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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 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 tech metals Lithium, Cobalt, Graphite and Nickel.   A little lost in the media shuffle, though no less important, is Copper — perhaps the unsung hero of the green energy transition.

    Less flashy and headline-grabbing than some of its tech metal peers, this mainstay mineral deserves far more credit and attention than it is currently getting.  Followers of ARPN will know that we have long touted the versatility, stemming from its traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status.

    Copper is also an irreplaceable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs over wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid.   The manufacturing process for EVs requires four times more Copper than gas powered vehicles, and the expansion of electricity networks will lead to more than doubled Copper demand for grid lines, according to the IEA.

    A recent graphic by Visual Capitalist depicts the Copper intensity of the energy transition with a view towards solar and onshore and offshore wind energy technology:

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    Add in Copper’s Gateway Metal status — the processing of the metal yields access to a host of co-products essential to “manufacturing the advanced technologies that will power our economy for generations to come”  such as Cobalt, Tellurium, Molybdenum, Rhenium, Arsenic and REEs  — and a 2019 mining executive’s projection that “[t]he world will need the same amount of copper over the next 25 years that it has produced in the past 500 years if it is to meet global demand.

    Recent developments in Washington, D.C. — movement on a bipartisan infrastructure package and announcements of new EV goals and fuel efficiency standards — will only add to the outlined Copper demand scenarios.

    And the challenge is not just mining, but also processing, as Laura Skaer, a member of the board of directors of the Women’s Mining Coalition and former director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, outlined in a recent piece for Morning Consult:

    “Last year, the United States imported 37 percent of the copper we used. China already refines 50 percent of the world’s copper and the United States only refines about 3 percent. National security experts have warned that relying on China for critical supply-chain materials like refined copper poses a serious threat to America’s national security interests.”

    The United States Government failed in 2018 to include Copper in its official Critical Minerals list, a faux pas the Canadian government did not commit with the release of its own Critical Minerals list earlier this year, which included Copper along with fellow key Gateway Metals Nickel and Zinc in its list of 31.

    Meanwhile, the Biden Administration’s 100-Day Supply Chain Review highlights Copper as an integral component of Lithium-ion battery technology, in the context of being what we have called a “gateway metal” to other critical materials, and for its “use across many end-use applications aside from lithium-ion cells, including building construction, electrical and electronic products, transportation equipment, consumer and general products, and industrial machinery and equipment.” 

    Here’s hoping that the greater prominence given to Copper — both as a standalone material and Gateway Metal — by the White House 100-day report is an indication that a forthcoming updated U.S. Critical Minerals List will acknowledge the metal’s ever-growing importance.  Until then, Copper will remain one of the most “Critical Non-Criticals,” as we note in ARPN’s recent report, Critical Mass.

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  • Metals in the Spotlight – Aluminum and the Intersection between Resource Policy and Trade

    While specialty and tech metals like the Rare Earths and Lithium continue to dominate the news cycles, there is a mainstay metal that has – for good reason – been making headlines as well: Aluminum. 

    Bloomberg recently even argued that “Aluminum Is the Market to Watch Closely in 2019.” 

    Included in the 2018 list of 35 minerals deemed critical to the United States national security and economy, aluminum is the No. 1 material by annual DoD usage, and a shortage of aluminum metal was cited in a nonclassified defense study as having ‘already caused some kind of significant weapon system production delay for DoD.’ 

    The U.S. is home to significant bauxite deposits, from which aluminum is sourced, but we import a significant percentage of the aluminum consumed domestically.  Unlike with other metals and minerals, however, this represents a marked decrease in geopolitical risk, as most of our aluminum imports are sourced from one of our closest trading partners, Canada, which accounted for 56% of total aluminum imports from 2013-2016.

    While viewed in isolation and from the upstream end of the supply chain at the minesite, the U.S. is increasingly import-dependent for the aluminum it needs, but viewed in the context of an integrated North American supply chain between the United States and Canada, our neighbor to the North is helping the U.S. close a significant domestic production shortfall.

    Thus, many were startled by the Administration’s decision earlier last year to impose trade tariffs on Canadian-made aluminum and steel under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.

    Followers of ARPN may recall that the USMCA, the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal to replace NAFTA struck in November 2018, had opened a window to drop these tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico, which stand in the way of a fully integrated North American defense supply chain and, particularly with regards to Canada, “ignore nearly 80 years of deep defense cooperation with our northern neighbor.”

