American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Critical Mineral Developments Continue in the Waning Days of 2020 — and Into the Early Days of the New Year

    If you’ve read our Year in Review post last month, you know 2020 was a busy year on the mineral resource policy front — so much so that even the last few days of December had several important developments.

    Most notably, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

    While most of the media’s attention was focused on the COVID relief provisions of the package, the behemoth 5,000+ page bill also included the Energy Act of 2020, which is not only the first comprehensive modernization of the nation’s energy policies in over a decade, but also contains a number of critical minerals provisions.

    Among them — included under Title VII are:

    Section 7001. Rare earth elements, which, according to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources summary, “requires the Secretary of Energy to carry out an R&D program to develop advanced separation technologies for the extraction and recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) and other critical materials from coal and coal byproducts, as well as mitigate any potential environmental and public health impacts of such activities. It also directs the Secretary of Energy to provide a report to Congress that evaluates the development of advanced separation technologies for the extraction and recovery of REEs and other critical materials from coal and coal byproducts.”

    Section 7002. Mineral security, “promotes a secure and robust critical minerals supply chain by (1) requiring the executive branch to designate a list of critical minerals and update that list every three years; (2) requiring USGS to conduct domestic resource assessments of critical minerals and to make that information publicly available; (3) requiring the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to publish critical mineral Federal Register notices within 45 days of being finalized; (4) directing the Secretary of Energy to conduct an RDD&CA program on the development of alternatives to, recycling of, and efficient production and use of critical materials (which may be carried out by DOE’s Critical Materials Energy Innovation Hub); (5) directing the Secretary of Energy and the Director of the Energy Information Administration to develop analytical and forecasting tools to evaluate critical minerals markets; (6) requiring the Secretary of Labor and the Director of the National Science Foundation to develop curriculum and a program for institutions of higher education to build a strong critical minerals workforce; and (7) reauthorizing the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program through fiscal year 2029.”

    Section 7003. Monitoring mineral investments under Belt and Road Initiative of People’s Republic of China, “requires the Director of National Intelligence to study and submit to Congress a report of investments in minerals by the People’s Republic of China. It further directs the Director to make recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior when designating minerals as critical per the designation criteria in Section 7002.”

    The President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and with that the Energy Act of 2020, into law on December 30, 2020.

    More critical mineral-related developments took place over the following days in the context of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021, the conference report of which also included several critical minerals provisions. President Donald Trump vetoed the defense bill on December 23, 2021, but, in a first for the Trump presidency, Congress overrode his veto on December 28, 2020 in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on January 1, 2021, respectively.

    Among other provisions, the now-enacted NDAA mandates that – within five years – most Pentagon systems use rare earth that have been mined and refined outside of China. It further requires the federal government to give preference to U.S. suppliers of these materials in government acquisitions.

    With these provisions enshrined into federal law, the Defense Department’s recent efforts to enter into contracts and agreements with several rare earth element producers will likely continue in 2021 and beyond.

    Overall, it remains to be seen what the coming months will bring once the incoming Biden Administration assumes office later this month. We can reasonably expect some changes in emphasis and priorities when it comes to mineral resource policy, such as a greater emphasis on leveraging partnerships with allied nations, as well as recycling and possibly reclamation of new minerals from old mine tailings.

    The concept of a circular economy — a system which thrives on sustainability and focuses mainly on refining design production and recycling to ensure that little to no waste results — will likely gain traction.

    What will not change, as we have previously stated, is the urgency with which we need to treat the United States’ critical minerals challenge. With that goal in mind, it is encouraging to see that — even in the waning days of an arguably crazy year — stakeholders enacted several meaningful changes towards an “all-of-the-above” critical minerals policy.

  • Copper’s Anti-Microbial Properties Strike Again: Another Possible Breakthrough in the Fight to Stop Coronavirus Surface Transmission

    The ongoing coronavirus pandemic may derailed public life as we know it, but it has not slowed the pace at which the materials science revolution is yielding research breakthroughs.

    Whether it’s the development of vaccines, rapid tests, new treatment methods or novel materials for personal protective equipment (PPE) at neck-breaking speeds – we’re seeing innovation unfold in front of our very eyes as materials science provides platform technologies and tools for virus research.”

