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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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  • 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 provisions that, in the words of analyst Andy Home, represent “undoubtedly good news for industrial metals” and mark a “broader investment drive across the full length of the metallic supply chain.”

    As lawmakers continue their work on the package, new data analysis provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence underscores why efforts to boost U.S. control of critical mineral supply chains and “overcoming reliance on other nations not only for supplies but for infrastructure and processing capacity,” must be prioritized:

    According to data collected earlier this summer, “U.S. imports of critical minerals increased 7.9% in the second quarter on a year-over-year basis, while staying relatively flat quarter over quarter.”

    S&P Global Market Intelligence notes that “the volume of critical minerals flowing into the country in the first half of 2021 surpassed the 316,108 tonnes imported in the first six months of 2020 by 41,209 tonnes.”

    As S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Camille Erickson argues, “China maintains a firm grip on the processing of several critical minerals.”  She points to International Energy Agency that have China processing roughly 90% of global REE supply (and 50% to 70% of global Lithium and Cobalt supply).  Erickson further notes a lack of “sufficient midstream infrastructure in the U.S.,” which “means critical minerals often must undergo various chemical processes — such as concentrating, refining and smelting — elsewhere.”

    While the bipartisan infrastructure package as passed by the U.S. Senate is looking to “bring back some of the crucial midstream components that we are very much lacking here in the U.S. and North America more broadly,” the American Exploration & Mining Association would like to see an even bigger, more comprehensive push, arguing (on Twitter) that “[e]fforts to rebuild the mineral supply chain are incomplete.  We need more mines and smelters, but we need efficient permitting too.”

    Here’s hoping that lawmakers — refreshed from their August recess — do justice to the “all of the above” approach to mineral resource policy as embraced by the Biden Administration in its 100-Day Supply Chain Review (see our report on it here).

    As critical minerals expert Morgan Bazilian recently wrote in a piece for The Hill, in which he embedded his call for a comprehensive mineral resource policy approach into the green energy transition context:

    “If the U.S. wants to get out from under China’s thumb while avoiding conflict, then it must create effective mineral policy by rebuilding innovation capabilities, partnering with industry, and leveraging the government’s role as a market actor. (…) As a nation we have spent so much time preparing for a better tomorrow that we may have neglected to get the materials we will need to actually build it. If the U.S. wants to take direct action to fight climate change and save the lives of its people, then it will need the mining and metals industry.”

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  • “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 $1 trillion package, as passed by the Senate, “is undoubtedly good news for industrial metals,” as more funding for highway and railway systems as well as power grid upgrades “will mean more demand for steel, copper, and aluminium [as they say in the UK].”

    He adds that “when it comes to battery metals and critical minerals, the bipartisan bill is as much about boosting domestic supply as demand,” and its provisions mark a “broader investment drive across the full length of the metallic supply chain.”

    Home highlights the following provisions:

    • Building on the Department of Energy’s R&D efforts across the REE spectrum ranging form primary processing to recycling, the bill “hardens the commitment with a $140 million grant to build a facility ‘to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of a full-scale integrated rare earth element extraction and separation facility and refinery’” in the context of a public-private partnership.
    • The bill also earmarks $100 million annually for through 2024 for critical mineral development, processing and recycling, with a minimum of 30% designated for recycling projects.
    • U.S.-based projects will be prioritized and no project may export to a “foreign entity of concern.”
    • While the bill only allocates $7.5 billion for EV battery charging, Home says “the direction of electric travel is clear,” with President Biden having signed his executive order stipulating that 50% of all domestic new vehicle sales by 2030 should be EV battery powered.
    • To address rising demand for battery tech metals, the bill designates $3 billion for processing, and an additional $3billion for battery manufacturing projects.
    • Grants in this context will be only be awarded to applicants demonstrating “U.S. ownership, North American intellectual property rights and a commitment not to ‘use battery material supplied by or originating from a foreign entity of concern.’”
    • Acknowledging that Federal permitting process has served as “an impediment to mineral production and the mineral security of the United States,” the bill introduces performance metrics for approving critical mineral mines.

    Home sees a challenge in fast-tracking Federal permitting in light of the “growing push-back against ‘dirty’ mining.”  However, he sees an opportunity to bridge this “green-green divide” in new efforts by mining companies to re-think mine “waste,” — and essentially harness gateway/co-product metal relationships.

    He points to Rio Tinto’s Scandium operations in Quebec, Canada, as an example:

    “Companies such as Rio Tinto are now going back to re-examine what they’ve been throwing away. In the case of the company’s Canadian titanium business, they found scandium, designated a critical mineral by both the United States and Europe.

    A relatively modest $6 million investment will produce three tonnes per year of scandium oxide – around 20% of the global market – without the need for any additional mining.”

    As Home points out, the infrastructure bill embraces the “whole-concept” or “total mining” concept, instructing USGS to comprehensively survey national minerals resources, “using a whole ore body approach rather than a single commodity approach, to emphasize all of the recoverable critical minerals in a given surface or subsurface deposit”.

    Home sees provisions calling for USGS to “map and collect data for areas containing mine waste to increase understanding of above-ground critical mineral resources in previously disturbed areas,” as the ones that can help reconcile the “green-green” issue, because “building new mines will remain a headache for critical minerals planners everywhere so going back to the stuff already mined makes a lot of sense.”

    While changes to the bill must be reasonably expected in the coming weeks, the general thrust is clear, and it is encouraging to see that lawmakers are acknowledging and addressing the importance of critical minerals and the urgency of associated supply chain challenges.

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  • 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 [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • “Supply Chain” Begins With “Supply:” Department of Commerce 100-Day Report Chapter on Complex Semiconductor Supply Chain

    Current news coverage may have you believe that when it comes to critical minerals, all we’re talking about is Rare Earths and battery tech metals, such as Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel and Graphite. However, while certainly extremely important for 21st Century technology, these materials and the sectors in which they find key applications only represent [...]
  • If Copper is the New Oil, We Need to Prioritize Its Development

    A Bank of America commodity strategist warns that the world may be “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits. Suggesting that prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025, the strategist’s note called out that inventories are currently at levels seen 15 years ago, and that existing stocks may cover just [...]
  • Post-Petro Geopolitics in the Tech Metals Age

    The sands of geopolitics are shifting. As Anumita Roychowdhury, Snigdha Das, Moushumi Mohanty, Shubham Srivastava outline in a multipart series for India’s Down to Earth magazine, global competition, cooperation and conflicts are less about arms and oil, and more about critical technologies as the world is experiencing a “Fourth Industrial Revolution, an age of advanced [...]
  • New IEA Report Underscores Material Inputs of Net Zero Energy System By 2050, Indicates Support for “All of the Above” Approach to Mineral Resource Security

    Touting his infrastructure package at Ford’s electric vehicle plant in Michigan last week, President Joe Biden declared: “The future of the auto industry is Dearborn,electric. There’s no turning back.”  Against the backdrop of the Biden Administration’s push for a low carbon energy future and a global push to reduce greenhouse gases, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has [...]

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