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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Two For Four — New Critical Minerals Draft List Includes Two of Four Metals Recommended For Inclusion by ARPN in 2018

    With the addition of 15 metals and minerals bringing the total number up to 50, this year’s draft updated Critical Minerals List, for which USGS just solicited public comment, is significantly longer than its predecessor.

    This, as USGS notes, is largely the result of “splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as mineral groups” – as we argued in our last post, a welcome development likely to “encourage policymakers to understand that Rare Earth and PGM deposits can and will differ in the degree to which they afford access to the full range of these key materials.”

    Perhaps even more interesting, however, is the addition of Nickel and Zinc, which, as followers of ARPN may recall, puts us at two for four:

    In a statement submitted during the official comment period leading up to the release of the final 2018 Critical Minerals List, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty had called for adding Copper, Zinc, Nickel and Lead to the List.

    Reviewing several scenarios outlined in the Reconfiguration of the National Defense Stockpile Report to Congress from 2009, McGroarty concluded these four metals/minerals should be added based on relevant defense criteria — and, in the case of Copper, Zinc and Nickel, based on their Gateway Metal status.

    Arguing that the 2018 draft list did not convey the “relationships of various metals and minerals,” and most importantly the fact that many of them “are not mined in their own right, but obtained as ‘co-products’ of primary mining,”McGroarty pointed to the fact that Copper, Nickel, Zinc and Lead offered access to seven unique minerals deemed critical on the list, with Copper being the most versatile, since it “unlocks” five potential co-products included in the 2018 List, and submitted a graphic underscoring his point.

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    The U.S. Government was unmoved, making no changes to the List.

    Nickel’s star has since risen.

    Against the backdrop of the accelerating battery arms race, the Biden Administration, in its 100-Day Supply Chain review report released in June, acknowledged Nickel’s Critical Mineral status, noting that

    “In contrast to cobalt, nickel content per battery will increase in the coming years, as R&D focused on high-nickel in cathodes has shown significant and accelerated commercial adoption. The potential shortfall from this increase in demand poses a supply chain risk for battery manufacturing globally, not just in the United States; given the pervasive need, the established nickel industry is ramping up production and processing, and the United States is falling further behind China in this critical material.”

    The Department of Energy-led chapter of the 100 Day Report further concluded that “If there are opportunities for the US to target one part of the battery supply chain, this would likely be the most critical to provide short- and medium-term supply chain stability,” noting the urgent need to develop a strategic framework for securing Class 1 nickel. As we commented at the time, no other “non-Critical” received more mentions in the White House report than Nickel.

    Add in the fact that Nickel provides Gateway access to Cobalt and the PGMs, and the case for including Nickel into the 2021 Critical Minerals list just got even more compelling.

    Zinc, primarily used in metallurgical applications, is also a Gateway metal, yielding access to “Criticals” Indium and Germanium, is also seeing greater application in green energy technology, and, according to Mining Weekly the “increasing concentration of global mine and smelter production and the continued refinement, as well as the development, of the quantitative evaluation criteria” put zinc above the threshold for inclusion.

    If Nickel and Zinc are ARPN’s two “hits,” we still stand by our two remaining “misses:”  Copper and Lead.

    Less flashy than some of its tech metal peers, Copper’s traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status make it highly versatile.

    Copper is an irreplaceable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs over wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid.   The manufacturing process for EVs requires four times more Copper than gas powered vehicles, and the expansion of electricity networks will lead to more than doubled Copper demand for grid lines, according to the IEA.

    Add in Copper’s Gateway Metal status and a 2019 mining executive’s projection that “[t]he world will need the same amount of copper over the next 25 years that it has produced in the past 500 years if it is to meet global demand.”  The just-passed federal infrastructure package and recent announcements of new EV goals and fuel efficiency standards — will only add to the outlined Copper demand scenarios.

