American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Materials Science Revolution in the Fight against COVID — Copper Continues to Lead the Charge

    Copper is arguably one of the key mainstay metals and building blocks of modern society.  However, in recent years — and most certainly over the past few months as the coronavirus pandemic has spanned the globe, its antimicrobial properties — known and appreciated already by the Ancients — have re-entered the spotlight.

    Reports of novel ideas on how to harness copper’s properties in the fight against COVID and future pandemics, ranging from the development of copper-infused face masks to copper-alloyed cell phone cases, are a testament not only to the metal’s properties, but the promise of the ongoing materials science revolution, which is yielding research breakthroughs at neck-breaking speeds. 

    While a recently-introduced Assembly bill in New York State seeks to reduce the spread of infection by requiring all new construction projects receiving state funding to use copper alloy touch surfaces, including door handles, bathroom fixtures, bed rails and handrails going forward, copper’s antimicrobial potential is already finding practical application in Hong Kong.  

    As we reported, Hong Kong’s Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB) announced in May that the government was going to distribute free reusable copper-containing masks “capable of immobilising [sic] bacteria, common viruses and other harmful substances” to all its citizens.

    Meanwhile, Australia’s Northern Territory also made headlines, as its Department of Trade, Business and Innovation became “the first organisation to deploy antimicrobial ACTIVAT3D copper throughout their building to help fight the spread of COVID-19.”

    Developed by a Darwin-based company, ACTIVAT3D copper has been tested by a clinical trial speciality lab accredited by the Australian National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA), and was shown to kill off 96 percent of the virus in two hours and 99.2 percent of the virus in five hours. 

    According to news reports, the company has developed a “process to coat stainless-steel door touch plates and handles in under 5 minutes,” which was then applied throughout the NT Department of Trade, Business and Innovation building.

    While this technology and its associated test results have reportedly sparked global interest as governments and private companies look for proactive ways to protect their communities, the clothing industry is not sitting idly by. 

    According to British news sources, a hi-tech clothing firm claims to have created the world’s first ‘disease-proof’ jacket — a “super garment” designed to kill bugs and viruses like the novel coronavirus by also harnessing copper’s antimicrobial properties.  In what may — at least for now — limit its marketability, the futuristic-looking jacket made from 11km of copper has the hefty price tag of $895. 

    So while it may be unlikely that many of us will be wearing “full metal jackets” – as the super garment has been dubbed – anytime soon, there is a good chance that we will be harnessing copper’s properties in fabrics and garments.   Already, companies have developed copper-infused T-shirts to double as wound dressings, and are now making hospital gowns and bedding to battle hospital-acquired infections, and more and more companies are beginning to offer copper-infused face masks.  

    Speaking of face masks — here’s another testament to materials science:

    Like them or not, they have become a staple in our daily lives, but you’ve probably noticed that effective communication is hard when half your face is hidden — it’s hard to show emotions.  For some, like children, the elderly and the hearing impaired, this issue is even greater, particularly in the caregiving context, where being shown empathy is a big contributing factor to a patient’s wellbeing, especially when loved ones are not allowed to visit in person.  

    Initially looking for a way to make the contact between caregivers and patients less impersonal, Swiss researchers have now developed a technology to create a completely transparent biomass-based surgical mask.   Product launch could take place as early as the spring of 2021.  

    Who knows, maybe the next step will be copper-infused transparent surgical masks. With the materials science revolution going strong, the next breakthrough may be just around the corner. 

  • Demand for Certain Metals and Minerals to Increase by Nearly 500%, According to New World Bank Study

    At ARPN, we have long argued that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as green energy technology relies heavily on a score of critical metals and minerals.

    The World Bank’s latest report, entitled “The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition,” published earlier this week in the context of the global lender’s “Climate-Smart Mining” initiative, confirms this notion, and estimates that production of metals and minerals like graphite, lithium and cobalt will have to increase by nearly 500 percent by 2050 to meet global demand for renewable energy technology.  To achieve the transition to a below 2°C pathway as outlined by the Paris Agreement, the deployment of wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage will require more than three billion tons of minerals and metals.

    Interestingly, the report finds that while shifting to clean energy technology will be mineral-intensive, the carbon footprint of their production “will account for only 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuel technologies.” While recycling and re-use of metals and minerals will play an important role in increasing mineral demand, even drastic increases in this category will not suffice to meet demand for renewable energy technology and energy storage.

    Published against the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic, which, according to World Bank Global Director for Energy and Extractive Industries and Regional Director for Infrastructure in Africa, Riccardo Puliti, “could represent an additional risk to sustainable mining,” the report, and the Climate-Smart Initiative as a whole, seek to offer a “data-driven tool for understanding how this shift will impact future mineral demand.”  

