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Through the Gateway: Of Diaper Rash Cream, Fertilizer and Battery Technology – A Look at Zinc

If you’re a parent of young children, you’ll probably appreciate Zinc for its medicinal properties – a good diaper rash cream or sunscreen for the little ones comes with a good dose of Zinc oxide.

Otherwise, you may have come across this metal primarily as an anti-corrosion agent used to prevent metals like steel and iron from rusting, or as an alloying agent, for example in brass, bronze, nickel silver and aluminum solder.  Zinc oxides and sulfates are also used in vulcanized rubber, phosphorescent applications, as well as heat sinks in laptops and cell phones.

New and interesting uses may increase demand going forward. One such area is agriculture, with China and India turning to Zinc as an addition to fertilizers to improve crop yields and to ultimately reduce mineral deficiencies in end-consumers.

Another growth market lies in Zinc’s applications in battery technology, itself a growing segment in its own right.  Here, Zinc’s flexibility lends itself to application in wearable battery technology. Zinc batteries’ ability to quickly recharge constitutes another big selling point.

Furthermore, as we continue our look “Through the Gateway” one should not forget Zinc’s Gateway Metal status – yielding access to metals and minerals as diverse and critical as Cadmium, Indium, Gallium and Germanium, the properties and supply and demand pictures of which we will explore over the next few weeks.

Domestically, according to USGS, Zinc was mined in five states at 15 mines in 2015. However, we may be heading for trouble.   In spite of the fact that the United States is home to significant Zinc reserves, our degree of import dependence has risen from roughly 71% in 2012 to 82% in 2015. While our main supplier nations are Canada, Mexico and Peru, recent developments in China, which accounts for roughly 40% of global Zinc production, may affect the supply scenario going forward. As Bloomberg reported recently, Chinese smelters are having trouble securing sufficient raw materials and may have to cut production, and analysts see structural deficits looming.

Zinc’s growing importance due to new applications and its Gateway Metal status is only another reason why policy makers would be well advised to look at our domestic manufacturing base’s mineral resource supply needs (and the needs of parents trying to prevent diaper rashes and sunburns) comprehensively, and strategically — because more often than not, turning to the vast mineral riches beneath our own soil could help prevent supply shortages and ultimately fuel the renaissance of American manufacturing.