ARPN followers are used to our coverage of metals and minerals shortages, and the need to develop more sources of domestic supply. But the value of U.S.-produced minerals is best evidenced in the ability to meet global needs. Take borates, one of the relatively few minerals where the U.S. is a net exporter.
The issue is illustrated by Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) visit this week to the Rio Tinto Boron Mine in California. An advocate of removing obstacles to freer trade as a means of expanding American economic opportunity, McCarthy observed that: “This ability to operate is vital to job creation and innovation. Securing critical minerals, as is done here at Boron, ensures that our community continues to put America at the forefront of a 21st Century economy.” That single mine supplies roughly 30 percent of the world’s demand for refined borates.
And that demand seems destined to grow. Most Americans have heard of Borax – a staple in laundry rooms for more than a century. But with the revolution in materials science, borates have become an important component in many of today’s cutting-edge applications, which not only include fancy golf clubs, but also highly advanced nano-materials with breakthrough-potential for industrial uses and aerospace applications, for example.
Ultrasensitive gas sensors based on “boron-doping” – the infusion of boron atoms into graphene – could be used in industries to detect toxic or flammable gases. Research also indicates that boron-doping could help improve lithium-ion batteries and field effect transistors. Meanwhile, researchers see boron nitride-reinforced nanotubes as “the future for making polymer composites for the aerospace industry.”
Considering that mining exports make considerable positive contributions to America’s trade balance, policy makers and other stakeholders should embrace policies that encourage the development of the mineral resources we are blessed to have beneath our own soil – not just for those where our demand exceeds supply, but for those like boron, where U.S. production supplies the world.