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  • Let’s Onshore Semiconductor Fabrication – But Not Without Strengthening Supply Chains at the Source… After All, “Supply Chain” begins with “Supply”

    Your mind may not immediately jump to semiconductors when you think about national security, but “a steady source of uninterrupted, trusted chips is necessary for the security of the nation – supporting the readiness of the U.S. military and protecting critical infrastructure like the electric grid,” writes Zachary A. Collier, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at Radford University and a visiting scholar at the Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust (CHEST) in a new commentary for RealClearPolitics.

    Pointing out that “[t]hese tiny chips are the ‘brains’ enabling all the computational capabilities and data storage that we take for granted today,” and are powering “virtually every sector of the economy,” Collier argues that the geopolitics of the chip manufacturing supply chain “leaves the U.S. in a precarious position, dependent upon foreign sources of supply such as South Korea and Taiwan,” and provides “compelling reasons to consider strengthening the supply of semiconductor production at home.”

    Indeed, as followers of ARPN well-know, and as the U.S. Commerce Department pointed out last year, there are many access points for supply chain vulnerabilities along the way because the typical semiconductor production process spans a multitude of countries and products, crossing international borders up to 70 times, which is why the Biden Administration dedicated an entire chapter to the supply chains of semiconductors in its 100 Day Supply Chain Report.

    Recent news of tech firms ripping apart new washing machines to harvest their computer parts in a bid to beat the global microchip shortage underscore the urgency of the situation, and Collier rightly argues that “onshoring semiconductor fabrication capabilities and providing market incentives” in this field could go far in “strengthening national security and promoting economic prosperity.”

    However, the issue is much bigger than semiconductor fabrication, because, as ARPN has long pointed out, the term “supply chain” begins with “supply.”  The supply of the “secret sauce” for semiconductors is where the issue starts.

    As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty outlined for The Economic Standard in 2020 for the next-gen 5-nanometer (5 nm) semiconductor chips:

    “What gives 5nm its secret sauce?  Like gastronomes blending obscure spices, 5nm’s designers looking to push the limits of Moore’s Law have turned to a broader swath of the Periodic Table of Elements to expand their computing palate.  Starting with the familiar silicon substrate ‘wafer,’ 5nm layers in exotic elements like silicon germanium for its super-lattice, adding dielectric hafnium-dioxide and gallium arsenide laced with indium – with a side-look at gallium antimonide as a potential substitute.

     And that’s where things get difficult, at least if we’re rooting for the U.S. to become the world’s epicenter of 5-nanometer chip production:  The U.S. produces precisely zero of three of these elements — indium and gallium and arsenic – leaving us 100% import-dependent, while we’re 84% import-dependent for antimony, and more than 50% for germanium.  Data for hafnium, among the rarest of the elements, is notoriously harder to come by, with production guesstimated at a scant 70 tons per year.”

    As McGroarty points out, China is the lead global supplier for all six materials, but “it doesn’t have to be that way:  The U.S. has ‘known resources’ of all six, and already includes them on the U.S. Government Critical Minerals List.”

    That is not to say that focusing on expanding manufacturing capabilities for semiconductors is not important — it absolutely is — but any effort to truly secure their supply chain must begin at the beginning: with the responsible sourcing of the metals and minerals underpinning this crucial 21st Century technology.

  • 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 demand scenarios, U.S. President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) earlier today to encourage domestic production of the metals and minerals deemed critical for electric vehicle and large capacity batteries.

    In Presidential Determination No. 2022-1, President Biden determines, pursuant to section 303(a)(5) of the Act, that:

    -       “sustainable and responsible domestic mining, beneficiation, and value-added processing of strategic and critical materials for the production of large-capacity batteries for the automotive, e-mobility, and stationary storage sectors are essential to the national defense;

    -       without Presidential action under section 303 of the Act, United States industry cannot reasonably be expected to provide the capability for these needed industrial resources, materials, or critical technology items in a timely manner; and

    -       purchases, purchase commitments, or other action pursuant to section 303 of the Act are the most cost-effective, expedient, and practical alternative method for meeting the need.”

    The Presidential Determination instructs the Secretary of Defense to “create, maintain, protect, expand, or restore sustainable and responsible domestic production capabilities of such strategic and critical materials by supporting feasibility studies for mature mining, beneficiation, and value-added processing projects; by-product and co-product production at existing mining, mine waste reclamation, and other industrial facilities; mining, beneficiation, and value-added processing modernization to increase productivity, environmental sustainability, and workforce safety; and any other such activities authorized under section 303(a)(1) of the Act.”

    Acknowledging that “action to expand the domestic production capabilities for such strategic and critical materials is necessary to avert an industrial resource or critical technology item shortfall that would severely impair the national defense capability” the Presidential Determination further waives “the requirements of section 303(a)(1)–(a)(6) of the Act for the purpose of expanding the sustainable and responsible domestic mining, beneficiation, and value-added processing of strategic and critical materials necessary for the production of large-capacity batteries for the automotive, e-mobility, and stationary storage sectors.”