    Meanwhile, Lead continues to be a key ingredient in battery technology, with the lead-acid battery industry accounting for about 92% of reported U.S. lead consumption during 2020. On the Co-Product front, Lead is Gateway to two “Criticals,” Arsenic and Bismuth.

    While the rationale for including Copper (and to a lesser extent Lead) into the latest iteration of the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List remains strong, and is perhaps, in the case of Copper, stronger than ever, we choose to see the glass as half-full, and are encouraged by the inclusion of Nickel and Zinc — testament to the fact that policy makers and other stakeholders are increasingly acknowledging the challenges associated with providing reliable supplies of the Critical Minerals underpinning our “Tech Metal Era.”

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  • USGS Seeks Public Comment on Draft Revised Critical Minerals List

    On November 9, 2021, the U.S. Geological Survey announced it is seeking public comment, on a draft revised list of critical minerals.  The revised list is the latest development in a broader move towards a more comprehensive mineral resource policy on the part of the U.S. Government — a long-overdue shift that began to gain steam in 2018, when the Department of the Interior released the nation’s first list of metals and minerals deemed critical for U.S. economic and national security.

    The 2018 list was developed in consultation with other cabinet agencies pursuant to Executive Order 13817, and set off a flurry of activities relating to critical mineral resource policy.  Later codified into law, the Critical Minerals List statute directs that “…the methodology and list shall be reviewed at least every 3 years.”  The 2021 revised list is the first such review.

    In those three years, as friends of ARPN appreciate, a lot has happened.  The ongoing coronavirus pandemic caused a global health crisis, threw markets into turmoil and disrupted public life, and trained  a spotlight on the complexities and vulnerabilities of supply chains — not only for medical or food supplies and consumer goods, but also for critical minerals.

    Meanwhile, against the backdrop of an accelerating global push towards a carbon-neutral energy future, a series of studies make it increasingly clear that this push cannot succeed without massive inputs of critical minerals.  As the World Bank and IEA have concluded — and as Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute and Professor of Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines told members of Congress after the publication of the first Critical Minerals List — “the future energy system will be far more mineral and metal-intensive than it is today.”

    With pressures mounting, and policy makers grappling with the new realities of 21st Century resource policy imperatives, it is only appropriate that 2021 sees an update to the U.S. Government’s 2018 Critical Minerals List.

    While the 2018 list comprised 35 metals and minerals, this year’s draft update has grown to 50, and includes the following:

    “Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cerium, cesium, chromium, cobalt, dysprosium, erbium, europium, fluorspar, gadolinium, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, holmium, indium, iridium, lanthanum, lithium, lutetium, magnesium, manganese, neodymium, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, praseodymium, rhodium, rubidium, ruthenium, samarium, scandium, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thulium, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, ytterbium, yttrium, zinc, and zirconium.”

    Recognizing the REEs and PGMs

    As USGS explains, “[m]uch of the increase in the number of mineral commodities, from 35 commodities and groups on the final 2018 list to 50 commodities on the 2021 draft list, is the result of splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as mineral groups.”

    ARPN sees this additional articulation as a welcome development.  Not all Rare Earths are created equal, and the 2018 List’s generic category of REEs, plus a separate listing for the non-lanthanide Scandium, masked the myriad technological and market-driven differences between the individual 17 Rare Earths.  By referencing 16 REEs – only lab-synthesized Prometheum remains off-list — the 2021 Critical Mineral List invites a more granular approach to a remarkably versatile group.  The same is true of the smaller set of Platinum Group Metals, where only Osmium fell short of list-worthiness.

    More on this in future posts, but for now – suffice to say that this broader articulation will encourage policymakers to understand that Rare Earth and PGM deposits can and will differ in the degree to which they afford access to the full range of these key materials.

    Additions and Subtractions

    USGS goes on to note that in addition to the REE and PGM build-out, “the 2021 draft list adds nickel and zinc and removes helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium.”   Uranium, too, disappears from the List, on a procedural technicality.

