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.

  • As China Ratchets Up Weaponization of Trade, Analysts Call for Massive Investments to Counter Beijing in Critical Minerals Arms Race

    Beijing’s recent decision to impose export restrictions on gallium and germanium – key components of semiconductor, defense and solar technologies — has ruffled feathers around the world and, as ARPN noted, ratchets up the weaponization of trade in the context of the Tech Wars between China and the West.

    While some chipmakers have played down fears of shortages, former Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wei Jianguo’s comments to the China Daily newspaper “that countries should brace for more should they continue to pressure China, describing the controls as a ‘well-thought-out heavy punch’ and ‘just a start,’” have prompted fears that more export curbs on critical materials, including on rare earths could be on the menu.

    With China controlling roughly 90 percent of the global refined output of rare earths, and the specter of more Chinese export controls looming large, analysts suggest that the United States and its partners must kick their efforts to reduce their reliance on Chinese into high gear.

    According to Goldman Sachs analysts, “China is the source of more than 70 percent of the world’s [neodymium and praseodymium] and accounts for over 90 percent of the downstream metal and magnet segment.”

    To replicate China’s annual output of 50,000 tons, the West would have to invest anywhere between $15 billion and $30 billion, Goldman says.

    The Goldman analysis brings into focus the immense challenges associated with decoupling from China — most notably perhaps permitting:

    The analysts note that while demand for NdPr could exceed supply from 2028 onward in light of surging demand in the EV and wind turbine segment, “out of more than 20 projects outside China that could produce some 20,000 tons of NdPr annually, (…) only two to three of these projects can get off the ground this decade.”

    Both the United States and the European Union have resolved to make permitting reform a key priority. In the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) just told his colleagues that the push would be a focus in the weeks leading up to the August recess, while the European Union’s recently released Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) calls for streamlining the permitting process for raw materials projects.

    However, as followers of ARPN well know, all affirmations of a desire to strengthen domestic supply chains aside, the perennial not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiment is still strong – not just in the United States, but also in Europe.

    Meanwhile, the urgency for reform cannot be overstated, as Beijing will not slow down its global quest for resource dominance, and the critical minerals arms race in the context of the Tech Wars will continue to heat up.

  • Turning the Same Stone Twice: Governments, Miners Turn to Mine Tailings to Bolster Critical Mineral Supply Chains

    In their quest to secure critical mineral supply chains against the backdrop of surging demand and rising geopolitical pressures, stakeholders are leaving no stone unturned – quite literally — and have in fact begun turning the same stone twice. As Australia’s Financial Post reports, the Australian government has completed a mapping project of sites containing mine [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • The Newest Frontier in the Global Resource Wars: Virtual Weaponized NIMBYism

    Geopolitical tensions, Russia’s war on Ukraine, rising resource nationalism in the Southern hemisphere – against the backdrop of ever-increasing stakes it appears that a new theater in the global resource wars has opened up: Cyber warfare, and more specifically, according to Defense One, “weaponized NIMBYism.” The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that it is investigating a recently-unearthed disinformation [...]
  • Independence Day 2022 – Are We Getting Closer to Critical Mineral Resource Independence? — As Stakes Rise, National Defense Stockpile Could Receive Boost Via NDAA

    It’s that time of the year again.   We’re gearing up to celebrate the men and women who have fought for, and continue to safeguard our freedoms.  It may not feel like it when the cost for the average July 4th cookout has drastically increased, but we have much to be thankful for, particularly at a time when geopolitical [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Wind Turbine Makers’ Price Challenges Sign of Looming Raw Material Shortfalls

    As lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling to finalize major federal spending legislation set to include several key provisions relating to natural resources, a recent Wall Street Journal piece on wind power underscores the urgency of our nation’s looming raw material shortfalls. Against the backdrop of surging demand in the context of the green energy transition, wind [...]
  • Critical Mass: ARPN Commentary on the White House 100-Day Supply Chain Report & the Importance of Critical Minerals to the U.S. Technology Base

    After years of inertia, the Critical Minerals space has seen a lot of activity lately. While the coronavirus pandemic has exposed significant supply chain vulnerabilities and critical mineral resource dependencies, recent studies have highlighted the mineral intensity of the global pursuit of a low carbon energy future. This week’s developments in Washington — movement on [...]