    According to a White House fact sheet released only hours before the Presidential Determination was made public, the President “is also reviewing potential further uses of DPA – in addition to minerals and materials – to secure safer, cleaner, and more resilient energy for America.”

    Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), James Risch (R-ID), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) had sent a letter to President Biden urging  him to take congressional and Administration efforts to bolster mineral supply chains one step further and to “invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to accelerate domestic production of lithium-ion battery materials, in particular graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel, and lithium.”

    “Allowing our foreign mineral dependence to persist is a growing threat to U.S. national security, and we need to take every step to address it. The 100-day report acknowledges the ‘powerful tool’ the DPA has been to expand production of supplies needed to combat COVID-19, as well as the potential the DPA could have to ‘support investment in other critical sectors and enable industry and government to collaborate more effectively,’” the Senators said in their letter, adding that  “[t]he time is now to grow, support, and encourage investment in the domestic production of graphite, manganese, cobalt, lithium, nickel, and other critical minerals to ensure we support our national security, and to fulfill our need for lithium-ion batteries – both for consumers and for the Department of Defense.”

    It seems President Biden was ready to take that step.

    According to Bloomberg News, the addition of metals and minerals like lithium, nickel, graphite, cobalt and manganese to the list of items covered by the 1950 Defense Production Act affords mining companies access to $750 million under the Act’s Title III fund.

    The National Mining Association’s President and Chief Executive Rich Nolan welcomed the move, stating that “[t]he minerals supply chain that will drive the electrification of our transportation sector and the energy transition is not only at risk from a perilous and growing import dependence, but the approaching minerals demand wave is set to strain every sector of the economy and requires an urgency in action from government and industry never before seen.”

    Nolan told the Washington Post in anticipation of the Presidential Determination that the United States needs new mines and mineral processing plants: “What we need is policy to ensure we can produce them and build the secure, reliable supply chains we know we must have.” 

    Watch the press conference announcing the Presidential Determination here.
    And for the full text of Presidential Determination No. 2022-1 click here.

    ARPN will be back with additional analysis as we work through the DPA action.

  • Time for a Reckoning at “Ferrari Supercar Speeds” – It’s Not Just Battery Materials: A Look at Aluminum

    In recent months, industry news has been dominated by headlines like “carmakers face raw material bottleneck.” And while, rightfully, against the backdrop of the accelerating green energy transition and EV revolution, much of the coverage focuses primarily on supply chain challenges arising for the battery criticals Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, Graphite and Manganese, it’s not just the [...]
  • ARPN’s 2021 Word of the Year: Supply Chain

    ARPN’s Year in Review —   a Last Look Back at the United States’ Critical Mineral Resource Challenge in 2021 Well, two words, for the sticklers.  Merriam Webster may have gone with “vaccine,” but for ARPN, there was really no doubt. As one article put it, “2021 is the year ‘supply chain’ went from jargon to [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Summer Critical Mineral Import Data Provides Fresh Impetus for Comprehensive Resource Policy Reform

    In the wake of several eye-openers regarding our nation’s critical mineral supply chain woes — the coronavirus pandemic, increasing trade tensions with adversary nations like China, and reports underscoring the mineral intensity of our green energy future — the bipartisan infrastructure package passed by the U.S. Senate before the August recess contained a series of [...]
  • “Undoubtedly Good News for Industrial Metals” – a Look at the Senate-passed Infrastructure Package

    In a recent piece for Reuters, columnist Andy Home unpacks the U.S. Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure package.   While the bill has yet to make it through the U.S. House of Representatives and a likely conference committee, it is worth taking a look at what its passage could mean for the critical minerals sector. According to Home, the [...]
  • Make Haste Slowly – The Inherent Risks of an Electrification of the U.S. Military: Material Inputs, Geopolitics and Cyberattacks

    As governments around the globe continue to push towards carbon neutrality, Alan Howard and Brenda Shaffer, faculty members at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, warn against the hidden dangers of the — rushed — electrification of the U.S. military in a new piece for Foreign Policy. Against the backdrop of the Pentagon having commissioned studies [...]
  • House Armed Services Committee’s Bipartisan Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force Releases Findings and Recommendations

    On the heels of the recently-released White House 100-Day Supply Chain report, momentum to strengthen U.S. supply chains is building. On July 22, 2021 the House Armed Services Committee’s bipartisan Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force, chartered in March of 2021 to “review the industrial base supply chain to identify and analyze threats and vulnerabilities,” released its [...]
  • The Mineral Intensity of a Carbon-Neutral Future – A Look at Copper

    Amidst the global push towards carbon neutrality, “Critical Minerals” has become a buzzword.  As the green energy transition has gone mainstream and electric vehicles and renewable energy sources dominate the news cycle, so has talk about growing demand for some of the specialized materials underpinning this shift — most notably the Rare Earths, and the battery [...]