    And while vaccines continue to dominate the positive news cycle on the COVID-19 front, we may be one step closer to having another weapon in the arsenal to fight this and future viruses:

    Corning Inc., a materials science innovator and leader in specialty glass and ceramics manufacturing, has partnered with Pittsburgh, PA-based PPG, which supplies paints, coatings, and specialty materials to develop a new paint that reportedly kills 99.9% of COVID-19 on surfaces. While this will not stop airborne transmission of the virus, the antimicrobial and antiviral properties of the mineral-based paint should help reduce transmission via high-touch surfaces in places like schools and hospitals.

    Not surprisingly for followers of ARPN, Corning Guardiant, which is used in the the paints and coatings for which Corning and PPE are currently seeking EPA registration, contains copper. Copper’s antimicrobial properties, especially when applied to surfaces, have been well documented and regularly discussed on our blog.

    Congressman Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania’s 14th Congressional district, whom followers of ARPN will know as the co-chair of the recently-launched bi-partisan Critical Materials Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives (co-chaired with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-CA) has lauded the development as a potential breakthrough, stating: “If we’re worried about transmitting viruses and bacteria through surfaces, if we can coat that surface with a coating that’s antimicrobial, then it will by definition kill the bacteria and stop the spread.” He added: “This can make a big difference when we have many antimicrobial, antiviral coatings that we would use in paints.”

    With materials science transforming the way we use metals and minerals at lightning speed, and with supply chain pressures looming large, the importance of the Critical Materials Caucus is only set to increase in the coming months, as it can become an important champion of potentially life-changing innovations like the one referenced above.

    Learn more about the COVID-fighting paints and coatings here.

    And learn more about the Critical Materials Caucus here and here.

  • Copper in the Fight against Coronavirus, Infectious Diseases: Vancouver Installs Anti-Microbial Copper Surfaces in Public Transit System

    Amidst election chaos and surging coronavirus case numbers, we got a piece of good news early this week when pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a vaccine candidate they had developed was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in study participants in their first interim efficacy analysis. Great news indeed [...]
  • Russia Pushes for Global Rare Earth Market Share as U.S. Struggles to Move Forward With Critical Minerals Initiatives

    Russia is certainly making headlines this week.  Quite obviously, much of the media attention is focused around President Vladimir Putin’s declaration that Russia has approved a vaccine for the coronavirus (after less than two months of testing) — but developments in the critical minerals realm also warrant attention: A top Russian government official has told [...]
  • Europe Forges Ahead With Battery Gigafactory Buildout As U.S. Still Struggles to Get Off Starting Block

    The current coronavirus pandemic may have thrown a wrench into the gears of many industries, but — against the backdrop of skyrocketing materials supply needs in the context of the green energy transition — Europe continues to forge ahead with the buildout of its large-scale battery gigafactory capacity.  According to London-based Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, whose [...]
  • Time to “Decouple and Control” our Critical Mineral Resource Supply Chains

    The ongoing coronavirus pandemic tearing through our communities is more than a health crisis — it has “exposed the fragility and flaws of globalized supply chains and extensive offshore production, especially drugs and medical gear,” writes Austin Bay in a new column for Townhall with a special emphasis on China.   Hopes that China would liberalize in the [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • ARPN’s Wirtz: “COVID Should Be the Last Warning the U.S. Needs to Bolster Mineral Resource Security”

    ***Posted by Daniel McGroarty*** “The current coronavirus pandemic has exposed significant supply chain challenges associated with our over-reliance on foreign (and especially Chinese) raw materials,” — writes ARPN’s Sandra Wirtz in a new piece for The Economic Standard:   “PPE has become the poster child, but whether it’s smart phone technology, solar panels, electric vehicles, or [...]
  • ARPN’s McGroarty: “First Word in Supply Chain is ‘Supply’”

    Re-shoring is the word of the hour.  If the current coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we will need to rethink where we source and produce in the aftermath of COVID — an issue ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty zeroes in on in a new piece for The Economic Standard. Citing the excitement over the [...]
  • 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 [...]