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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 2018, when the Department of the Interior released the nation’s first list of metals and minerals deemed critical for U.S. economic and national security.

    The 2018 list was developed in consultation with other cabinet agencies pursuant to Executive Order 13817, and set off a flurry of activities relating to critical mineral resource policy.  Later codified into law, the Critical Minerals List statute directs that “…the methodology and list shall be reviewed at least every 3 years.”  The 2021 revised list is the first such review.

    In those three years, as friends of ARPN appreciate, a lot has happened.  The ongoing coronavirus pandemic caused a global health crisis, threw markets into turmoil and disrupted public life, and trained  a spotlight on the complexities and vulnerabilities of supply chains — not only for medical or food supplies and consumer goods, but also for critical minerals.

    Meanwhile, against the backdrop of an accelerating global push towards a carbon-neutral energy future, a series of studies make it increasingly clear that this push cannot succeed without massive inputs of critical minerals.  As the World Bank and IEA have concluded — and as Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute and Professor of Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines told members of Congress after the publication of the first Critical Minerals List — “the future energy system will be far more mineral and metal-intensive than it is today.”

    With pressures mounting, and policy makers grappling with the new realities of 21st Century resource policy imperatives, it is only appropriate that 2021 sees an update to the U.S. Government’s 2018 Critical Minerals List.

    While the 2018 list comprised 35 metals and minerals, this year’s draft update has grown to 50, and includes the following:

    “Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cerium, cesium, chromium, cobalt, dysprosium, erbium, europium, fluorspar, gadolinium, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, holmium, indium, iridium, lanthanum, lithium, lutetium, magnesium, manganese, neodymium, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, praseodymium, rhodium, rubidium, ruthenium, samarium, scandium, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thulium, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, ytterbium, yttrium, zinc, and zirconium.”

    Recognizing the REEs and PGMs

    As USGS explains, “[m]uch of the increase in the number of mineral commodities, from 35 commodities and groups on the final 2018 list to 50 commodities on the 2021 draft list, is the result of splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as mineral groups.”

    ARPN sees this additional articulation as a welcome development.  Not all Rare Earths are created equal, and the 2018 List’s generic category of REEs, plus a separate listing for the non-lanthanide Scandium, masked the myriad technological and market-driven differences between the individual 17 Rare Earths.  By referencing 16 REEs – only lab-synthesized Prometheum remains off-list — the 2021 Critical Mineral List invites a more granular approach to a remarkably versatile group.  The same is true of the smaller set of Platinum Group Metals, where only Osmium fell short of list-worthiness.

    More on this in future posts, but for now – suffice to say that this broader articulation will 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.

    Additions and Subtractions

    USGS goes on to note that in addition to the REE and PGM build-out, “the 2021 draft list adds nickel and zinc and removes helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium.”   Uranium, too, disappears from the List, on a procedural technicality.

    Leading up to the release of the final 2018 list, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty had submitted public comments calling for the inclusion of Copper, Zinc, Nickel and Lead into the list, so we’re pleased to see that two of those four are included in the 2021 draft list.  That said, the rationale for adding Copper and, to a lesser degree, Lead remains strong.

    The de-listing of rhenium and strontium deserve closer examination, for a variety of reasons – another subject for a future post.

    For now, and by way of a final, first look, the new Critical Minerals List bumps the total number of elements to 50 – essentially half of the naturally-occurring elements on the Periodic Table.  As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty noted in his keynote at the Australian In the Zone conference in 2019 that’s proof of the role these materials play in our Tech Metal Era – and of the scope of the challenge we face in discovering and developing robust and reliable sources of such a multitude of critical resources.

    As the public comment period commences, ARPN will be covering developments surrounding the new draft list in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for updates.

  • 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 committee.

    The hearings were held against the backdrop of deteriorating diplomatic relations between Canada and China over the detention of two Canadian citizens which has laid bare China’s willingness to “inflict economic pain by restricting Canadian exports,” writes Jesse Snyder for the National Post.

    Pierre Gratton, head of Canada’s mining association, told policymakers:

    “For decades, China has held monopoly-like control over critical minerals production and distribution, rendering the rest of the world reliant on procurement and creating a level of risk that deters investors from entering these markets.”

    Gratton and others urged the creation of a “framework to develop and then protect Canadian supply chains for batteries and other products, and recommended the federal government establish a $250-million program over five years to incentivize investment in demonstration projects.” As China is increasingly demonstrating its willingness to play politics with its monopoly-like position in the critical minerals realm, experts also stressed the importance of strengthening ties with allies like Europe, the United States and Japan.

    Having faced criticism over its handling of Chinese takeovers of Canadian natural resource assets, Industry Minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne updated the guidelines and lowered the threshold for a national security review for such procedures. The move followed the release of Canada’s first critical minerals list – a list of 31 metals and minerals deemed critical “for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies—minerals that can be produced in Canada, are essential to domestic industry and security and have the potential to support secure and resilient supply chains to meet global demand.”

    Unlike its U.S. peer, Canada’s list, as we recently pointed out, acknowledges the importance of what we consider traditional mainstay metals like Copper, Nickel and Zinc — which, as followers of ARPN well know, are not only key components of 21st Century technology in their own right, but are also gateway metals that “unlock” a slew of other critical metals and minerals.

    With the Biden Administration having made significant investments in EV battery technology a central piece of its infrastructure overhaul plan, relations with close allies are taking center stage. And with the U.S. and Canada having long shared a special relationship and integrated defense industrial base, it only comes naturally that our first look faces North, as the U.S. steps up efforts to diversify critical mineral supply sources and processing away from China. Recent meetings between U.S. Department of Commerce representatives and miners and battery manufacturers to discuss “ways to boost Canadian production of EV materials” point towards increased U.S.-Canadian cooperation, as do increased consultations between the two countries’ Geological Surveys.

    For all of these reasons, we’ll keep tabs on resource-related developments in Ottawa and the buildout of the U.S.-Canadian integrated critical mineral supply chain as it begins to shape up, and will include examples from Canada in our forthcoming “Sustainably Greening the Future” roundups featuring mining companies’ efforts to “close the loop” and cut carbon emissions while supplying America’s mineral needs.

  • 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 [...]
  • Paging the Department of Commerce – Australia Releases “Critical Minerals Strategy 2019”

    Last week, the Australian Federal Government released its “Critical Minerals Strategy 2019” – a blueprint aimed at positioning “Australia as a leading global supplier of the minerals that will underpin the industries of the future” – which according to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Sciences’s press release, includes the agritech, aerospace, defence, renewable energy and telecommunications industries. [...]
  • Release of USGS’s 2019 Mineral Commodity Summaries Once More Underscores Need for Resource Policy Reform

    The partial shutdown of the federal government at the beginning of this year had delayed its release, but last week, USGS published its 2019 Mineral Commodity Summaries. Followers of ARPN will know that we await the publication’s release with somewhat bated breath every year, as especially “Page 6” – the chart depicting U.S. Net Import [...]