    Leading up to the release of the final 2018 list, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty had submitted public comments calling for the inclusion of Copper, Zinc, Nickel and Lead into the list, so we’re pleased to see that two of those four are included in the 2021 draft list.  That said, the rationale for adding Copper and, to a lesser degree, Lead remains strong.

    The de-listing of rhenium and strontium deserve closer examination, for a variety of reasons – another subject for a future post.

    For now, and by way of a final, first look, the new Critical Minerals List bumps the total number of elements to 50 – essentially half of the naturally-occurring elements on the Periodic Table.  As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty noted in his keynote at the Australian In the Zone conference in 2019 that’s proof of the role these materials play in our Tech Metal Era – and of the scope of the challenge we face in discovering and developing robust and reliable sources of such a multitude of critical resources.

    As the public comment period commences, ARPN will be covering developments surrounding the new draft list in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for updates.

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  • The Mineral Intensity of a Carbon-Neutral Future – A Look at Copper

    Amidst the global push towards carbon neutrality, “Critical Minerals” has become a buzzword.  As the green energy transition has gone mainstream and electric vehicles and renewable energy sources dominate the news cycle, so has talk about growing demand for some of the specialized materials underpinning this shift — most notably the Rare Earths, and the battery [...]
  • Copper, Lithium, Antimony and Tellurium: Minerals Make Life Features Four Minerals as “Key to an Advanced Energy Future”

    As the number of countries pledging to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century (or soon thereafter) continues to grow, and governments and other stakeholders work to transform the energy systems underpinning our economies, demand for critical metals and minerals is soaring. The rapidly-accelerating adoption of EV battery technology, along with plans [...]
  • DoE Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Calls for Immediate Investment in “Scaling up a Secure, Diversified Supply Chain for High-Capacity Batteries Here at Home”

    The Biden Administration made clear early on that it is committed to pursuing a low-carbon energy future, and battery technology is a key driver underpinning the shift away from fossil fuels. Just a few weeks ago, when touting his infrastructure package at Ford’s electric vehicle plant in Dearborn, President Joe Biden declared: “The future of [...]
  • Biden Administration 100-Day Supply Chain Report Holds Surprise for Some: And the Winner is… Nickel?

    Critical Minerals policy-wonks:  if you wagered that Rare Earths would be the leading elements in the Biden 100-Day Report in terms of mentions, you’d be wrong. That’s right — we took a look at the Biden Administration’s just-released 100-day supply chain assessment, and created a word cloud based on the number of mentions (footnotes included) of [...]
  • If Copper is the New Oil, We Need to Prioritize Its Development

    A Bank of America commodity strategist warns that the world may be “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits. Suggesting that prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025, the strategist’s note called out that inventories are currently at levels seen 15 years ago, and that existing stocks may cover just [...]
  • Decarbonization Goals Expose Bottleneck in Critical Mineral Supply Chains — Us

    [Note from Sandra Wirtz: As ARPN digs through the White House Supply Chain Report, we are completing the week with posts that “preview” metals and minerals prominently mentioned in the Report – beginning with copper.] “The road to decarbonisation will be paved with copper (…) and a host of other minerals, all critical for electric [...]
  • Mining Industry Expert: “A Serious Conversation About Infrastructure and Clean Energy Must Start at the Beginning of the Supply Chain. It’s Time to Boost Domestic Supply of Copper”

    As was to be expected, President Joe Biden used his State of the Union address to both chambers of Congress to tout his American Jobs Plan, which has been billed as comprehensive package to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change. And while nobody can [...]
  • The Road to “Building Back Better” is Paved with Critical Metals and Minerals

    Another round of COVID relief stimulus checks is hitting Americans’ bank account this week, and a vaccine schedule laid has been laid out. Time for the Administration and Congress to move on to the next key priority of the Biden Administration’s “Build Back Better” agenda: an economic recovery package that will “make historic investments in [...]

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