    As economies — particularly in developing nations, many of which are home to the critical materials used in battery technology — start to reopen, the initiative seeks to help these nations “to mine those commodities in a sustainable manner to avert major ecological damage.”

    The World Bank’s Climate Smart Mining initiative is one facet of approaches taken to sustainably green our future, but, as we recently outlined, it does not end here. In an effort to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development, mining companies have started to incorporate renewable power sources into their operations.  Some recent examples include:

    • Rio Tinto looking at incorporating renewables and battery storage into its main mining sites in Australia, for example as part of its $1 billion upgrade for its Pilbara ore project

    • Fortescue Metals having partnered with a power utility to – with the backing of the Australian federal government – help power its Pilbara operations with solar energy and battery storage

    • Gold Fields planning to predominantly operate its Agnew gold mine in Western Australia (WA) using renewable energy by partnering with a global energy group and investing in an energy micro grid combining wind, solar, gas and battery storage

    • Antofagasta partnering with a utility company to turn its Zaldívar mine into the first 100% renewable energy-powered Chilean mine with a mix of hydro, solar and wind power

    • Rio Tinto looking to reduce its carbon footprint at its Kennecott Utah copper mine by as much as 65% through the purchase of renewable energy certificates 

    As challenging as the global post-COVID-19 environment will be, it also holds opportunity.  As Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute and Professor of Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines told committee members during testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) last fall:

    “The future energy system will be far more mineral and metal-intensive than it is today. Many of these advanced technologies require minerals and metals with particular properties that have few to no current substitutes.

    The opportunity for the mining industry is tremendous. An industry that has experienced enormous public pressure and critique, accompanied by offshoring production overseas, can now evolve into one fundamental to supporting a shift to a low-carbon and sustainable energy system based on domestic natural resources.”

  • Copper at the Frontlines – Hong Kong to Distribute Face Masks Containing Copper to Its Citizens

    Known and appreciated already by the Ancients for its antimicrobial properties, Copper has recently entered into the discourse over how to fight the current coronavirus outbreak and future pandemics.   A case in point is a new Assembly bill in New York, which seeks to reduce the spread of infection by requiring all new construction [...]
  • Against Backdrop of COVID-19, State Assembly Bill Calls for Use of Antimicrobial Copper in Public Construction

    Legislation introduced in the State Assembly of New York, a state that has been hit particularly hard by the current coronavirus pandemic, would require publicly funded construction projects to use antimicrobial copper. The bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon (D-Marcy), would “require all new construction projects receiving state funding to use copper alloy touch surfaces [...]
  • College Seniors Develop Copper Phone Case – A “Smart Move” for Smartphones Amidst a Pandemic

    Courtesy of the current coronavirus pandemic, we wash our hands – perhaps more frequently and thoroughly than before, and contactless shopping is becoming the norm for many.  Disinfectant has become more than a household staple, and we find ourselves constantly sanitizing everything from light switches over door handles to groceries.   To borrow a quote [...]
  • Materials Science Revolution Vs. Coronavirus: Copper-Infusion to Turn Common Cotton Fibers Into a “Defensive Wall”?

    Last week, we discussed the antimicrobial properties of copper, the re-introduction of which experts argue could help the fight against Coronavirus and future pandemics — particularly in hospitals and other public spaces.  Taking the notion of a new idea often being an old one further, an Israeli scientist has taken the mainstay material copper, and [...]
  • COVID-19 Requires Rethink – Time to Bring Back Copper in Public Spaces?

    Rock beats scissors. Scissors beat paper. Copper beats coronavirus. It sounds flippant, but at this moment of utmost seriousness, there’s a truth to it.  In a new piece, senior writer for Fast Company Mark Wilson discusses the thesis of Bill Keevil, professor of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton, whose research has led him [...]
  • Renewable Energy Transition Continues to Fuel Copper Demand

    Rare earths and lithium-Ion technology metals and minerals may be the talk of the town these days — and for good reason — and stakeholders are finally pursuing policies aimed at facilitating secure access for them.   However, as a new analysis by Wood Mackenzie shows, we should not forget about the more traditional mainstay [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • DoI Grants Hardrock Mineral Lease Renewals in Superior National Forest in Minnesota

    As the global race for mineral resources heats up, the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management renewed two hardrock mineral leases in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, opening the area up to copper mining. The leases granted to Twin Metals Minnesota LLC over heavy opposition from environmentalist groups, were first issued in 1966 [...]