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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Materials Science Profiles of Progress – Researchers Turn to Bioengineered Bacteria to Recover REEs

    Followers of ARPN are well aware that we have been calling out policy makers and other stakeholders for their inaction when it comes to working towards the development of a coherent, forward-looking and comprehensive mineral resource strategy – and we frequently point to missed opportunities to work towards this goal.

    While we stand by our criticism, there have also been some positive developments in recent years, largely brought about by the ongoing revolution in materials science, and over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting some of these ”Materials Science Profiles of Progress” on our blog. Call it our attempt at positive reinforcement.  

    The most recent development we’d like to feature in this context comes via the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), a Department of Energy research hub led by Ames National Laboratory and a team of research partners which strives ”to develop solutions across the materials lifecycle as well as reduce the impact of supply chain disruptions and price fluctuations associated with these valuable resources.”

    Tied into the overall CMI effort, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have discovered a new method to recover Rare Earth Elements (REEs) using bioengineered bacteria. 

    According to the Lab’s own announcement, 

    ”[m]any recent studies have looked at the use of biomass for adsorption of REEs. However, REE adsorption by bioengineered systems has been scarcely documented, and rarely tested with complex natural feedstocks. 

    But in the new research, the LLNL team recovered rare earth elements from low-grade feedstock (raw material supplied to a machine or processing plant) using engineered bacteria.”

    Said Yongqin Jiao, one of the team’s lead researchers:

    ”Non-traditional REE resources, such as mine tailings, geothermal brines and coal byproducts, are abundant and offer a potential means to diversify the REE supply chain. However, no current technology exists that is capable of economic extraction of rare earths from them, which creates a big challenge and an opportunity.

    (…) 

    Our results demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of coupling bioengineering with biosorption for REE extraction from low-grade feedstocks.”

    ARPN followers know about the importance of Rare Earth Elements, which, while graced with obscure-sounding names — our favorite is Dysprosium, derived from the Greek dysprositos, “hard to get” — are becoming increasingly indispensable components of 21st century gadgetry and high-tech industrial applications, as well as green energy and defense applications. With the United States’ import reliance for REEs having climbed back to 100% (after a recent brief but temporary reduction) and with more than 90 percent of all global supply coming from China, the supply issue has become ever-more pressing.

    While the bio-recovery effort is certainly no panacea, it represents a commendable step towards reducing our overall mineral resource dependencies – and bears testimony to the ways in which materials science is transforming the way in which we use and obtain metals and minerals. 

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  • Boron – One Of The Most Versatile Materials You’ve Never Heard About?

    Visual Capitalist has put together another great infographic – this time one that shows that Boron is far more ubiquitous than one would think. 

    You may have come across them in your laundry room or your kids’ slime-making experiments in the form of Borax, but may not have heard much about them otherwise. However, with the revolution in materials science, Borates are quickly becoming a key component in many cutting-edge applications. Courtesy of Visual Capitalist, we can now count the ways. The infographic alone lists 13 different properties of Boron that make it one of the most versatile materials you’d never heard about, and scientists are discovering new uses at a rapid pace.  

    Recent research breakthroughs, some of which we recently discussed, may be unlikely to affect our domestic supply scenario, as thankfully, the U.S. is a net exporter of Borates with a strong production base. However, as we previously argued, mining exports make considerable positive contributions to our trade balance. As such, our policy makers and stakeholders should work to foster a policy framework that supports the development of our domestic mineral resources – “not just for those where our demand exceeds supply, but for those like Boron, where U.S. production supplies the world.”

    Take a look at the full infographic here.

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  • Graphene-fed Spiders and Our Web of Resource Dependencies 

    A material long hailed as being on the cutting edge of materials science, Graphene is making headlines again. And, fitting for fall and people gearing up for Halloween, it involves everyone’s favorite creepy crawlies – arachnids.  Researchers at the University of Trento in Italy have found that spiders fed with graphene and carbon nanotubes, which [...]
  • Boron: Of “Slime,” Materials Science and Trade Balances

    If you have preschoolers or grade schoolers at home on summer break, chances are you’ve already had to make “slime.”   Researching the various recipes to make the latest kids’ craze, you will likely also have come across one often-used ingredient: Borax. While Borax has long been a traditional staple in American laundry rooms, borates are increasingly becoming [...]
  • Advances in Materials Science Warrant Rethink in Resource Policy

    We appreciate them for their traditional applications, but metals like Copper and Tin are far more than your mainstay materials.  We discussed their Gateway Metal status here, but it’s not just the fact that their development yields access to some of the most sought-after tech metals that makes them so indispensible – it’s advances in materials [...]
  • Urban Mining – No Panacea but Important Piece of the Resource Strategy Puzzle

    Advances in materials science continue to transform the way we use metals and minerals, and in doing so, also change the supply and demand scenarios for many materials. As we recently pointed out on the ARPN blog, demand for Cobalt has been soaring thanks to its applications in battery technology and the growing popularity of electronic [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Scandium Embodies Materials Science Revolution

    As we near the conclusion of our journey “Through the Gateway,” we noticed that one metal has kept popping up in our coverage – Scandium. A co-product of Tin, we also discussed it in the context of the alloying properties of Gateway Metal Aluminum. It is also a co-product of Nickel. There is good reason it keeps popping up. For [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Rhodium – Not Just Another Platinum Group Metal

    A rare, silvery white, hard and corrosion-resistant metal, Rhodium is not only one of Palladium’s fellow members of the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs); it, too, happens to be a Nickel co-product.  And, as is the case with Palladium, one of Rhodium’s main uses is in catalytic converters to reduce automobile emissions, as well as in industrial catalysts. Alloyed with [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum Alloys – Versatility On Steroids

    Last year, researchers developed a material “that’s as strong and light as titanium, another expensive material, but at just a tenth of the cost.” They were able to achieve this feat by tweaking Aluminum’s alloying properties at the nano level. Aluminum’s properties as a stand-alone metal already make it one of the most versatile materials in engineering and [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Gateway Metals and the Metals they Unlock Underpin Modern Technology

    Are you reading this post on a smart phone, a laptop or tablet?  Will you scroll down using your finger to swipe the screen?  Safe to say you don’t give much thought to how these functions work — even though they’re often less than a decade old.  That’s the wonder of technology — or rather, [...]

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