American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Through the Gateway: “Fairy Dust” Supply Woes Loom

    As we continue our look Through the Gateway, comes a stern reminder by way of Canada that the geopolitics of resource supply represents a complex issue warranting comprehensive policy approaches.  

    And it literally concerns a metal that touches us — more precisely, we touch it — every day, too many times to count.

    decision to close metallurgical operations at the Kidd Creek Copper-Zinc-Silver deposit in Ontario, Canada, will effectively remove more than ten metric tons of Indium – a co-product metal the Gateway Metals to which include Zinc and Tin – from the global market.   As MetalBulletin points out, the mine is not closing per se, but concentrates from the mine will be taken to a different smelter without Indium processing capabilities, meaning the Indium is effectively going to be lost.

    While ten metric tons does not sound like much, this is significant, as we’re talking about Indium here, which is one of the rarer tech co-product metals. USGS pegs total global refinery production of Indium at 755 metric tons in 2015.  With the United States not producing any Indium – making us 100% import-dependent — and Canada – which is our biggest supplier of Indium – accounting for 66 metric tons, removing more than ten metric tons from the global market is a big deal just in terms of numbers.

    But why is this relevant? Aside from being a key component for the construction of CIGS (i.e. Copper, Indium, Gallium, Selenide solar panels) Indium happens to be the “fairy dust” that turns a regular computer, tablet or smart phone screen into a touch screen.   The majority of newer smart phone and tablet makers have turned to ITO (Indium Tin Oxide) to form the conductive layer, which is used to monitor changes in electrical state as you touch and swipe the screen.” AZoMaterials has a great write-up and quick video explaining the technology.

    Rumors that new IGZO (Indium, Gallium, Zinc Oxide) semiconductor technology has found its way into the displays of the just-released iPhone 7 (we discussed this a few weeks ago here  have not yet been confirmed, but the bottom line is that Indium is one of the tech metals that is growing in importance. 

    Last year, the United States consumed 124 metric tons of refined Indium. With Canada removing a significant percentage of Indium from the global market, the United States may now be forced to turn to China to meet demand even more than before – a daunting proposition. 

    Meanwhile, there is a serious disconnect with regards to resource policy.  Most policy makers – and candidates for political office for that matter – fail to connect the dots – everyone is in favor of strengthening our manufacturing base, but they fail to acknowledge that we need “stuff” to make “stuff.”  Maybe if their touchscreens stopped working all of a sudden they’d get the memo, and would focus on devising a comprehensive mineral resource strategy.  Word of a potential Indium shortage may cause our eyes to glaze over — but if we lose touch with our touch-screens, maybe then we’ll get a feel for the role co-product metals play in our 21st Century lives.

  • Through the Gateway: A Look at Cadmium

    Most of us have heard of Cadmium as a component of NiCd (Nickel-Cadmium) batteries.  To date, this also happens to be the most frequent use for the metal, accounting for about 85% of the Cadmium consumed globally in 2015.

    A silvery metal with a bluish surface tinge, Cadmium is corrosion-resistant and its oxides are insoluble in water.  Nearly all the world’s Cadmium is derived as a co-product from Zinc sulfide ore, which is mined in many countries.  In the U.S., according to USGS, two companies produced refined Cadmium in 2015 – one by way of co-product recovery, and the other one by way of recycling of secondary cadmium metal from spent NiCd batteries and other scrap.

    Over the past few years, there have been a slew of European Union directives classifying Cadmium as a toxic “hazardous substance” and prohibiting its use in many consumer products, including NiCD batteries in most power tools and Cadmium-containing quantum dots for light-emitting diodes for displays.  However, usage of industrial-sized NiCd batteries in electricity storage from photovoltaic systems could counter some of the decline in Cadmium usage.

    The current solar power boom could do the same – and once again underscores our Gateway Metal/Co-product Metal focus:  Lab results for Cadmium-Telluride solar cells scored CdTe technology breaking efficiency records when it comes to converting energy in sunlight into electricity.  Just like Cadmium, Tellurium is also a co-product metal (though unlike Cadmium, it is not a Zinc co-product, but rather derived mostly in the Copper refinement process).  As such, both Cadmium and Tellurium are not mined in their own rights — but they are essential to a key 21st Century technology.

    In light of materials sciences’ rapid pace of discoveries of new applications for metals and minerals, other new applications for Cadmium may also be found.

    While exact data are withheld, the U.S. is currently considered a net exporter of Cadmium. However, what is instructive here is the fact that the metal is almost exclusively derived as a co-product – so whatever happens to the Gateway Metal Zinc will in some shape or form affect the supply scenario for Cadmium. Or, in other words, the road to Cadmium leads Through the Gateway.

  • Through the Gateway: Germanium – Semiconductor of the Future?

    Our first Zinc co-product, Germanium, is a silvery metalloid.  According to USGS, “in nature, it never exists as the native metal in nature” and “is rarely found in commercial quantities in the few minerals in which it is an essential component.” That said, the “most commercially important germanium-bearing ore deposits are zinc or lead-zinc deposits formed at low temperature.” Discovered [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Of Diaper Rash Cream, Fertilizer and Battery Technology – A Look at Zinc

    If you’re a parent of young children, you’ll probably appreciate Zinc for its medicinal properties – a good diaper rash cream or sunscreen for the little ones comes with a good dose of Zinc oxide. Otherwise, you may have come across this metal primarily as an anti-corrosion agent used to prevent metals like steel and iron from [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Tin, Co-Products and Shifting Paradigms

    While not as flashy as some other metals, Tin’s versatility will continue to drive demand.  We are familiar with its use in food preservation.  Meanwhile, ITRI, the tin industry’s UK-based trade association, highlights the “storage, generation and conservation of energy as key drivers for new applications for the metal over the next 3 to 30 years.” Coupled with its [...]
  • Through the Gateway: The Geopolitics of Co-Product Supply – a Look at Scandium

    Throughout ARPN’s work, we have consistently highlighted the geopolitical dimension of mineral resource policy.  Where we source (or fail to source) our metals and minerals is an often forgotten – or ignored – factor, with implications for our domestic manufacturers, and, at times, even for our national security. Case in point – and in keeping [...]
  • Through the Gateway – Scandium: A Co-Product Metal Ready To Take Off

    We have already established that Indium is becoming a hot tech commodity. Its fellow Tin co-product Scandium is another metal with huge potential in high-tech applications. Its electrical and heat resistant properties lend itself to the application in solid oxide fuel cells, and its optical properties can be used for high-intensity lamps.  The biggest opportunities for Scandium, [...]
  • Through The Gateway: Indium – Taking Virtual Reality Mainstream?

    Here we [Pokémon] go again.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, and we find another reason to talk about an augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm. But there’s a good reason: Pokémon Go may be giving us a glimpse into our future, or more precisely, the future of smartphone technology.  [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Of Pokémon and Co-Products – A Look at Gallium

    All over the world, people are wandering through the streets staring at their smartphones. Whether you’re part of the PokémonGo phenomenon that has taken the world by storm, or whether you can only shake your head, you don’t only have Nintendo to thank for.    One of the Co-Product Metals we’re focusing on this week as part of [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Molybdenum – “The Most Important Element You Have Never Heard Of?”

    A writer for Gizmodo has dubbed it the “most important element you have never heard of.”  Writes Esther Inglis-Arkell: “Molybdenum, with its 42 protons and 54 neutrons, sits right in the middle of the periodic table being completely ignored. It’s not useless. (…) It just doesn’t have that indefinable sexiness about it.” Inglis-Arkell explains Molybdenum’s biochemical relevance: Taken [...]