American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • “Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup – Mining and Advanced Materials Industries Harness Materials Science in Green Energy Shift

    The Biden Administration has shifted focus to its next major legislative priority in the context of the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda — a multi-trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure package. Billed as a plan to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change, the package will likely dominate the agenda in Washington, DC for the next months.

    Tackling America’s crumbling infrastructure will be a behemoth challenge, as we’re not just talking about railways, roads, tunnels and bridges. (Read ARPN principal Daniel McGroarty’s piece on infrastructure reform from a while back here.) But the challenge is even bigger — not only are partisan battle lines drawn, the package will have to reconcile massive needs for material inputs underpinning infrastructure and clean energy investments with inherent geopolitical and sustainability implications.

    As policy makers gear up to reconcile the issues we already outlined in more detail here and here — the mining industry, recognizing the growing demand for sustainable mining processes that allow for the responsible extraction of critical minerals in North America, has embraced and harnessed advances in materials science and technology to strike a greater balance between mining and environmental protections.

    We’ve already highlighted a series of initiatives by mining companies to significantly reduce carbon emissions or even “close the loop,” (take a look here and here) but more are underway, so it’s time for another “Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup.

    Suppliers of mining operations are also doing their part. As the Biden Administration has already made clear that it will look to increase cooperation with Canada in its quest to secure critical mineral resource supply chains, we’ll include both U.S. and Canadian initiatives in this iteration:

    • British Columbia-based Teck Resources Ltd., Canada’s largest metallurgical coal producer, has announced plans to reduce the carbon intensity of its operations by 33% over the next decade and is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 by using more clean energy in its operations.
    • Having developed a patented process for recycling cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries, Canada-based American Manganese, an industry member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), is working with U.S. National Labs to “promote a circular economy for the lithium-ion battery supply chain and set the standard for high recovery and purity of cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries.”
    • U.S.-based precious metals producing and processing group Comstock Mining has partnered with others to “deploy novel [clean energy] technologies for gold processing and extraction across its portfolio” and aims to “efficiently reprocess and renew silver and other strategic metals as part of a ‘clean energy transition’ towards ‘climate-smart mining.’”
    • Rio Tinto has announced plans to construct a new plant to recover tellurium, a co-product of copper refining and a material critical to the green energy transition, at its Kennecott mine in the Utah. By harnessing an innovative extraction processes at an already existing mine site, the company is able to reduce waste while adhering to federal and state environmental standards and minimizing the carbon footprint of the operation.
    • Epiroc, a Europe-based developer/producer of drill rigs, rock excavation and construction equipment, has updated its North American underground mining market strategy to reflect “increasing demand for electrification solutions that deliver savings on maintenance, ventilation and cooling while lessening environmental footprint.” The strategy seeks to support North American mining operations through battery-electric, zero-emission equipment.
    • Clean energy start-up Heliogen has announced a partnership with Rio Tinto to deploy its solar technology at the the largest open pit mine in California, Rio Tinto’s borate project in Boron, California. Using artificial intelligence and computer-vision-controlled mirrors, Heliogen will harness the power of the sun to power operations while cutting the project’s carbon foot print.
    • And more is happening at Boron: Rio Tinto has begun producing battery-grade lithium at a demonstration plant located at the operation using a new extraction process developed on-site. As part of the company’s full-value mining strategy, the global miner seeks to recover lithium out of waste piles stemming from more than 90 years of mining at the site.
    • Barrick Gold Corporation is looking to reprocess tailings at the currently-closed Golden Sunlight Mine in Montana. The project would focus on removing and concentrating sulfur (iron pyrite) —a source of potential water pollution from the mine site. The sulfur would then be sold to and used in gold production by Nevada Gold Mines (NGM). According to Barrick company statements, the combination of rehabilitation with value creation, would serve as a model for Barrick’s future mine closures.

    There is a lot of activity here — and we’ll continue to feature these initiatives going forward.

  • The Road to “Building Back Better” is Paved with Critical Metals and Minerals

    Another round of COVID relief stimulus checks is hitting Americans’ bank account this week, and a vaccine schedule laid has been laid out.

    Time for the Administration and Congress to move on to the next key priority of the Biden Administration’s “Build Back Better” agenda: an economic recovery package that will “make historic investments in infrastructure, along with manufacturing, research and development and clean energy.”

    The BlueGreen Alliance, a national network of labor unions and and environmental organizations, is here for it:

    “Strengthening and retooling our manufacturing sector to make today’s and tomorrow’s clean technologies and all products in cleaner ways, and modernizing our crumbling infrastructure to be safer and more energy efficient will protect our air and water, boost efforts to end economic and racial injustice, and create good union jobs across our nation,” Jason Walsh, executive director for the organization that is calling for at least $4 trillion in federal investment, said last month.

    It may be popular in many circles, but it is going to be a massive undertaking — not just because it will require trillions of dollars in investment.

