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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Closing the Loop “Contributor” to Solving our Critical Mineral Resource Woes, “Not a Solution”

    As the global battery arms race continues to heat up amidst surging demand for EV battery technology and energy storage systems, a recent Financial Times piece explores the themes of urban mining and closed-loop solutions to increase critical mineral resource supply.

    The piece outlines a significant challenge with regards to today’s critical mineral resource supply chains:

    “The biggest source of cobalt at the moment is the DRC, where it is often extracted in both large industrial mines and also dug by hand using basic tools. Then it might be shipped to Finland, home to Europe’s largest cobalt refinery, before heading to China where the majority of the world’s cathode and battery production takes place. From there it can be shipped to the US or Europe, where battery cells are turned into packs, then shipped again to automotive production lines. 

    All told, the cobalt can travel more than 20,000 miles from the mine to the automaker before a buyer places a “zero emission” sticker on the bumper.” 

    The piece cites proponents of closed-loop systems suggesting that car emissions can be cut by more than half if the batteries used are continually recycled, and points to a  2019 World Economic Forum estimate that a “circular battery value chain” could account for 30 per cent of the emissions cuts needed to meet the targets set in the Paris accord and “create 10m safe and sustainable jobs around the world” by 2030.

    While promising – with some arguing that not only could recycling aid supply constraints and help the environment but also prove to be cheaper — bringing urban mining to scale remains challenging, with one issue being design parameters of products failing to consider the product’s end of life and making disassembly “so laborious that it becomes impractical.”

    However, against the backdrop of “broad political support for electric vehicles and policies to address climate change” the Financial Times piece argues that while “niche today, urban mining is set to become mainstream this decade.”    Advanced materials science is doing its part, and we have previously featured several research projects and promising initiatives by several mining companies to close the loop in their operations.

    The rise of the urban mine and the circular economy will undoubtedly continue.  However, we stand by what we said a while back:

    “Urban mining will by no means obviate the need for traditional mining and is as such not a panacea for supply woes.  With innovations in the field and concerted efforts to not only improve extraction technologies, but to also develop products and materials in ways that lend themselves to easier reclamation of metals, it does, however, represent a viable opportunity to alleviate pressures – and as such deserves to be factored into any comprehensive mineral resource strategy.”

    As Brian Menell, founder of TechMet, a partly U.S. government-owned investment company told the Financial Times:

    “In 10 years’ time a fully optimised developed lithium-ion recycling battery industry will maybe provide 25 per cent of the battery metal requirements for the electric vehicle industry (…) So it will be a contributor, but it’s not a solution.”

    The solution to our mineral resource and supply chain challenges lies in a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” approach.  There is no immediate silver bullet, but against mounting resource pressures, focusing on closing the loop AND building out domestic production and processing capabilities — while at the same time fostering cooperation with close allies and scaling up research and development — is the only viable path to success in the long run.

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  • 100 Day Supply Chain Report Inspires New Developments in Critical Minerals Realm

    Released at the beginning of June, the White House’s 100 Day Supply Chain report assessed risks and vulnerabilities in the supply chains for four key industrial sectors, making recommendations on how to alleviate them appears to have already inspired several new developments in the critical minerals realm:

    As the Australian Financial Review’s U.S. correspondent Matthew Cranston reported last week, Australian mining company Ioneer has entered into an agreement with the world’s second largest manufacturer of battery components, South Korea’s EcoPro, under which it will sell up to a third of the Lithium produced at Ioneer’s Rhylite Ridge site in Nevada to the battery manufacturer. In doing so, “Ioneer will effectively supply the critical minerals that go into the production of Ford and Volkswagen electric vehicles in the US by supplying the South Korean-based EcoPro,” writes Cranston. Cranston calls the agreement “one of the first major deals since President Joe Biden’s decree to shift away from lower-standard Chinese critical mineral and component production in US supply chains.” That’s a Nevada-to-Korea-and-back-to-the-U.S. supply chain, de-coupling from China’s dominant EV battery sector.

    Expected to produce as much as 800,000 metric tons of Lithium over the next forty years at its Nevada mine site, Ioneer will supply up to 7,000 metric tons of Lithium carbonate to EcoPro per year over the course of three years under the agreement.