    Unfortunately, the provision remained intact in the November agreement, prompting more than 45 groups representing a wide range of business sectors to renew their call for an end on the Section 232 tariffs in 2019.  In a coalition letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last week, the signatories argue that

    “for many farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, the damage from the reciprocal trade actions in the steel dispute far outweighs any benefit that may accrue to them from the USMCA. The continued application of metal tariffs means ongoing economic hardship for U.S. companies that depend on imported steel and aluminum, but that are not exempted from these tariffs. Producers of agricultural and manufactured products that are highly dependent on the Canadian and Mexican markets are also suffering serious financial losses.”  

    Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are preparing draft legislation to strip the Administration of the tool it used to impose the above-referenced tariffs, which it is considering to use to implement further duties on car and car part imports.  

    According to Politico, the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, the draft bill’s working title, would strip the president of the unilateral power to “make a final determination on whether to levy import restrictions if a Commerce Department analysis determines that foreign imports are undermining U.S. economic interests in a way that poses a threat to national security,” by requiring congressional approval of any such tariffs proposed under Section 232.  If passed, the legislation would also require a retroactive vote to approve any tariffs imposed under Section 232 within the last four years — including the ones on aluminum and steel the USMCA negotiators failed to strike. 

    With the tariffs removed, the November USMCA agreement could well become a springboard to take the strategic North American alliance to a new level.”  

    Here’s hoping Washington will not fail America.  

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  • Jadarite and the Materials Science Revolution – “Kryptonite” to Alleviate Mineral Supply Concerns?

    In 2007, a new mineral found in Serbia made headlines around the world. “Kryptonite Discovered in Mine” – wrote the BBC about the discovery of a material the chemical formula of which – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – happened to match the one of the famed kryptonite stolen by Lex Luthor from a museum in the [...]
  • Critical Minerals Alaska – Rhenium Riches in Alaska Could Help Alleviate Supply Issues

    The BBC has dubbed Rhenium — another metal included in the Department of the Interior’s Final List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy — a “super element” with standout properties that can be likened to “alien technology.” Thus, it comes as no surprise that Shane Lasley, writing for North of 60 Mining [...]
  • ARPN Expert Panel Member: Defense Industrial Base Report “A Significant Step Forward for the U.S. Military”

    With the long-awaited Defense Industrial Base report finally released, analysts have begun pouring over the 146-pages-long document. One of the first issue experts to offer commentary in a national publication was Jeff Green, president of Washington, D.C.-based government relations firm J.A. Green & Company, and member of the ARPN panel of experts. Writing for Defense [...]
  • Soon To-Be-Released Defense Industrial Base Study May “Revolutionize Approach to Supply-Chain Security and  Strategic Materials”

    A good year ago, a presidential Executive Order (E.O. 13806) mandated the completion of a study to assess the “Manufacturing Capacity, Defense Industrial Base, and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.” According to a well-informed administration source, this defense industrial base study is now nearing completion, reports Breaking Defense. However, as Sydney J. Friedberg [...]
  • “Critical Minerals Alaska:” A Familiar Scenario for Tungsten – Chinese Domination and U.S. Prospects

    Pop quiz: Which metal has “the highest melting point of all the elements on the periodic table, (…) is a vital ingredient to a wide-range of industrial and military applications,” has made the Department of Interior’s final list of 35 metals deemed critical to U.S. national security, “yet none of this durable metal is currently [...]
  • Chinese Worries over Critical Mineral Supply Should Provide Impetus for U.S. Policy Reforms

    Escalating trade tensions have brought the issue of China’s near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earth Elements back to the front pages of American newspapers. If that isn’t reason enough for policy makers to use the momentum that has been building for the formulation of a comprehensive critical mineral strategy and an overhaul of policies standing [...]
  • A “Dangerous Dependence:”  Mineral Resource Security Goes Mainstream

    In recent weeks, we have seen a flurry of articles and commentaries in national publications discussing reforms to address our ever-growing reliance on foreign mineral resources.  The two most recent examples are member of the ARPN expert panel Jeffery A. Green’s piece in Real Clear Defense entitled “Dangerous Dependence on China for Critical Minerals Runs [...]
  • ICYMI – Video and Supporting Documents for AGI Webinar on “Tracking the Global Supply of Critical Materials”

    Last month, the American Geosciences Institute ran a webinar entitled “Tracking the Global Supply of Critical Materials.”  Speakers for the event, which discussed “efforts to gather information and develop tools that can be used to ensure a secure national and global supply of mineral resources, and identify and quantifying vulnerabilities in this supply, among others,” [...]

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