    To use an infrastructure metaphor, we have already established that the road to a lower-carbon future is paved with critical metals and minerals — lots of them, as evidenced by last year’s World Bank report entitled “The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition,” which estimated that production of metals and minerals underpinning the shift, such as the battery tech metals graphite, lithium and cobalt, would have to increase by nearly 500 percent by 2050 to meet global demand for renewable energy technology. To achieve the transition to a below 2°C pathway as outlined by the Paris Agreement, the deployment of wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage will require more than three billion tons of minerals and metals.

    A similar scenario unfolds for overhauling America’s infrastructure, which, undeniably, is crumbling. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card assigned a D+ to America’s roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure. With an update of the quadrennial report due this year, and infrastructure reform having fizzled after a first push during the Trump Administration, there is no reason to expect a better grade this time around.

    The sheer need for mainstay materials like steel and copper for construction and wiring or zinc for galvanization already make clear that we’re looking at another mineral intensive component of the Biden Agenda. But it’s not just old school transportation infrastructure that is in dire need of an overhaul.

    ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty made it clear in a piece for Investors Business Daily in the early days of the Trump Administration:

    “This isn’t your grandfather’s infrastructure. Bridges, tunnels and roads are just part of the story. Today, our infrastructure extends to the national power grid — currently a patchwork of lines, nodes and often antique switching towers we rely on to move energy to where we need it — to the internet itself, which has a physicality we easily overlook in this Age of the Cloud and Wireless. These systems, marvels that they are, come closer to tin-can-and-string contraptions than the modern version we would build if we began the work today.”

    With that, comes another layer of material inputs — lots of copper for wiring, but also battery tech metals like lithium, graphite, nickel and vanadium for energy storage, to name but a few.

    Meanwhile, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has highlighted our nation’s over-reliance on critical metals and minerals underpinning the above-referenced goals of a lower-carbon future coupled with a comprehensive infrastructure overhaul.

    How do we reconcile massive material inputs and sustainably “Building Back Better”? The challenge is big, and will likely require an “all-of-the-above” approach — but thankfully, as we previously pointed out, is “increasingly ‘recognizing [its] responsibility and trying to meet the increased expectations of consumers, society and governments” to contribute towards the push towards a greener energy future.’ In its growing efforts to do so, it is harnessing “advances in materials science and technology to meet the challenge of restoring a balance between mining and environmental protection.”

    As Washington D.C. delves into part two of President Biden’s “Build Back Better,” agenda, we will continue to highlight initiatives by mining companies to “close the loop,” ranging from overhauling supply chain policies to ensure suppliers conform to certain environmental and social standards, to incorporating renewable power sources into their operations to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development — as we have done in the past (take a look here and here).

    Stay tuned for the next roundup.

  • Sec. Granholm, DoE Embrace Domestic EV Mineral Production “So Long As It Is Done Sustainably”

    With the “battery arms race” turbocharged by the coronavirus pandemic, observers are concerned that Lithium ion batteries could become “geopolitical hot potatoes.” In light of these developments, the latest statements from newly-confirmed Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, coupled with the recently-signed executive order on strengthening U.S. supply chains, are encouraging indications that the new Administration [...]
  • The Rise of the Urban Mine — Reconciling Resource Supply Needs and Sustainability

    The new Biden Administration has made clear that addressing the issue of climate change is a key priority for the next four years, and a flurry of first-week executive orders leave no doubt that the Administration intends to double down on the President’s ambitious goal to make the United States carbon neutral by 2050. As [...]
  • The Blessings of a New World

    The following is a modified re-post from 2012: Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving – a celebration of the blessings afforded by our forefathers as they overcame adversity in a new land, laboring to obtain from the resources around them the necessities of life: food, shelter, and warmth against winter’s cold. Since that first winter, the bounty [...]
  • Critical Minerals Will be Key to “Building Back Better”

    The dust begins to settle over the 2020 presidential elections, and President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are busy lining up their policy and personnel priorities. As the National Mining Association’s Rich Nolan writes in a new piece for Inside Sources, “much of their agenda rests on a foundation provided by the nation’s [...]
  • New Critical Minerals Executive Order Declares National Emergency, Invokes Defense Production Act

    In perhaps the strongest acknowledgment of the urgency of our critical mineral resource woes and over-reliance on foreign (and especially Chinese) supplies to date, U.S. President Donald Trump this week triggered rarely-used emergency government powers to address the issue. On his way to a campaign rally in Minnesota, the president on Wednesday signed an Executive [...]
  • Scandium Has Yet to Go “Ballistic” — Will Recent Developments Change the Material’s Odds to Shine?

    “This obscure metal is going to go ballistic in a few years,” John Kaiser of Kaiser Research told the Investing News Network a few years ago. The metal he was referring to is Scandium — a material that is “as strong as titanium, as light as aluminum, and as hard as ceramic.” It’s a material [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Growing Mineral Resource Pressures in the Context of the Low-Carbon Transition Warrant “Domestic Mining Boom”

    “[G]aining full access to America’s domestic resources will be essential to our ability to grow, defend ourselves, and dominate in the energy world of tomorrow,” writes Forbes contributer Jude Clemente in a new piece for the publication, adding that “[w]e must finally get serious about America’s need for a mining revolution to give the wind, [...]