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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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  • Nickel and Zinc “Only Two New Additions” to Draft Revised Critical Minerals List — A Look at the Government’s Reasoning

    This week we continue our coverage of the just-released draft revised Critical Minerals List, for which the US Geological Survey (USGS) began soliciting public comment last week — this time via Andy Home’s latest.  In a new column for Reuters, Home zeroes in on the “only two new additions” to the draft list. (As ARPN outlined last week, the bulk of the expansion of the list from 35 to 50 minerals and metals is owed to the fact that the Rare Earths and Platinum Group Metals will now be listed individually).

    Arguing that the additions of Nickel and Zinc “reflect… an evolution of the methodology used to determine whether a mineral is critical to the well-being of the U.S. economy,” Home provides a window into the drafters’ reasoning for including them.

    For Nickel, he writes that while a “relatively benign supply profile kept nickel off” in the past, there are two reasons for including it on the updated List.

    Pointing to the only domestic operating Nickel mine in the U.S. and a single producer of Nickel sulphate (which only produces Nickel as a co-product), Home says “the USGS has expanded its criticality criteria to look beyond trade dependency to domestic supply, particularly what it calls ‘single points of failure.’”

    The second reason, according to Home, is “nickel’s changing usage profile from alloy in stainless steel production to chemical component in electric vehicle batteries.”  The rapid uptake of EVs as a key to the net-zero carbon transition has propelled Nickel onto the Critical List.

    While for Zinc, the U.S. domestic supply chain is “less fragile,” according to Home, “the country’s refined zinc import dependency is relatively high,” and “[g]lobal supply trends make this problematic.”

    Homes closes by noting that neither of “…these industrial metals feature on the European Union’s critical minerals list. In part that’s a reflection of Europe’s domestic production base both at the mining and smelting level.  But in part it may be because the USGS is ahead of its European peers in analysing global supply patterns and the resulting potential threats to critical minerals availability.

    Nickel and zinc may not spring to mind when most people think of critical minerals, but as far as the United States is concerned, they both are.”

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  • 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 [...]
  • A Look North: Challenges and Opportunities Relating to Canada’s Critical Mineral Resource Dependence on China

    Like the United States, Canada has subjected itself to an “increasingly uncomfortable reliance” on China for critical mineral supplies, but its wealth of metals and minerals beneath the country’s soil could, if properly harnessed, give Canada a significant strategic advantage in years to come, mining executives and experts recently told Canada’s House of Commons resource [...]
  • Europe Comes to Terms with Mineral Supply Challenges, Unveils Action Plan

    As the U.S. explores its options when it comes to diversifying our critical minerals supply chains away from China in the wake of COVID-19, Europe is coming to grips with its own mineral supply challenges. According to European metals association Eurometaux, the region “has reached a critical fork in the road,” as it grapples with [...]
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 10 – U.S. House Committee to Hold Hearing on “Research and Innovation to Address the Critical Materials Challenge”

    On Tuesday, December 10 — close to the two-year anniversary of the White House’s executive order “to develop a federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals” the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “Research and Innovation to Address the Critical Materials Challenge.” The hearing comes against the backdrop of increased [...]
  • Are we Ready for the Tech Metals Age? Thoughts on Critical Minerals, Public Policy and the Private Sector

    Earlier this week, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty shared his views on the coming tech metal age and its policy implications at In the Zone 2019 – Critical Materials: Securing Indo-Pacific Technology Futures – a conference hosted in cooperation with the University of Western Australia to look at critical mineral resource issues through the prism of the [...]
  • Critical Mineral Uranium: No Import Quotas, But “Significant Concerns” Prompt Fuller Analysis of Nuclear Fuel Supply Chain

    Primarily known for its energy applications, (and thus falling under the purview of the Department of Energy) uranium may have not been much of a focal point for ARPN in the past.   However, the policy issues surrounding uranium – many of which have a familiar ring to followers of ARPN – increasingly warrant a [...]
  • Measuring Criticality in Today’s Interconnected World

    Against the backdrop of the current U.S.-Chinese tensions over Rare Earth Elements and the “global battery arms race,” Morgan D. Bazilian, Professor of Public Policy and Executive Director of the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of Mines, argues that the United States must “widen its consideration of critical materials past a limited understanding of security in [...]
  • Commerce Department Releases Long-Awaited Interagency Report on Critical Minerals

    On Tuesday, June 4, the U.S. Department of Commerce released the “interagency report that was submitted to the President pursuant to Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.”  The report, which, according to the agency’s official announcement, “contains a government-wide action plan, including recommendations to advance research and development [...]

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