American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Closing the Loop – An Important Tool in Our All-of-the-Above Toolkit

    In a recent piece for The Hill, Adina Renee Adler, deputy executive director of Silverado Policy Accelerator, a Washington, D.C.-area based think tank, calls for the increased harnessing of circular economy concepts in service to U.S. critical mineral resource policy.

    Acknowledging bipartisan efforts to strengthen U.S. critical mineral supply chains in the past year, for which she says Congress should be commended, Adler says “the truth is the United States won’t be able to produce or stockpile its way out of the current critical mineral crisis.” 

    She argues that leveraging the circular economy model in the context of which stakeholders “recover still-viable critical materials from existing products and reintegrate them into commerce via a ‘reverse supply chain,’ rather than solely extracting new minerals from mines,” can not only “prevent environmental degradation and combat climate change by reducing waste and limiting the need for new, carbon-intensive manufacturing and extraction,” but “will also be crucial to reducing the United States’ dependence on strategic adversaries for critical minerals.” 

    Adler cites USGS numbers and a recent peer-reviewed study indicating “that recycling from select consumer goods and recovery from the byproducts of other mining and phosphate processing could yield from two to 11 times the volume of rare earth elements that could be extracted through processing the raw materials.”

    She adds:

    “Although cost, availability and quality are major factors in the success of recycling, the potential is nevertheless there to retrieve up to three-and-a-half times more dysprosium from recycling earbuds than from ores, six times more lanthanum from hybrid batteries, six times more neodymium from spent polishing powders and 11 times more scandium from aluminum and other “red mud” ore processing.  This yield could be a significant secure source of critical materials with the acceleration of the circular economy.”

    Australia is also looking to the circular economy as part of its efforts to “treat… this waste as a source of value,” which a recent piece in The Conversation considers a means to “reducing the environmental footprint of mining while producing critical minerals and other vital products such as sand.”

    The Conversation piece cites a number of promising initiatives ranging from miners looking to recover what comprises one of the largest deposits of rare earth elements from the tailings from iron ore mining at the Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag mine in Sweden via a circular industrial park and projects to recover critical materials from coal ash, to investments in secondary prospecting and development such as Rio Tinto’s A$2 million investment into a new startup using income from mine waste mineral recovery to pay for mining site rehabilitation.

    However, given the sheer size and scope of our nation’s critical mineral woes against the backdrop of ever-increasing geopolitical stakes, the solution to our mineral resource and supply chain challenges still lies in a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” approach, in which closing the loop is one tool in our toolkit.

    Adina Renee Adler acknowledges this in her piece.  While outlining the potential of the circular economy, she stresses the importance of closing the loop for certain metals and minerals “in tandem with its efforts to boost domestic production of critical materials.”

    As ARPN has stated elsewhere, there is no immediate silver bullet, but against mounting resource pressures, focusing on closing the loop and building out domestic production and processing capabilities — while at the same time fostering cooperation with close allies and scaling up research and development — are all essential to secure resource supplies in the long run.

  • “Critical” Without the Label? – A Look at Boron

    While critical mineral resource policy is finally receiving the attention it deserves against the backdrop of increasing supply chain challenges, a look at the materials stealing the spotlight would have you believe the list of metals and minerals deemed critical from a U.S. national and economic security perspective is much shorter than it is.

    The battery criticals (lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese) underpinning the EV revolution are certainly making a splash, and, while a few years ago the term “rare earth elements” seemed to raise eyebrows, their appearance in today’s headlines is not exactly a rare occurrence anymore.

    As followers of ARPN well know, the official U.S. Government Critical Minerals List is much longer, and has grown from 35 in its first iteration in 2018 to 50 in 2022, though much of that change is a result of individually listing materials previously listed in groupings (for a detailed breakdown see ARPN’s posts from earlier this year here).

    However, despite some additions to the list, there are still some materials that, despite their status as key component for many emerging and established products, have slipped through the cracks and are “consistently overlooked largely due to the mundane, or overly complex, industries it plays a role in” – as Seeking Alpha phrases it in his recent profile piece on “Boron: The Overlooked Critical Material.”

    The piece takes a closer look at the “growing market for boron and its strength moving forward,” arguing that “[w]ith uses across multiple industries, some of which are in the process of explosive growth, boron looks set to experience a supercycle of its own,” with most of the Western world quietly recognizing it as a strategic material even as “the major EV battery metals have stolen much of the spotlight shone on critical materials.”

    Glass and ceramics manufacturing, where boron has for centuries reduced glass viscosity and increased durability and improved thermal management, account for roughly 50% of the material’s commercial usage, while fertilizer applications are estimated to consume roughly 20%.

    Courtesy of the ongoing and ever-accelerating materials science revolution, boron’s use in glass today also extends to solar panels – a market that is set to explode, growing at over 20% per year until 2026, according to Seeking Alpha. With “up to 70% of the world’s electricity (…) expected to be generated by wind and solar by 2050” and with “electricity generation also rising 2.5x by the same period, boron’s utilization in both technologies” will likely drive demand scenarios for boron up significantly, as will its application in neodymium magnets, formally known as NdFeB magnets, with the elemental symbol “B” denoting boron. While by weight, boron only accounts for just 1% in the material composition of a neodymium magnet, demand for these magnets is set to skyrocket “as they become the default choice for use in EV motors,” and are widely used in wind turbines, thus further fueling demand.

