awareness of the importance of securing critical mineral supply chains and decoupling form adversaries, i.e. China, continued to grow against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile geopolitical landscape and mounting environmental pressures.  While, as the New York Times suggests, “the shape of an alternative international system is unclear,” we are seeing first steps towards a realignment as nations around the world rethink and reorganize their critical mineral supply chains.  

    ARPN has discussed several developments involving the United States and key allies like Canada and Australia, but Asian nations, too, are taking steps to diversify their supply chains away from China, particularly in the rare earths (REE) space.

    In spite of having signed a deal with Vietnam on rare earth development after having experienced the ramifications of an over-reliance on Chinese minerals first hand with the 2010 rare earths standoff between China and Japan, Japan’s domestic rare earth production has remained limited to date, with more than two thirds of the country’s rare earth supplies coming from China.  With demand surging in the context of growing EV markets, Japan is looking to “curb excessive dependence on specific countries, carry forward next-generation semiconductor development and manufacturing bases, secure stable supply for critical goods including rare earth, and promote capital reinforcement of private enterprises with critical goods and technologies,” according to a government strategy paper cited by Qu4tro Strategies this month.

    To do so, Tokyo inked a critical mineral agreement with Australia in October of 2022 and Japan’s Organization for Metals and Energy Security (Jogmec) is working with private companies to take control of its holding in a joint venture to develop dysprosium-terbium heavy rare earths in Namibia.  Jogmec is also an investor in Australia-based Lynas Rare Earths’s latest push to increase its meaning capacity in Western Australia.

    Vietnam, not traditionally known as a global mining powerhouse, is looking to become a key player in the global REE supply chain.  While, as Qu4tro Strategies outlines, North Korea is believed to be home to the world’s largest rare earth deposits, Vietnam’s large REE reserves are more viable as an alternative to Chinese REEs, as North Korea’s political situation and economic sanctions prevent the country from becoming a link in the global supply chain.

    While exploration in Vietnam has so far been unable to tap into the country’s considerable mineral potential, that may be changing. As a fast-growing economy, Vietnam is attracting companies trying to find new regional bases as U.S.-Chinese trade tensions rise, and post-Covid supply chains remain strained.

    In recent months, several countries have entered into partnership agreements with bot the Vietnamese Government and private companies to establish “an integrated supply chain for rare earths and other critical minerals.”

    Qu4tro Strategies cites the December signing of an agreement between Vietnam and South Korea to jointly explore and develop core minerals including rare earths in Vietnam, as well as a partnership between Australia Strategic Minerals (ASM) and Vietnam Rare Earths for “long-term supply of rare earths to provide feedstock for ASM’s Korean Metals Plant.” 

    Trade between Canada and Vietnam is reported to increase under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is actively exploring the “potential for the countries to collaborate on green energy, including sustainable mining and rare earth elements.”

    The Middle East, traditionally known as a leader in the fossil fuel realm, could also emerge as a critical mineral player in a newly realigned world, particularly as nations like Saudi Arabia incentivize investment towards creating integrated value chains, with the country currently processing 145 exploration license applications sent in by foreign companies, according to a new report issued by the Future Minerals Forum in Collaboration with the Payne Institute for Public Policy Colorado School of Mines.

    Meanwhile, Africa’s resource richness is well known. As the Future Minerals Forum’s report outlines, trade tensions with China as well as Russia’s ongoing war have triggered many Western countries to turn to Africa for investment opportunities in critical mineral supply during 2022.

    Discussions between Minerals Security Partnership countries (see our post here) have begun involving African regions as targets for potential partnerships, and five countries — the DRC, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia – have initiated conversations on development opportunities to “diversify and bolster critical mineral supply chains while lowering trade reliance with China and Russia” during the UN General Assembly conference in September 2022.  Deals made at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which included a commitment of over $150 million dollars into Zambia’s mining sector to develop copper and Cobalt, are a case in point.

