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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • critical minerals list

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  • Not Just the “Battery Criticals” — Green Energy Transition’s Mineral Intensity Requires Broader Focus: A Look at the “Solar Metals”

    Recent media coverage might have you believe critical mineral policy only revolves around the “battery criticals”lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt and manganese, and maybe the frequently referenced, though still somewhat obscure rare earths.  However, as followers of ARPN well know, this is far from the truth.

    The New South Wales Department of Planning and environment has taken a closer look at solar panels, which, just like EV batteries, are at the core of the green energy transition, and outlines the top four metals and minerals that make solar panels work: 

    Copper — a mainstay metal with perhaps unrivaled versatility, lending itself to a wide range of traditional and new applications,  and yields access to other critical minerals as a “gateway metal,” an indispensable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs and wind turbines to the electric grid and solar panels.

    For some of our most recent coverage of Copper, click here.

    Silicon — the most abundant compound in the Earth’s crust, silicon takes the form of ordinary sand, quartz, rock crystal, amethyst, agate, flint, jasper, and opal. To produce pure silicon, the compound is hearted with carbon at extra high temperatures.  The material is used extensively in electronics because of its semiconducting properties. It is used in the manufacture of next-gen 5-nanometer (5nm) semiconductor chips, and is a key component of solar panels and photovoltaic cells.

    For ARPN’s recent coverage of Silicon, click here.

    Silver — By definition a “precious” metal like gold, it may come as a surprise to those who see silver primarily as shiny adornment or a means to store value that the biggest end users of silver may actually be specialized industries. More recently, the metal has evolved from “money metal to techno metal,” as North of 60 Mining News’s Shane Lasley termed it, with its true value lying in “more industrious properties that make it invaluable to high-tech applications such as solar panels, electric vehicles, and 5G networks.”

    For Shane Lasley’s Treatment of Silver in the 2021 issue of “Critical Mineral Alliances” click here.

    Zinc — primarily used in metallurgical applications, zinc is also a Gateway metal, yielding access to “criticals” Indium and Germanium. Today, zinc is also seeing greater application in green energy technology.

    For examples of ARPN coverage of Zinc, click here and here.

    These four may not make the top of the hour news at the moment, but silicon, for example, appears on the Australian and European Union’s critical minerals lists, while zinc, previously not on the U.S. Critical Minerals List, was afforded critical mineral status by the U.S. Government earlier this year, and is also deemed critical by the Canadian government.

    As for copper – which Canada considers a critical mineral – followers of ARPN well know that there are good reasons to include Copper into the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List, and ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has consistently argued in favor of doing so via public comments during the draft process of both the initial 2018List and its 2022 iteration.

    See McGroarty’s public comments on the U.S. Critical Minerals Lists here and here.

    The bottom line is, while people appear to be laser focused on achieving the green energy transition via securing supply chains for the battery criticals and rare earths, the issue is bigger than this limited group of metals and minerals.  With the materials science revolution continuing to yield research breakthroughs at neck-breaking speeds, demand scenarios for metals and minerals will be subject to change.

    It is clear that in the words of Forbes contributor Wal van Lierop, “[w]ithout massive investments in base metals and key minerals, Europe and North America will fail to meet their carbon emission targets and face a new form of energy insecurity,” — but these investments have to be made in the context of a broad-based “all of the above” strategy.  

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  • Scandium and Beyond: Materials Science Allows for Harvesting of Mine Tailings

    As nations and industries grapple with the global push towards net zero carbon emissions, researchers  from India’s Bengaluru Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) have discovered a new material called “single-crystalline scandium nitride (ScN)” that is able to “emit, detect, and modulate infrared light with high efficiency making it useful for solar and thermal energy harvesting and for optical communication devices by effectively converting infrared light into renewable energy, according to a recent government press release.

