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  • Let’s Onshore Semiconductor Fabrication – But Not Without Strengthening Supply Chains at the Source… After All, “Supply Chain” begins with “Supply”

    Your mind may not immediately jump to semiconductors when you think about national security, but “a steady source of uninterrupted, trusted chips is necessary for the security of the nation – supporting the readiness of the U.S. military and protecting critical infrastructure like the electric grid,” writes Zachary A. Collier, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at Radford University and a visiting scholar at the Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust (CHEST) in a new commentary for RealClearPolitics.

    Pointing out that “[t]hese tiny chips are the ‘brains’ enabling all the computational capabilities and data storage that we take for granted today,” and are powering “virtually every sector of the economy,” Collier argues that the geopolitics of the chip manufacturing supply chain “leaves the U.S. in a precarious position, dependent upon foreign sources of supply such as South Korea and Taiwan,” and provides “compelling reasons to consider strengthening the supply of semiconductor production at home.”

    Indeed, as followers of ARPN well-know, and as the U.S. Commerce Department pointed out last year, there are many access points for supply chain vulnerabilities along the way because the typical semiconductor production process spans a multitude of countries and products, crossing international borders up to 70 times, which is why the Biden Administration dedicated an entire chapter to the supply chains of semiconductors in its 100 Day Supply Chain Report.

    Recent news of tech firms ripping apart new washing machines to harvest their computer parts in a bid to beat the global microchip shortage underscore the urgency of the situation, and Collier rightly argues that “onshoring semiconductor fabrication capabilities and providing market incentives” in this field could go far in “strengthening national security and promoting economic prosperity.”

    However, the issue is much bigger than semiconductor fabrication, because, as ARPN has long pointed out, the term “supply chain” begins with “supply.”  The supply of the “secret sauce” for semiconductors is where the issue starts.

    As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty outlined for The Economic Standard in 2020 for the next-gen 5-nanometer (5 nm) semiconductor chips:

    “What gives 5nm its secret sauce?  Like gastronomes blending obscure spices, 5nm’s designers looking to push the limits of Moore’s Law have turned to a broader swath of the Periodic Table of Elements to expand their computing palate.  Starting with the familiar silicon substrate ‘wafer,’ 5nm layers in exotic elements like silicon germanium for its super-lattice, adding dielectric hafnium-dioxide and gallium arsenide laced with indium – with a side-look at gallium antimonide as a potential substitute.

     And that’s where things get difficult, at least if we’re rooting for the U.S. to become the world’s epicenter of 5-nanometer chip production:  The U.S. produces precisely zero of three of these elements — indium and gallium and arsenic – leaving us 100% import-dependent, while we’re 84% import-dependent for antimony, and more than 50% for germanium.  Data for hafnium, among the rarest of the elements, is notoriously harder to come by, with production guesstimated at a scant 70 tons per year.”

    As McGroarty points out, China is the lead global supplier for all six materials, but “it doesn’t have to be that way:  The U.S. has ‘known resources’ of all six, and already includes them on the U.S. Government Critical Minerals List.”

    That is not to say that focusing on expanding manufacturing capabilities for semiconductors is not important — it absolutely is — but any effort to truly secure their supply chain must begin at the beginning: with the responsible sourcing of the metals and minerals underpinning this crucial 21st Century technology.

  • 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.”

  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]