    A similar supply chain shift is evident in the Rare Earths sector, where Energy Fuels and Neo Performance Materials have joined forces to create a “new United States-to-Europe rare earth supply chain.” Earlier this month, a first container containing 20 metric tons of mixed rare earth carbonate shipped from Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Mill in Utah to Neo’s Silmet rare earth processing facility located in Estonia, where the materials will be separated into rare earth oxides and other rare earth compounds.

    According to Energy Fuels’s CEO Mark Chalmers, with Neo being the only commercial producer of separated rare earth oxides in Europe, product is being shipped to Estonia because “there is no next step in the United States. We ship to Estonia because that’s the only separation plant that makes the high purity rare earth elements in Europe.”

    Meanwhile, the company is planning to build a separation plant at White Mesa over the course of the next two to three years, with a potential prospect of incorporating other metals and alloys, as well as capabilities to manufacture REE permanent magnets.

    The deals tie into the “all of the above” approach embraced by the Biden Administration in its 100 Day Supply Chain Report and subsequent policy statements, which seeks to invest in “sustainable production, refining, and recycling capacity domestically,” while at the same time looking to “diversify supply chains away from adversarial nations and sources with unacceptable environmental and labor standards” by working closely with allies and partners.

    As these U.S.-to-Korea and U.S.-to-Estonia examples suggest, we can reasonably expect more deals remapping global supply chains in the coming weeks and months – and ARPN followers can reasonably expect that we will feature them when appropriate in the context of ARPN’s ongoing coverage of our nation’s critical mineral resource challenges.

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  • Copper, Lithium, Antimony and Tellurium: Minerals Make Life Features Four Minerals as “Key to an Advanced Energy Future”

    As the number of countries pledging to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century (or soon thereafter) continues to grow, and governments and other stakeholders work to transform the energy systems underpinning our economies, demand for critical metals and minerals is soaring. The rapidly-accelerating adoption of EV battery technology, along with plans [...]
  • Caught in the “Green Dilemma” of Securing Critical Mineral Resource Supply Chains

    A few months ago, when the Biden Administration stepped up its efforts to promote its ambitious renewable energy agenda, Forbes analyst David Blackmon suggested that we might be about to “witness a replay of the politics of the Shale Revolution, only this time those politics will be playing out around the mining of the country’s [...]
  • Report from The Yukon: Critical Minerals Challenge Brings “Geopolitical Backwater” Into Focus

    As we outlined in our last post, the Biden Administration’s strategy to secure critical mineral supply chains, as outlined in its just-released 100 Day Supply Chain Report, embraces an “all of the above approach.” While strengthening sustainable mining and processing domestically, the Administration will also rely on partnerships with our closest allies — and of [...]
  • 100-Day Supply Chain Report — Striking a Balance Between Strengthening Domestic Resource Development and Cooperation With Allies

    In its just-released 100-Day Supply Chain Report, the Biden Administration has committed to an “all of the above” approach to critical minerals — a “wrap-around strategy” that includes recycling, substitution, as well as new mining, as Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told U.S. Senators earlier this month. While investing in “sustainable production, refining, and recycling [...]
  • The Mining Industry is Ready to Strengthen American Supply Chains

    With the release of its 100-Day Supply Chain Report, the Biden Administration has sent a strong signal that it is serious about stepping up U.S. efforts to secure domestic supply chains — especially for the four areas covered by the report: semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging; pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), and, of particular [...]
  • Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm Commits to “Soup to Nuts” Strategy, with Critical Minerals Being “Part and Parcel” of Renewable Energy Production

    During last week’s Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on President Joe Biden’s FY 2022 budget request for the Department of Energy, Senators questioned Secretary Jennifer Granholm on the Department’s view on the role of critical minerals in energy production. Watch the archived webcast here. Sec. Granholm stated that critical minerals are “part [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • “Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup – Mining and Advanced Materials Industries Harness Materials Science in Green Energy Shift

    The Biden Administration has shifted focus to its next major legislative priority in the context of the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda — a multi-trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure package. Billed as a plan to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change, the package will [...]

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