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 context we have long argued that while it is essential to focus on the metals and minerals that are driving headlines, such as the Rare Earths and battery tech metals like Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, Manganese and Graphite, we must not forget about the inter-relationship between what we have been calling “gateway metals” and their “co-products.”
Gateway metals – which include mainstay metals like Copper, Aluminum, Nickel, Tin, and Zinc, are not only critical to manufacturing in their own right, but “unlock” tech metals increasingly indispensable to innovation and development. For too long, these “unlocked” tech metals were dubbed “by-products,” or even “minor metals” — labels that don’t do these materials and their increasingly broad applications justice.
Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, both groups of metals and minerals are increasingly becoming the building blocks of 21st Century technology, which is why we believe the “by-products” should be referred to as “co-products.” Meanwhile, many of them are fraught with similar dependency issues like the news-grabbing Rare Earths or battery tech metals.
As such, we were pleased to see that the DoD-led chapter of the White House’s 100-Day Supply Chain Report not only draws attention to this issue complex, but also appears to have embraced the “co-product” label – using it interchangeably with the term “byproduct.”
Under the header “Byproduct and Coproduction Dependency,” the DoD chapter argues that “[b]yproduct production of strategic and critical materials can add significant value to an existing production operation and improve the business case for a nascent producer. However, some strategic and critical materials are derived exclusively from byproduct production, which means a fairly small market depends on the prevailing dynamics of a separate but much larger commodity market. (…) In some cases the concentration of supply can be so extreme that U.S. or global production is concentrated in a single source. (…) More generally, in DoD modeling of strategic and critical materials under national emergency conditions, a domestic sole-source provider exists for 29 of the 53 unclassified shortfall materials, and 18 materials have no domestic production at all.”
This is a significant development, because unlike the recently released Canadian government’s official critical minerals list, the U.S. Government’s List of 35, released in 2018, did not acknowledge the connection between primary mining materials and their critical-co-products.
With the gateway/co-product challenge finding its way into public discourse by way of the 100-Day Supply Chain report, there is hope that the drafters of a forthcoming updated U.S. Government Critical Minerals List will acknowledge the importance of Gateway Metals — and that policy makers will factor this issue complex into the “all of the above” approach. As yesterday’s “minor metals” become major materials in tech applications, America’s mineral resource security may well hinge on encouraging innovative sources of supply.