    According to a recent Bloomberg Government piece, movement on the critical mineral status designation for boron may be on the horizon. Writes Roxana Tiron:

    “The U.S. Defense Logistics Agency lists boron as a strategic material because it is used as a component of composite materials (boron fibers) in advanced aerospace structures and as an industrial catalyst to make things like polymers. It also plays a major role in electroplating nickel, lead, and tin; in inner plates of ballistic vests; and for tank armor (carbon boride) and permanent neodymium (NdFeB) magnets, according to DLA. 

    The strategic designation allows the Defense Department to stockpile the materials.

    But strategic materials and critical minerals aren’t necessarily the same thing. It depends which agency reviews the materials and makes the designation.”

    The USGS’s National Minerals Information Center director Steven Fortier told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in testimony earlier this spring that, while “important” to U.S. national and economic security, boron so far hasn’t met the critical mineral definition because, in light of domestic production levels, “the U.S. is not highly reliant on imports for these minerals and typically has a combination of domestic reserves and reliable foreign sources adequate to meet foreseeable domestic consumption requirements.”

    Meanwhile, as Seeking Alpha points out“the supply chain for boron is pretty weak at the moment,” with Turkey currently accounting for 62% of global boron sales.  With Rio Tinto Group’s long-lived California-based U.S. Borax mine, the U.S. continues to remain a net exporter, but with demand rising “many of the boron deposits around the world only produce the element in small quantities, and wouldn’t exactly be considered major boron deposits.” Boron’s geological profile leads Seeking Alpha to conclude that “[e]ven if all 1,057,000 tonnes of new boric acid production come online, supply is incapable of matching demand.” 

    And of course, in familiar fashion, most of the processing of the material into boron carbide today occurs in China.  As one sign that the U.S. Government is beginning to take note, 5E Advanced Materials’s Fort Cady project in California, while not yet operational, has already received a “critical infrastructure” designation from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

    Boron may not have met the threshold for the official U.S. government-wide “critical minerals” designation yet – but from boron fiber and ballistic vests to tank armor and permanent magnets, there is certainly a compelling case for watching the material closely going forward.

  • As Stakes Continue to Get Higher, Critical Minerals Challenge Goes Mainstream with Realization Issue Goes Beyond “Battery Criticals”

    Supply chain challenges in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine, rising resource nationalism in the southern hemisphere, and now China’s Xi Jinping doubling-down on its zero-Covid policy this week which may lead to more lockdowns with serious economic and trade consequences – critical mineral supply chains can’t seem to catch a break. As [...]
  • Time to Address the “Gaping Hole” in America’s Efforts to Secure Critical Mineral Supply Chains

     “The historic shift to electric vehicles will give the U.S. a fresh chance to achieve energy independence, but it will require complex strategic moves that won’t pay off for years,” writes Joann Muller in a new piece for Axios. A look at the numbers reveals that despite a noticeable push towards strengthening U.S. supply chains (we’ve featured [...]
  • Invocation of Defense Production Act a Sign “America is Finally Taking the Battery Metal Shortage Seriously” – But Must be Embedded in True All-of-the-Above Strategy

    Last week, against the backdrop of mounting pressures on U.S. critical mineral supply chains, U.S. President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to encourage domestic production of the metals and minerals deemed critical for electric vehicle and large capacity batteries. The move is a sign that “America is finally taking the battery metal shortage seriously,” as the [...]
  • Presidential Determination Invokes Title III of Defense Production Act to Encourage Domestic Production of Battery Criticals

    A confluence of factors — pandemic-induced supply chain shocks, increasing resource nationalism in various parts of the world, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine extending into its second month — has completely altered the Post-Cold War geopolitical landscape and mineral resource security calculus. Responding to the resulting growing pressures on critical mineral supply chains and skyrocketing [...]
  • Russia’s War on Ukraine Hits Critical Mineral Supply Chains: A Look at Nickel

     While in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, concerns over how the war would impact global supply chains were mostly focused on oil and natural gas, it quickly became apparent that the ramifications of drawn-out hostilities would stretch far beyond the global oil and gas sector. With Ukraine considered the “breadbasket of Europe,” Russia’s invasion [...]
  • Another Look at Geopolitical Pressures on Mineral Resource Policy: China’s and Russia’s “No Limits” Partnership Spells More Trouble

    Earlier this month, during a meeting in Beijing hours before the kickoff of the Winter Olympics and against the backdrop of Russia amassing troops at its border with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping issued a joint statement calling out what they see as “interference in the internal affairs” of other states by “some forces [...]
  • Critical Minerals Challenge Could Delay E-Mobility, Automaker Says

    As the global push for net carbon zero accelerates in the wake of last year’s UN Global Climate Summit in Glasgow, another leading automaker draws attention to the critical raw materials challenge: In a recent interview with German paper Die Zeit, Mercedes-Benz Group (previously Daimler AG) Chief Executive Ola Kaellenius warned that EV battery raw material scarcity [...]
  • It’s the Processing, Stupid? The Critical Mineral Supply Chain Challenge Visualized

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This Visual Capitalist graphic may not exactly qualify as a picture – but is certainly reveals a lot about the complexity and urgency of the West’s critical mineral woes, and underscores how China has managed to corner the strategic and clean energy materials supply chain especially when [...]