    However, as the authors of the Future Minerals Forum’s report point out, of Africa, “the scale and pace of investment inflows will largely hinge on the restructuring of domestic governance and policy changes.”

    As leaders continue to deliberate on the new realities of the post-Cold War world order in Davos this week, we will continue our focus on the realignment underway in the minerals sector and will zero in on the West in our second post this week.

  • Winning the “Energy Battle of the Twenty-First Century” Will Take More Than “Myopic” Policy Approach

    Earlier this week, the Biden Administration unveiled a road map for reducing the transportation sector’s carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. Two weeks into the new year, the green energy transition continues to gain steam.  However, as Morgan D. Bazilian of the Colorado School of Mines and Gregory Brew from the Jackson School of Global Affairs at Yale [...]
  • Policy Makers Step Up Efforts to Secure Domestic Critical Mineral Supply Chains — U.S. Senators Introduce the “Critical Mineral Independence Act of 2022”

    As geopolitical tensions continue to mount, and China tightens its reins on its critical mineral supply chains, U.S. policy makers are stepping up their efforts to secure domestic supply chains. The latest case in point: Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) just-introduced “Critical Mineral Independence Act of 2022,” legislation aimed at reducing the United States’ over-reliance on [...]
  • As Clean Energy Adoption Reaches “Tipping Point,” the Challenge of Untangling Critical Mineral Supply Chains Looms Larger than Ever

    “Solar power, electric cars, grid-scale batteries, heat pumps—the world is crossing into a mass-adoption moment for green technologies,” writes Tom Randall for Bloomberg.  Citing Bloomberg research, he argues that “clean energy has a tipping point, and 87 countries have reached it.”  The mass-adoption of green technologies, as followers of ARPN well know, requires drastically increased amounts of critical [...]
  • Not Just the “Battery Criticals” — Green Energy Transition’s Mineral Intensity Requires Broader Focus: A Look at the “Solar Metals”

    Recent media coverage might have you believe critical mineral policy only revolves around the “battery criticals”lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt and manganese, and maybe the frequently referenced, though still somewhat obscure rare earths.  However, as followers of ARPN well know, this is far from the truth. The New South Wales Department of Planning and environment has taken a [...]
  • As Automakers Scramble to Build Out EV Manufacturing, Calls for Mine Permitting Reform Get Louder

    Against the backdrop of ongoing supply chain challenges around the globe, the urgency of untangling and securing critical mineral supply chains essential to a net zero carbon emissions future is becoming increasingly clear. Following on the heels of the Biden Administration invoking the Defense Production Act for the “Battery Criticals” – lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese [...]
  • A New “Great Game” is Afoot – Are We Able to Keep the Focus on Diversifying Critical Mineral Supply Chains Away from Adversaries

    In a new piece for Canada’s Globe and Mail, columnist Robert Muggah zeroes in on the geopolitics of mineral resource supply, which have, in his view, triggered a new “Great Game” – a term coined by British writer Rudyard Kipling to describe the “fierce competition between Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia, both of which sought to control South Asia [...]
  • Scandium and Beyond: Materials Science Allows for Harvesting of Mine Tailings

    As nations and industries grapple with the global push towards net zero carbon emissions, researchers  from India’s Bengaluru Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) have discovered a new material called “single-crystalline scandium nitride (ScN)” that is able to “emit, detect, and modulate infrared light with high efficiency making it useful for solar and thermal energy harvesting [...]
  • U.S. Army Brigadier General (ret.): Congress Has Opportunity to Make “Critically Important Leap Forward to Build the Secure, Responsible Industrial Base our Economy and National Security Needs”

    In a new piece for RealClearEnergy, John Adams, U.S. Army brigadier general (ret.), argues that the newly proposed Inflation Reduction Act, negotiated by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) is not only the most ambitious climate bill in U.S. history, but also represents an opportunity to bolster our nation’s economic and national security.  General [...]