For the past few months, the American Resources Policy Network has highlighted the concept of “Gateway Metals” and “Co-Products” in the context of our “Through the Gateway”-campaign.
It would appear that people in government and the business community are taking note: The Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) has just announced it will join with global mining and minerals company Rio Tinto to study new ways to capture Gateway Metals that will be needed in clean power manufacturing.
Our recent focus is based off of ARPN’s ground-breaking study, “Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology” report, in which we zeroed in on a group of five “Gateway Metals,” which are not only critical to manufacturing and national security in their own right, but also “unlock” tech metals increasingly important to innovation and technological development.
In the context of our informational campaign, we featured the five Gateway Metals we covered in the report – Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Zinc – as well as the tech metals they unlock, and discussed some of the cutting edge uses for these tech metals, as well as supply and other issues surrounding them.
A recurring theme throughout the campaign has been that demand for Co-Product Metals is increasing, but the United States not only has a significant degree of import dependency for many of them, as well as for the respective Gateway Metal – all of which has implications for both the United States’ competitiveness and national security.
That is why the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) research partnership with Rio Tinto is a promising endeavor, tying into CMI’s mandate to address our nation’s critical mineral needs:
As Ames Lab describes it,
“the new initiative aims to ensure that the United States fully leverages domestic mineral and metal resources necessary for global leadership in clean energy manufacturing.
The Rio Tinto-CMI research partnership will combine Rio Tinto’s operational expertise with CMI’s research capabilities, materials science expertise and computing power. Focused on the efficient extraction of critical materials from the copper smelting process, the research will have three core work-streams: Improving recovery rates of critical minerals and metals (rhenium, selenium, tellurium, scandium, etc.) from samples sourced from Rio Tinto’s operating Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and the Resolution Copper project currently under regulatory review and permitting in Arizona.
- Improving recovery rates of critical minerals and metals (rhenium, selenium, tellurium, scandium, etc.) from samples sourced from Rio Tinto’s operating Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and the Resolution Copper project currently under regulatory review and permitting in Arizona.
- Exploring potential for increasing recovery rates of rare minerals and metals through processing waste tailings.
- Examining process improvements that would facilitate the blending of processed electronic waste (‘e-waste’) with copper concentrates to substantially increase the recovery of valuable metals such as gold, copper, silver, platinum, lithium and rare earths present in spent cellphones, computers and solar panels.”
The project is emblematic of CMI’s collaborations with private sector companies, which have already proven their value as a tool to help mitigate supply risks for critical raw materials:
According to a recent GAO report, as of May 1, 2016 CMI “research projects had already resulted in 42 invention disclosures, 17 patent applications, and 1 licensed technology.” This includes the development of a “membrane solvent extraction system” that helps in the recycling, recovery and extraction process of Rare Earth materials.
Other current CMI public-private partnerships include a project with Simbol Materials on Lithium extraction, and a collaborative effort with INFINIUM, a metals production technology company, to “demonstrate the production of rare-earth magnets sourced and manufactured entirely in the U.S.”
Of course, as we have consistently outlined, many challenges remain and we are a far cry from the comprehensive critical minerals strategy our nation would need. However, efforts like the latest CMI-Rio Tinto public private partnership represent a promising step towards reducing our foreign dependencies for many of the mineral resources that are necessary for our society’s shift towards a clean energy future, and for our domestic manufacturers to thrive and be competitive.
For more context, please refer to the following reports and studies:
American Resources Policy Network Gateway Metals Report: Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology
GAO Report to the Chairman, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate: ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES – Strengthened Federal Approach Needed to Help Identify and Mitigate Supply Risks for Critical Raw Materials
American Resources Critical Metals Report: Reviewing Risk – Critical Metals & National Security
USGS: Comparison of U.S. net import reliance for nonfuel mineral commodities—A 60-year retrospective (1954–1984–2014)
White House: Assessment of Critical Minerals: Screening Methodology and Initial Application (Product of the Subcommittee on Critical and Strategic Mineral Supply Chains of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability of the National Science and Technology Council)