American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Alaska Holds Key to Addressing Our Nation’s “Achilles Heel” – Conference Shifts Policy Community’s Focus on Critical Minerals in the Arctic

    The global push towards net zero carbon emissions against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions and associated supply chain challenges has undoubtedly directed stakeholder attention to the need to strengthen critical mineral supply chains.

    However, as followers of ARPN well know, the challenges of detangling supply chains and decoupling from adversary nations, i.e. China, are immense, and warrant a comprehensive all-of-the-above approach to mineral resource security.

    A recent policy event in Washington, DC has brought the focus back to an area that holds great promise for the U.S. as it seeks to re-shore its critical mineral supply chains: Alaska.

    A two-day summit hosted las week by the Department of Energy Arctic Energy Office, the Wilson Center, Rand Corp. and the University of Alaska entitled “Critical Minerals in the Arctic: Forging the Path Forward” brought together state and federal policy leaders – including ARPN’s Dan McGroarty, who served as co-moderator of one of the non-public panels — to advance “policy recommendations for development of critical mineral resources in the Arctic, in the context of U.S. national security, energy, climate, and technology goals.” 

    The event built upon an inaugural August 2022 conference entitled “Alaska’s Minerals: A Strategic National Imperative” hosted by the University of Alaska, U.S. Arctic Research Commission and the Wilson Center, which coincided with a USGS announcement that the state was slated to receive more than $6.75 million in funding for geologic mapping, airborne geophysical surveying, and geochemical sampling in support of critical mineral resource studies in the state.

    The funding has merit.

    As Brett Watson, assistant professor of applied and natural resource economics at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska, Anchorage, Steven Masterman, affiliate of University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Erin Whitney, Director of the Arctic Energy office, U.S. Department of Energy wrote in a read ahead document for the event,

    “Alaska’s complex geological history has led to formation of a wide array of mineral deposit types containing commodities many list as critical. Alaska either has, is, or could produce almost all of the commodities on the US Geological Survey’s 2022 list of critical minerals. Alaska is the largest producer of zinc in the nation, contains the nation’s largest graphite deposit, is the state with the only domestic tin resources and, has been a producer of critical minerals in times of national need, e.g. During WWII Alaska contributed tin, PGE’s, chrome, tungsten and antimony for the war effort. Most of the commodities produced to support the war effort have not been significantly produced since, and the resources remain in place, creating a ripe environment for meeting the nations need for these critical minerals.”

    Keynoting the event’s second day, Alaskan U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski cited China’s recent decision to impose export restrictions on gallium and germanium as a real time example of critical minerals really being our nation’s “Achilles Heel.”   While acknowledging that progress has been made – Murkowski cited the U.S. government’s Critical Minerals List and key pieces of federal legislation such as her American Mineral Security Act, the bipartisan infrastructure package, some “gentle” permitting reforms of which we need more, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Defense Production Act of 2022 — but acknowledged that all of these steps are merely a beginning, and that more must be done.

    Chiefly among the things that need to be done, according to Murkowski, are more mapping, more permitting reform, “opening more valves of federal support,” and “maybe learn[ing] on the fly when it comes to processing and refining.” Perhaps equally important, she said, was turning the tide of public opinion, which too often is “agnostic or downright hostile to mining.”

    Murkowski cited the example of natural graphite, for which the United States has long been 100% import dependent as one of the promising opportunities Alaska holds for reducing our overreliance via the Graphite Creek deposit owned by Graphite One, Inc., which USGS has deemed the largest U.S. graphite deposit and among the largest in the world.  With Alaska home to many critical minerals, the Senator called on stakeholders and the policy community to engage in more dialogue and devise ways in which federal policy could support and strengthen projects like Graphite One’s, because the issue of critical mineral resource security is “too key to Alaska’s future, it’s too key to our country’s future.” 

    Here’s hoping that stakeholders are listening.

    The Wilson Center provides publications related to the conference, as well as complete video streaming on its website and on its YouTube channel, and will make proceedings from the tabletop exercise and briefs from the working sessions publicly available once finalized. 

  • Turning the Same Stone Twice: Governments, Miners Turn to Mine Tailings to Bolster Critical Mineral Supply Chains

    In their quest to secure critical mineral supply chains against the backdrop of surging demand and rising geopolitical pressures, stakeholders are leaving no stone unturned – quite literally — and have in fact begun turning the same stone twice.

    As Australia’s Financial Post reports, the Australian government has completed a mapping project of sites containing mine waste with reprocessing potential.

    The Atlas of Australian Mine Waste was launched this week by Geoscience Australia in partnership with RMIT University, the University of Queensland, as well as geological surveys across the country.

    As Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King stated“[s]ome of the minerals we need now, and into the future, may not just be in the ground—they’re also in rock piles and tailings on mine sites around the country.”

    She added:

    “These minerals might not have been of interest when first extracted but could now be in hot demand as the world seeks to decarbonize—for example, cobalt in the tailings of old copper mines.”

    Acknowledging the potential held by mine waste and tailings, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) earlier this spring solicited proposals for FY2023 grants to collect data on mine waste, using funds from Bipartisan Infrastructure Act in the context of the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI).

    Earth MRI provides more than $74 million in new mapping funding each year to “modernize our understanding of the Nation’s fundamental geologic framework and improve knowledge of domestic critical-mineral resources both still in the ground and in mine waste.”

