American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Materials Science Revolution Unlocks Technologies and Techniques to Harness Previously Untapped Sources and Increase Material Yield

    As demand for the metals and minerals underpinning the green energy transition continues to surge, the pressure is on for miners to find, explore and develop scores of critical minerals.  Thankfully, the materials science revolution continues to bear fruit, allowing resource companies to employ cutting-edge technology in the quest to meet ever-increasing demand for electric vehicles, batteries, renewables and electrification infrastructure.

    Startups and joint ventures are stepping up to the plate, harnessing machine learning, cutting-edge chemistry, and breakthrough processes provided courtesy of the materials science revolution.

    A case in point, as per a recent Wall Street Journal story: Startup Urbix, an Arizona-based graphite producer leveraging machine learning to discern how to create “uniform graphite anodes fit for use in EV batteries from a range of natural and synthetic forms of graphite.” The company says that its machine learning technique drastically reduces waste — whereas traditional methods result in a roughly 30 to 35 percent yield, Urbix’s technique allows for 80% of raw material inputs to end up in the final product.

    Meanwhile, Locus Fermentation Solutions, an Ohio-based chemical business, has begun using bio-surfactants, chemicals from microbes capable of breaking a material’s surface tension, to increase the yield in the copper production process. According to the company, bio surfactants can be utilized for either of the main copper processing techniques and can increase copper yields by 7%, while at the same time saving energy as less rock needs to be crushed.

    Mine tailings can also be fertile grounds for resource harvesting.  Massachusetts-based startup Phoenix Tailings currently specializes on finding mine sites free from radioactive materials such as thorium and uranium and recovering REEs from these sites. The company says that at its pilot facility in upstart New York, where it processes the tailings, zero waste is produced as leftovers from the process are recycled.

    Other companies, and even governments are also looking to “turn the same stone twice.”

    As ARPN previously outlined, in Australia, New Century Resources currently owns and runs the largest tailings retreatment operation at its zinc tailings operation in Queensland.

    In the rare earths realm, Reuters lists six major projects outside of China aimed at extracting the critical minerals from waste or byproducts, including Iluka Resources Ltd’s and VHM Ltd’s operations in Australia, Rainbow Rare Earths Ltd’s endeavor in northeast South Africa, Swedish state-owned LKAB’s plans to extract REEs from two existing mines, and two U.S. operations, one of them being the above-referenced Phoenix Tailings, and the other being U.S. Energy Fuels.  U.S. Energy Fuels originally focused on uranium production, started acquiring monazite, a byproduct of mineral sands, to extract REEs with plans to open its own separation plant by 2024.

    Beyond the rare earths, global miner Rio Tinto began producing tellurium at its Kennecott copper operation in Utah, where roughly 20 tons of the material are generated from by-product streams generated during the copper refining process. As America’s oldest copper mine, now in its 117th year of operations, there’s no telling how many critical minerals may reside in Kennecott’s historic waste piles.

    In addition to recovering tellurium from Kennecott, after commencing production of battery-grade lithium from waste rock at a lithium demonstration site at its Boron mine site in California in 2021, Rio Tinto last fall began partnering with CR Minerals Co. LLC in an effort to extract a material called pozzolans from the facility’s tailings, which can be substituted for or combined with cement to decarbonization construction materials. In Canada, the miner is producing scandium from titanium waste, becoming the first North American producer of scandium in the process.

    Meanwhile, as Australia’s Financial Post reported earlier this summer, the Australian government has launched the Atlas of Australian Mine Waste,”  a mapping project of sites containing mine waste with reprocessing potential.

    Acknowledging the potential held by mine waste and tailings, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) earlier this spring solicited proposals for FY2023 grants to collect data on mine waste, using funds from Bipartisan Infrastructure Act in the context of the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI).

    At a time when geopolitical tensions are rising along side ever-increasing pressures to accelerate the shift towards renewable energy, the materials science revolution — thankfully — continues to unlock new technologies and techniques allowing for the safe and commercially viable recovery of critical minerals from a variety of previously largely untapped sources, including mine tailings.  It’s ARPN’s view that stakeholders should embrace and further these developments in the context of a comprehensive all-of-the-above approach to bolster critical mineral supply chains.

  • Alaska Holds Key to Addressing Our Nation’s “Achilles Heel” – Conference Shifts Policy Community’s Focus on Critical Minerals in the Arctic

    The global push towards net zero carbon emissions against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions and associated supply chain challenges has undoubtedly directed stakeholder attention to the need to strengthen critical mineral supply chains.

    However, as followers of ARPN well know, the challenges of detangling supply chains and decoupling from adversary nations, i.e. China, are immense, and warrant a comprehensive all-of-the-above approach to mineral resource security.

    A recent policy event in Washington, DC has brought the focus back to an area that holds great promise for the U.S. as it seeks to re-shore its critical mineral supply chains: Alaska.

    A two-day summit hosted las week by the Department of Energy Arctic Energy Office, the Wilson Center, Rand Corp. and the University of Alaska entitled “Critical Minerals in the Arctic: Forging the Path Forward” brought together state and federal policy leaders – including ARPN’s Dan McGroarty, who served as co-moderator of one of the non-public panels — to advance “policy recommendations for development of critical mineral resources in the Arctic, in the context of U.S. national security, energy, climate, and technology goals.” 

    The event built upon an inaugural August 2022 conference entitled “Alaska’s Minerals: A Strategic National Imperative” hosted by the University of Alaska, U.S. Arctic Research Commission and the Wilson Center, which coincided with a USGS announcement that the state was slated to receive more than $6.75 million in funding for geologic mapping, airborne geophysical surveying, and geochemical sampling in support of critical mineral resource studies in the state.

    The funding has merit.

