American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Silver Linings: Materials Science Revolution Marches On Amid Pandemic

    The coronavirus pandemic may have torn through communities, brought public life to a halt, thrown markets into turmoil, and laid bare the extent of our complex and deep critical mineral resource dependencies. It has not  — thankfully, considering the materials challenges we’re up against — stopped the ongoing materials science revolution.

    As policy makers and industry stakeholders look to address our mineral resource supply chain vulnerabilities during and beyond the pandemic, researchers are forging ahead to provide innovative solutions that not only transform the way we use certain metals and minerals, but have the potential help alleviate our over-reliance issues. 

    We have outlined several promising research breakthroughs and projects as part of our Materials Science Profiles of Progress series here

    In the same vein, the Department of Energy has stepped up its efforts to promote collaboration between its research hubs and the private sector to look for ways to diversify mineral resource supply, develop substitutes and drive recycling of critical minerals and rare earth elements. 

    In a recent piece for Real Clear Energy, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette outlines some of the initiatives spearheaded by DoE and its research hubs, ranging from “identifying and extracting critical minerals and REEs from previously untapped sources such as our vast coal reserves,” over capturing lithium from waste product generated by geothermal power production to developing “high-performance magnets used in renewable energy technologies and advanced motors with reduced REE content.”

    With regards to critical materials and REE recycling, Brouilette cites two promising developments:

    “The first involves using a high-speed shredder that turns old computer hard drives into scrap containing significant amounts of REE content. Our scientists apply an acid-free recycling process to the scrap that recovers REEs with greater than 99-percent purity, reducing the steps involved in the previous process and lowering recycling costs.

    The second involves recovering nickel, cobalt, and manganese from disassembled electric vehicle battery packs. A recent American Manganese Inc. project, on which DOE partnered, generated recycled products with purities greater than 98-percent of the 3 critical minerals.”

    In a time when keeping up with the headlines is anxiety-inducing for many, it is nice to see that some positive developments are on the horizon.  They may seem wonky, but their importance should not be underestimated, because, as Brouilette concludes in his Real Clear Energy piece: 

    “Our over-reliance on countries like China that are not reliable trading partners for critical supply chains threatens our economic and national security. We must reclaim our independence over critical mineral and rare earth element supplies to secure a prosperous future.”

  • Materials Science Revolution Continues to Yield Breakthroughs – a Look at Scandium

    Did you turn on the TV to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon take off en route to the International Space Station yesterday only to be disappointed?  The long-awaited historic first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly nine years has been postponed due to weather, but there’s a still good chance we will see history unfold before our eyes in a few days, as a commercial spacecraft is transporting NASA astronauts into orbit in the very near future. 

    Why are we talking about space other than the fact that the focus on SpaceX is giving us a short, but much-needed break from the ever-consuming coverage of the coronavirus pandemic?

    As followers of ARPN will know, aeronautics is a field in which we owe many breakthroughs in recent history to metals, minerals, and the materials science revolution.

    Scandium is a case in point.  Dubbed the “super metal that the aerospace and electric vehicle industries dream of” because of its alloying capabilities that promote lightweight, strength and corrosion resistance, it has become an indispensable tech metal, particularly in the context of the ongoing lightweighting revolution. 

    Aluminum-Scandium alloys have helped reduce aircraft weights by 15% to 20%, without compromising the strength of the building material.   3D-printed Scandium and Aluminum-based high-performance alloys may become even more relevant as the U.S. government embarks on a path to create a U.S. Space Force, and a successful launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon may further increase demand for hi-tech metals like Scandium.

    While all systems may be go for Scandium demand to take off, the supply side has been challenging. 

    As we  outlined a few years ago:

    “[W]hile on paper, Scandium resources may in fact be abundant, it is rarely concentrated in nature, making commercially viable deposits extremely rare. Because it is at present largely recovered as a co-product during the processing of various Gateway Metals, including Tin and Nickel, total global production rates are quite low.  Scandium may also be present in certain Copper and Rare Earth deposits.”

    To date, the U.S. has been 100% import-dependent to meet our domestic Scandium needs and has had to rely on China and Russia — arguably not our most reliable trading partners — to meet demand. In recent years, with demand forecasts for Scandium on the upswing,  mining companies have begun exploring the possibility of primary Scandium recovery and researchers — on behalf of developers of multi-metallic deposits began studying the inclusion of scandium recovery into their project plans.

    And while the launch of SpaceX has to be postponed, news of a breakthrough with potential to change the Scandium supply picture arrived today.  

    As Reuters reports, researchers at Rio Tinto have developed process to extract scandium from waste tailings in the titanium dioxide production process in one of its production facilities in Quebec, Canada.

    The company had previously joined forces with the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), a U.S. Department of Energy research hub, to study new ways to capture Gateway Metals and Co-products that are increasingly becoming indispensable in clean power manufacturing — an endeavor we highlighted in the context of our “Profiles of Progress” series highlighting public-private partnerships proving to be valuable tools in the effort to alleviate supply risks for critical raw materials. 

  • The Future of Mining is “Climate Smart”

    In the latest issue of Metal Tech News, a new publication we recently featured, editor Shane Lasley zeroes in on opportunities offered by the World Bank’s Climate Smart Mining initiative. The initiative, which “supports a low-carbon transition where mining is climate-smart and value chains are sustainable and green,” kicked into high gear in May of [...]
  • 2019 in Review – Towards an “All-Of-The-Above” Approach in Mineral Resource Policy?

    We blinked, and 2020 is knocking on our doors. It’s been a busy year on many levels, and mineral resource policy is no exception. So without further ado, here’s our ARPN Year in Review. Where we began: In last year’s annual recap, we had labeled 2018 as a year of incremental progress, which had set [...]
  • Sustainably Greening the Future – Changes in Mining Technology for the New Decade

    Irrespective of where you come down on the political spectrum, there is no denying that we find ourselves in the midst of a green energy transition. At ARPN, we have long made the case that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as green energy technology relies heavily on a [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress: REE Extraction and Separation From Phosphoric Acid

    The tech war between China and the United States over who will dominate the 21st Century Technology Age is heating up. Earlier this week, China’s rare earth producers, who control the vast majority of global REE output, put out a statement declaring they are ready to “use their dominance of the industry as a weapon in [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress – Penn State University Launches Center for Critical Minerals

    Against the backdrop of a growing awareness of our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources — one need to look no further than the current coverage of China’s threat to play the “rare earths card” — Penn State University is launching a Center for Critical Minerals. Under the auspices of the College of Earth and Mineral [...]
  • Profiles of Progress: Public and Private Sectors to Collaborate on World Bank “Climate-Smart Mining Facility”

    Evolving out of its 2017 report “The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future”, which found that the sought-after transition to a “low-carbon future will be significantly more mineral intensive than a business as usual scenario,” the World Bank developed its “Climate-Smart Mining” initiative, which ARPN discussed a few weeks ago. [...]
  • U.S. Should Revisit R&D Spending Priorities, But Reform Cannot Occur in Vacuum 

    Followers of ARPN have long known that China is the big elephant in the room.  In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Ezekiel Emanuel, Amy Gadsden and Scott Moore lament that while there is a growing  awareness that China may be the – in the words of Sec. of State Mike Pompeo “greatest challenge that [...]
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress – Advances in Metals and Minerals Research May Yield Breakthrough in Quest for Fusion Power

    “Thousands of years ago, humans discovered they could heat rocks to get metal, and it defined an epoch. Later, we refined iron into steel, and it changed the course of civilization. More recently, we turned petroleum into plastic, with all that implies. Whenever we create new materials that push the limits of what’s possible, we [...]