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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • “Supply Chain” Begins With “Supply:” Department of Commerce 100-Day Report Chapter on Complex Semiconductor Supply Chain

    Current news coverage may have you believe that when it comes to critical minerals, all we’re talking about is Rare Earths and battery tech metals, such as Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel and Graphite. However, while certainly extremely important for 21st Century technology, these materials and the sectors in which they find key applications only represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to securing critical mineral supply chains.

    In its 100 Day Supply Chain Report, the Biden Administration dedicated an entire chapter to the supply chains of semiconductors — for good reason.

    Semiconductors have become indispensable components for a broad range of electronic devices, and their importance cannot be overstated. The Department of Commerce-led chapter in the report cites the transformational impact of the colloquial computer chip as the launching point of its review:

    “Semiconductors are the material basis for integrated circuits that are essential to modern day life and are used by the typical consumer on a daily, if not hourly, basis. The semiconductor-based integrated circuit is the ‘DNA’ of technology and has transformed essentially all segments of the economy, from agriculture and transportation to healthcare, telecommunications, and the Internet.

    (…)

    In addition to the central role they play in the U.S. economy, semiconductors are essential to national security. Semiconductors enable the development and fielding of advanced weapons systems and control the operation of the nation’s critical infrastructure. They are fundamental to the operation of virtually every military system, including communications and navigations systems and complex weapons systems such as those found in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. They are key to the ‘must-win’ technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence and 5G, which will be essential to achieving the goal of a ‘dynamic, inclusive and innovative national economy’ identified as a critical American advantage in the March 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance.”

    According to the report, the supply chains for these highly specialized hi-tech components are extremely complex, as the manufacturing of semiconductors “requires hundreds of essential inputs, many of which are raw materials, chemicals, and gases. These materials have their own complex supply chains, and likely contain hidden choke points that could disrupt production.”

    The manufacturing of semiconductors begins with polysilicon, for which the U.S. currently has some production capacity. However, according to the Department of Commerce, “U.S. technological leadership and production of semiconductor-grade polysilicon is at risk due to China’s actions to increase its dominance of both the semiconductor and solar supply chains.” That risk is further heightened now that China is under U.S. import sanctions for producing polysilicon using forced labor in the Province of Xinjiang. U.S. companies importing Chinese products containing polysilicon from Xinjiang risk having those products impounded at American ports by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    Two other key semiconductor materials are Gallium and Indium — for both of which the United States is 100% import reliant, both of which made the 2018 official U.S. Critical Minerals List released by the Department of the Interior, and both of which are primarily sourced from China.

    Due to the extremely complex and geographically dispersed nature of the semiconductor supply chain (which results in the typical semiconductor production process spanning multiple countries and products crossing international borders up to 70 times according to the Department of Commerce), there are many access points for supply chain vulnerabilities along the way.

    To address the semiconductor supply chain challenge, the Biden Administration seeks to “bolster its partnership with the private sector in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and R&D,” and “strengthen engagement with allies and partners to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations, increase production, and promote increased investment.”

    However, let’s be clear: As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty pointed out last year against the backdrop of excitement over the recent announcement of Arizona as the site for Taiwan Semiconductor’s new next-gen semiconductor factory to manufacture their new 5-nanometer (5nm) chips: “the first word in supply chain is ‘supply.’”

    As the Biden Administration begins to tackle the complex semiconductor supply chain challenge in the context of its “all of the above” approach to decouple from adversary nations, it must begin at the beginning.

    Thankfully, the U.S. is not only in the fortunate position to have known resources for both Gallium and Indium (in Texas and Alaska, respectively), both metals can also be “unlocked” in the “co-product” development of their Gateway Metals Aluminum (for Gallium) and Zinc and Tin (Indium) — another reason stakeholders should focus more on the inter-relationship between Gateway Metals and the critical co-products they unlock.

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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 [...]
  • Close Allies Map Critical Mineral Cooperation

    “Do I have to draw you a map?” As idioms go, that phrase is much nicer than the message it intends – but it’s apt for a new exercise linking the collective expertise of the geological surveys of Australia, Canada and the U.S.: an interactive world map of deposits of rare earths and other critical [...]
  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that “much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.” In this [...]
  • Independence Day 2021 — Towards Greater Mineral Resource Independence?

    After a long wait — with many parades and fireworks honor the men and women who have fought for, and continue to safeguard our freedoms canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic — Independence Day 2021 is upon us. With many of the pandemic-related restrictions lifted, celebrating our freedoms this year feels a little [...]
  • 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 [...]

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