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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 tensions are mounting and the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine is being felt around the globe.

    From a critical mineral resource perspective, we at ARPN have always used the occasion of Independence Day to remind ourselves that “while we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent” — with our reliance on foreign mineral resources being a case in point.

    The good news is that on the back of the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine and growing resource nationalism in the Southern hemisphere, stakeholders have begun to realize the extent of our mineral resource supply chain vulnerabilities, which significantly increased over the course of the past 65 years.

    A case in point:  the U.S. Congress is taking aim strengthening critical mineral supply chains via the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

    A provision in the Senate’s annual defense authorization bill, advanced by the Armed Services Committee earlier this month, contains a provision which would authorize $1 billion in funding for the National Defense Stockpile Transaction Fund for “the acquisition of materials determined to be strategic and critical materials required to meet the defense, industrial, and essential civilian needs of the United States.”

    The fund includes many of the metals and minerals considered essential to national defense supply chains, including rare earth elements, titanium, tungsten, cobalt and antimony, a metal we recently discussed as it has its own provisions incorporated in this year’s senate and house bills, which will need to be reconciled and voted on later this year.

    According to Defense News, the S1 billion senate-sought allocation would cover not only the $253.5 million requested by the Department of Defense (DoD)for FY 2023, but would also allow for the backfilling of multiple funding requests by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a combat-support agency of the DoD, which manages the fund.

    At its peak in 1952, the fund was valued at $42 billion in today’s dollars, but has subsequently been depleted to dip to its current level of $888 million, with lawmakers fearing the National Defense Stockpile becoming insolvent by FY2025 absent congressional action.

    With the end of the Cold War in 1989, Congress authorized the sale of excess stockpile materials with proceeds transferred to DoD or other federal programs.  However, as Maya Clark points out in a Heritage Foundation report from earlier this year, “the threat environment today is more similar to the Cold War than to the 1990s.”

    Clark cites the National Defense Strategy Commission which stated in a 2018 report that “[t]he United States confronts more numerous – and more severe – threats than at any time in decades.”  Fast-forward to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and other geopolitical challenges we’ve discussed over the past few months, and the threat environment is even more severe than it was a mere four years ago.

    The push to boost the United States’ National Defense Stockpile Transaction Fund ties into the overall realization that our nation’s critical mineral woes can no longer be ignored. Additional promising initiatives tying into an overall comprehensive “all-of-the-above” approach are currently being pursued by members of Congress as well as the Administration, and range from increasing cooperation with allies to secure critical mineral resources over leveraging “closed-loop” solutions to boosting domestic production and processing.

    However, as we have previously argued:

    “Those familiar with the inner-workings of Washington, D.C. know all too well that particularly in an election year policy efforts can quickly lose steam or fizzle over attempts to placate certain constituencies. Against all affirmations to strengthen domestic supply chains, the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiment is still strong.”

    As followers of ARPN well know, the stakes are too high to let the momentum for comprehensive reform fizzle.

    At the beginning of this year, we posited the question of whether 2022 could be the year that strengthening tech metal supply chains can move from rhetoric to reality.  As we mark Independence Day 2022, with efforts galvanized by heightened national and economic security concerns, it certainly appears that we are getting closer to that goal.

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  • It’s the Processing, Stupid? The Critical Mineral Supply Chain Challenge Visualized

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

    Screen Shot 2022-01-25 at 1.56.47 PM

    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 it comes to processing.

    According to the graphic, China has the edge when it comes to producing Rare Earths, currently accounting for 60 percent of global production.  China also produces 13 percent of global lithium supplies – another key material underpinning the green energy transition.  However, it is the processing segment of the supply chain where China has systematically established firm grip and has attained a startling level of control, accounting for 35 percent of global nickel refining, 58 percent of lithium refining, 65 percent of cobalt refining, and a whopping 87% of global REE refining. Expressed a little flippantly, it’s the processing, stupid.

    The chart must be viewed against the backdrop of the accelerating global push towards carbon neutrality, evidenced most recently by electric vehicle sales outpacing diesel car sales in Europe for the first time in history.

    In light of the growing urgency to secure critical mineral supply chains, the United States’ notable absence from the Visual Capitalist chart should give pause to stakeholders.

    As National Mining Association president and CEO Rich Nolan argued in a November 2021 op-ed, while the United States still has a shot at winning the EV revolution, it is currently not only not in the lead, but is “being lapped” by China.

    Benchmark Mineral Intelligence data shows that while battery megafactories have gone mainstream, with 225 plants in the pipeline as of August 2021.  While the U.S. is no longer a bystander in this race, only very few megafactories are currently located in the United States.

    To succeed in this environment, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s Simon Moores says stakeholders will need to understand the lithium-ion-to-EV supply chain, its individual sections, and the linkage between them:

    “Automakers who quickly understand the importance of these linked steps in the battery supply chain to the quality and cost of their EVs will be the most successful at navigating the next decade. 

    For governments, the shifts in the economics of the supply chain […] provide opportunities to create jobs, garner influence over a strategic industry, and establish new trading relationships, particularly relevant as Europe and the United States, under a Biden presidency, will seek to reduce reliance on China as a single point in the supply chain.”

    While first steps to strengthen supply chains have been taken (refer to our comprehensive Year in Review post from December 2021) and stakeholders are increasingly realizing the severity of the problem we’re facing, many have yet to fully embrace a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” strategy to secure our supply chains.

    What we outlined in December of last year remains true today:

    “The challenge is too large to address piecemeal. While recycling, substitution, and partnering with allies should be part of any overall comprehensive strategy, strengthening domestic mineral resource development across the entire value chain must be a key focal point of our efforts if we want to ensure reliable access to the critical minerals we need to meet our current and future needs.”

    China will certainly not wait for us to catch up.

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  • 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 [...]
  • 100 Day Supply Chain Report Inspires New Developments in Critical Minerals Realm

    Released at the beginning of June, the White House’s 100 Day Supply Chain report assessed risks and vulnerabilities in the supply chains for four key industrial sectors, making recommendations on how to alleviate them appears to have already inspired several new developments in the critical minerals realm: As the Australian Financial Review’s U.S. correspondent Matthew [...]
  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that “much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.” In this [...]
  • A First Glimpse: Biden Administration Releases Findings of Extensive Supply Chain Review

    Earlier today, the White House released the findings of its 100-day supply chain review initiated by Executive Order 14017 – “America’s Supply Chains” and announced a set of immediate actions it is looking to take in an effort to strengthen U.S. supply chains “to promote economic security, national security, and good-paying, union jobs here at [...]
  • ARPN Expert Panel Member: Create Framework to “Insulate Domestic Producers from Market Manipulation While Fostering Innovation” in Effort to Decouple From China

    In a recent piece for RealClearDefense Jeffery A. Green, president and founder of J.A. Green & Company, and member of the ARPN panel of experts, outlines a set of four main lines of efforts policy makers should focus on as they develop policy recommendations based on a recent executive order and House task force set [...]
  • To-Be-Devised Rare Earths Policies Should Tie Into Broader “All of the Above” Approach to Critical Mineral Resource Policy

    As the Biden Administration doubles down on its ambitious climate and technology agenda, it becomes increasingly clear that the issue of material inputs underpinning a green energy transition must be addressed. Followers of ARPN know — not least since last year’s World Bank report or last week’s IEA report — that massive supplies of EV [...]

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