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.

  • Lawmakers Seek Critical Mineral Designation for Copper via Federal Legislation

    Two weeks after the U.S. Geological Survey rebuffed a bipartisan call from members of Congress for an “out-of-cycle”addition of copper to the U.S. Government’s official List of Critical Minerals, House Republicans from Western mining states are pushing to achieve the “critical mineral” designation for copper via legislation.

    Arguing that changing copper’s designation would allow the federal government to more efficiently ensure reliable and secure supplies of the material in the future, Representative Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.) is introducing the “Copper is Critical Act.”  The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Jim Baird (R-Indiana), and David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), and Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.)

    The bill would amend section 7002 of the Energy Policy Act of 2020, and represents the first time this process is used in an attempt to broaden the scope of the U.S. Critical Minerals List.

    As followers of ARPN well know, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has called for the designation of copper as a critical mineral on several occasions, and has submitted public comments to USGS to this effect.

    Policy experts agree.

    In a recent piece, Cullen S. Hendrix with the Peterson Institute for International Economics argues that while copper is widely mined and processed relative to listed critical minerals on the U.S. government’s list, “the security of diffuse global supply chains and production in US-friendly economies is still vulnerable to disruptions in producer countries. The ability and willingness of copper producing countries to keep supplying copper can change rapidly.”

    He points to current trends in Peru, a key copper mining country, where resource nationalism has reared its head, as well as developments in neighboring Chile, that may indeed affect both countries’ “ability and willingness” to supply copper to the global market and elaborated that “designating copper as critical to national and economic security would lead to enhanced scrutiny from the USGS, which tracks minerals markets, production, and reserves. Industry advocates also believe that the designation might lead to streamlined permitting processes that would facilitate more domestic production.” 

    With copper’s long list of applications growing in the context of the materials science revolution and with long-term demand scenario surging, ARPN will monitor the Copper is Critical Act as it moves through the legislative process.

  • A Nickel for Your Thoughts: New Potential for U.S. Nickel Supply

    As Memorial Day heralds the unofficial beginning of the summer travel season, ARPN has a suggestion to make to pass the time whether you’re gridlocked on the interstate or airport security:  Check out a podcast called “Battery Metals – A Nickel for Your Thoughts.” Too wonky?  Who cares?  That’s what earbuds are for – no one has to [...]
  • As Critical Mineral Dependencies Persist, Promising “Battery Criticals” Projects Provide Opportunity to Ensure that “the Supply Chain for America Begins in America” – A Look at Graphite

     For all the talk about reducing our over-reliance on foreign critical mineral resources against the backdrop of soaring demand, strained supply chains and increasing geopolitical tensions, last week’s release of the annual USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report still paints a sobering picture. While the number of metals and minerals for which the U.S. remains 100% import dependent [...]
  • Copper – A Mainstay Metal, Gateway Metal and Energy Metal, But Not a Critical Mineral? Some Think it’s Time to Change This

    As a highly versatile key mainstay metal, copper has been a building block of humanity’s progress. As a gateway metal, it yields access to critical minerals.  It also is an energy metal — an indispensable component for advanced energy technologies, ranging from EVs and wind turbines to the electric grid and solar panels. But for all its traditional and new applications [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • “Critical” Without the Label? – A Look at Boron

    While critical mineral resource policy is finally receiving the attention it deserves against the backdrop of increasing supply chain challenges, a look at the materials stealing the spotlight would have you believe the list of metals and minerals deemed critical from a U.S. national and economic security perspective is much shorter than it is. The [...]
  • USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries 2022 — Amidst Greater Focus on Supply Chain Security, Mineral Resource Dependence Persists

    We’ve named it the year of the Supply Chain, noting that others said “2021 is the year ‘supply chain’ went from jargon to meme.” While an increased focus on the supply chain was undoubtedly a critical development in the mineral resource realm, and several steps to increase supply chain security for critical minerals were taken in [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • Nickel and Zinc “Only Two New Additions” to Draft Revised Critical Minerals List — A Look at the Government’s Reasoning

    This week we continue our coverage of the just-released draft revised Critical Minerals List, for which the US Geological Survey (USGS) began soliciting public comment last week — this time via Andy Home’s latest.  In a new column for Reuters, Home zeroes in on the “only two new additions” to the draft list. (As ARPN outlined [...]