    The researchers find that the “exotic polaritons [i.e. quasi-particles] in the ScN can be utilized for solar and thermal energy harvesting.  Also, belonging to the same family of materials as gallium nitride (GaN), scandium nitride is compatible with modern complementary-metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) or Si-chip technology and, therefore, could be easily integrated for on-chip optical communication devices.”

    While discoveries like these in their initial stages are far from commercially viable, these findings once more underscore the importance of materials science, which has been yielding key breakthroughs at neck-breaking speeds, yielding new applications for many critical materials — in this case, and not for the first time in recent years, scandium.

    Followers of ARPN may recall the “Light Rider,” a high-tech motorcycle, which, because it is held together by an intricate web of “Scalmalloy,” is perhaps the lightest motorcycle in the world. Scalmalloy is an “aluminum alloy powder ‘with almost the specific strength of titanium’ [used] to build incredible structures by fusing thin layers of the material together.” One of its key components is scandium – which explains the first syllable of its somewhat curious name, Aluminum being the middle-portion, with the “M” standing for Magnesium.

    It is new applications like these that are making scandium an increasingly indispensable tech metal, particularly in the context of the lightweighting revolution – a development marked by the “growing imperative to lightweight transportation, buildings, and infrastructure systems.” 

    Add to that the newly-found application for scandium in renewable energy, and we have another catalyst for the adoption rate of scandium, use of which was long limited to “niche Western products such as baseball bats and lacrosse sticks,” because of its classification as an “if” metal.  Writes the British Minor Metals Trade Association:

    “Scandium has long been considered an ‘if’ metal. If only it were available in quantity, it could transform aircraft production and fuel consumption. If only it were available in quantity, it could speed the emerging hydrogen economy. If only it were available in quantity, it could accelerate the rollout of 5G technologies. And so on.

    The view has been that scandium could be used in numerous large-volume applications, if only supplies were sufficient to meet the potential demand. Manufacturers regularly cited a lack of sufficient scandium supply as the reason why they did not roll out new uses and products containing scandium.”

    Russia has long used scandium-aluminum alloys in its MIG fighter jets, but then Russia has long had commercial domestic scandium production.

    While the same cannot be said for the United States, including the material on the U.S. Government Critical Minerals List, may be a sign that change is underway for North America’s scandium supplies. Writes Reuters’s Andy Home in regard to a long-standing mining operation in Quebec:

    “It turns out, though, that Rio Tinto has been producing scandium all along at its titanium operations over the Canadian border. But the metal now deemed critical was going with other waste into a tailings pond.  The company has now worked out how to extract scandium oxide from the titanium processing stream, making it North America’s sole producer.”

    In fact, harvesting mine tailings — again courtesy of materials science yielding research breakthroughs — is quickly becoming an important piece of the critical mineral resource supply puzzle, as mine waste tailings often “contain metals (such as rare earth elements) that were not considered worth extracting when the ores were initially processed, but which have since increased in value and use,” according to a 2017 research paper.

    Reuters’s Home points to another Rio Tinto operation, its Kennecott copper smelter in Utah, where the company is converting the site’s anode slime waste stream into copper-tellurium, which is then sent on for refining and usage in photovoltaic solar panels.

    Writes Home:

    “[These] are examples of a new industry trend towards so called whole-concept mining, also known as total mining, broadening a historical focus on one or two primary products to potentially everything of metallic value in the ore being mined and processed.”

    Pointing to other examples, including Russia’s Rusal harvesting aluminum tailings to recover scandium, he concludes:

    “The USGS has been tasked with mapping and collecting data for areas containing mine waste ‘to increase understanding of above-ground critical mineral resources in previously disturbed areas’.

    It’s not only a highly cost-effective way of closing the country’s critical minerals gaps, but also a way of closing the green-on-green divisions that cause every new energy transition metals mine to run into fierce environmental opposition.

    The green future, it turns out, can be achieved at least in part by cleaning up the mining legacy of the past.”  

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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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]

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