    As announced this May, more than $5.8 million will go towards mapping critical-mineral resources in Alaska in partnership with the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. Minerals included in the context of USGS and the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Survey research projects Alaska are: Arsenic, antimony, bismuth, cobalt, graphite, indium, platinum group metals, rare earth elements tantalum, tellurium and tin.

    Miners have long realized the potential of reprocessing tailings, and have already “made a business out of reprocessing old mine waste to extract metal, as part of a mine remediation process,” as the Financial Post reports.  Many efforts have sprung up in recent years, and we’re featuring a few examples below:

    In Australia, New Century Resources currently owns and runs the largest tailings retreatment operation at its zinc tailings retreatment operation in Queensland.

    In the rare earths realm, Reuters lists six major projects outside of China aimed at extracting the critical minerals from waste or byproducts, including Iluka Resources Ltd’s and VHM Ltd’s operations in Australia, Rainbow Rare Earths Ltd’s endeavor in northeast South Africa, Swedish state-owned LKAB’s plans to extract REEs from two existing mines, and two U.S. operations:

    Phoenix Tailings, a privately held U.S. company plans to launch operations using waste materials from a former iron ore mine in New York using its own processing technology.

    U.S. Energy Fuels, originally focused on uranium production, started acquiring monazite, a byproduct of mineral sands, to extract REEs with plans to open its own separation plant by 2024.

    Global miner Rio Tinto began producing tellurium at its Kennecott copper operation in Utah, where roughly 20 tons of the material are generated from by-product streams generated during the copper refining process. As America’s oldest copper mine, now in its 117th year of operations, there’s no telling how many critical minerals may reside in Kennecott’s historic waste piles.

    In addition to recovering tellurium from Kennecott, after commencing production of battery-grade lithium from waste rock at a lithium demonstration site at its Boron mine site in California in 2021, the company last fall began partnering with CR Minerals Co. LLC in an effort to extract a material called pozzolans from the facility’s tailings, which can be substituted for or combined with cement to decarbonization construction materials. Meanwhile, in Canada, the miner is producing scandium from titanium waste, becoming the first North American producer of scandium in the process.

    As the materials science revolution marches on and continues to unlock new technologies allowing for the safe and commercially viable recovery of mine waste tailings, harnessing this – to date largely untapped — potential could play a significant role in a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” approach to bolstering critical mineral supply chains.

  • Critical Minerals and the National Strategy for the Arctic Region

    We’re “on a highway to climate hell.” The picture UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez is painting of current efforts in the climate fight is – expectedly – bleak. As such, it is no surprise that nations have been doubling down on their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Biden Administration is no exception. Followers of ARPN have [...]
  • As Automakers Scramble to Build Out EV Manufacturing, Calls for Mine Permitting Reform Get Louder

    Against the backdrop of ongoing supply chain challenges around the globe, the urgency of untangling and securing critical mineral supply chains essential to a net zero carbon emissions future is becoming increasingly clear. Following on the heels of the Biden Administration invoking the Defense Production Act for the “Battery Criticals” – lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese [...]
  • Alaska Critical Minerals Conference: Stakeholders Welcome Progress Thus Far, Call for Federal Permitting Reform and More Predictability in the Mining Space

    Just as a new federal law – the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 – may send a much-needed investment signal to the underdeveloped critical mineral supply chains for EVs and other 21st  century technologies, many of which are rife with underinvestment, political risk and poor governance – lawmakers and policy experts gathered for a two-day two-day conference hosted by the [...]
  • ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty to Discuss Critical Mineral Policy at Alaska Critical Minerals Conference

    Mere months after widespread lockdowns in China over coronavirus outbreaks, factories in Sichuan province are shutting down again – this time over an intense heatwave and drought across China’s south.  Meanwhile, Russia’s war on Ukraine shows no signs of slowing down, and tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan continue to flare. As the [...]
  • U.S. Senator and AK Governor for The Hill: With China Having Taken Control of Critical Mineral Supply Chains, We Need to Act Now

    Beijing’s threat to withhold potentially life-saving medical supplies and medications in the middle of a global pandemic, during which China has “taken control of [respective] supply chains around the world as part of its quest for global domination,” were a wake up call, write U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R-AK) in [...]
  • EPA Withdrawal of Preemptive Veto of Alaska Strategic Mineral Mining Project Positive Development for Due Process

    Amidst a recent uptick in government actions aimed at increasing domestic mineral resource development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this month withdrew its preemptive proposed determination to restrict use of one of the largest domestic deposits of key strategic mineral resources (Copper, Molybdenum, Gold, Silver and Rhenium) in Southwestern Alaska.  As followers of [...]
  • Resource Alert:  North of 60 Mining News Has Launched “Critical Minerals Alaska” Magazine and Dedicated Webpage

    Over the past few weeks, China’s threat to play the “rare earths card” has generated quite a buzz and, along with growing concerns over supply chains for battery tech, has directed much-needed attention to our nation’s over-reliance on foreign mineral resources.  As followers of ARPN know, many of these issues are in fact home-grown, as the United [...]
  • The “Indispensable Twins” of Critical Minerals – Niobium and Tantalum

    In the latest installment of his “Critical Minerals Alaska” series for North of 60 Mining News, Shane Lasley zeroes in on what USGS has dubbed the “indispensable twins” – Niobium and Tantalum. Both share “nearly indistinguishable physical and chemical properties” and are “critical to the defense, energy and high-tech sectors.”  Meanwhile, neither Niobium nor Tantalum are mined in the United States, so their inclusion [...]