    As Brett Watson, assistant professor of applied and natural resource economics at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska, Anchorage, Steven Masterman, affiliate of University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Erin Whitney, Director of the Arctic Energy office, U.S. Department of Energy wrote in a read ahead document for the event,

    “Alaska’s complex geological history has led to formation of a wide array of mineral deposit types containing commodities many list as critical. Alaska either has, is, or could produce almost all of the commodities on the US Geological Survey’s 2022 list of critical minerals. Alaska is the largest producer of zinc in the nation, contains the nation’s largest graphite deposit, is the state with the only domestic tin resources and, has been a producer of critical minerals in times of national need, e.g. During WWII Alaska contributed tin, PGE’s, chrome, tungsten and antimony for the war effort. Most of the commodities produced to support the war effort have not been significantly produced since, and the resources remain in place, creating a ripe environment for meeting the nations need for these critical minerals.”

    Keynoting the event’s second day, Alaskan U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski cited China’s recent decision to impose export restrictions on gallium and germanium as a real time example of critical minerals really being our nation’s “Achilles Heel.”   While acknowledging that progress has been made – Murkowski cited the U.S. government’s Critical Minerals List and key pieces of federal legislation such as her American Mineral Security Act, the bipartisan infrastructure package, some “gentle” permitting reforms of which we need more, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Defense Production Act of 2022 — but acknowledged that all of these steps are merely a beginning, and that more must be done.

    Chiefly among the things that need to be done, according to Murkowski, are more mapping, more permitting reform, “opening more valves of federal support,” and “maybe learn[ing] on the fly when it comes to processing and refining.” Perhaps equally important, she said, was turning the tide of public opinion, which too often is “agnostic or downright hostile to mining.”

    Murkowski cited the example of natural graphite, for which the United States has long been 100% import dependent as one of the promising opportunities Alaska holds for reducing our overreliance via the Graphite Creek deposit owned by Graphite One, Inc., which USGS has deemed the largest U.S. graphite deposit and among the largest in the world.  With Alaska home to many critical minerals, the Senator called on stakeholders and the policy community to engage in more dialogue and devise ways in which federal policy could support and strengthen projects like Graphite One’s, because the issue of critical mineral resource security is “too key to Alaska’s future, it’s too key to our country’s future.” 

    Here’s hoping that stakeholders are listening.

    The Wilson Center provides publications related to the conference, as well as complete video streaming on its website and on its YouTube channel, and will make proceedings from the tabletop exercise and briefs from the working sessions publicly available once finalized. 

  • Wonder Material Graphene — New Sourcing Partnership Could Further Goal of Decoupling From China

    Graphene has long been heralded as a wonder material – almost from the time Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov used scotch tape to peel individual layers of the material off a chunk of graphite in 2004.  What sounds like a 6th Grade science fair experiment won the physicists the Nobel Prize in 2010. In the dozen [...]
  • Securing the Supply Chain for Graphite — the “Unsung Player” in Battery Supply Chain –“Herculean Task,” But One That Must Be Prioritized In Push Toward Net Zero Carbon

    Even before the Biden Administration announced the “most aggressive” plan to curb tailpipe emissions to date with new vehicle pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month, automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers were facing difficulties getting both the parts and raw materials needed for their electric vehicle (EV) components. The newly proposed rules [...]
  • As Critical Mineral Dependencies Persist, Promising “Battery Criticals” Projects Provide Opportunity to Ensure that “the Supply Chain for America Begins in America” – A Look at Graphite

     For all the talk about reducing our over-reliance on foreign critical mineral resources against the backdrop of soaring demand, strained supply chains and increasing geopolitical tensions, last week’s release of the annual USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report still paints a sobering picture. While the number of metals and minerals for which the U.S. remains 100% import dependent [...]
  • Groundhog Day 2023 – Another Year of Critical Mineral Resource Dependence? USGS Releases Annual Mineral Commodity Summaries Report

    Earlier this week, USGS released its latest iteration of the annual Mineral Commodity Summaries, a much-cited report that every year gives us a data-driven glimpse into our nation’s mineral resource dependencies. It’s fitting that ARPN reviews the report on Groundhog Day, February 2nd, because just like in the Bill Murray classic movie, in which the clock jumps [...]
  • 2022 – ARPN’s YEAR IN REVIEW

      2022 surely was as fast-paced a year as they come. Didn’t we just throw overboard our New Year’s Resolutions?  We blinked, and it’s time for another review of what has happened in the past twelve months. So with no further ado, here is ARPN’s annual attempt to take stock of what has happened on the [...]
  • A Frightening Graphic Just in Time for Halloween: Is the Anode Our Achilles Heel When it Comes to Building out a Battery Supply Chain Independent of China?

    It’s Halloween – time for trick or treating, spooky storytelling and scary visuals.  Here’s a real scary one if you’re still looking to frighten the policy wonks among your Halloween party guests. Courtesy of our friends at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, it’s an infographic that should send a serious chill down policy makers’ spines, and it’s not even gory: While [...]
  • A Look North – A Canadian Perspective on China’s “Encroachment” on the Critical Minerals Industry

    In a new piece for Canada’s Globe and Mail, Niall Mcgee discusses China’s quiet but systematic campaign to corner the critical minerals segment in Canada and stakeholder reactions in Ottawa, or more precisely, the lack thereof. Citing the 2019 acquisition of the Tanco Mine in Manitoba, known as one of the world’s few sources of cesium [...]
  • A Visual Reminder: Breaking Down the EV Battery

    In case anyone needed a visual reminder of how the EV revolution is adding fuel to the fire of the overall critical minerals challenge we’re facing, Visual Capitalist has put together a handy graphic depicting the material inputs for EV batteries. Here’s a snippet – for the full graphic and context, click here. The infographic [...]