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Through the Gateway: Tin, Co-Products and Shifting Paradigms

While not as flashy as some other metals, Tin’s versatility will continue to drive demand.  We are familiar with its use in food preservation.  Meanwhile, ITRI, the tin industry’s UK-based trade association, highlights the “storage, generation and conservation of energy as key drivers for new applications for the metal over the next 3 to 30 years.” Coupled with its application in soldering paste on circuit boards, demand will likely remain steady or grow. 

In a recent report, the organization found that “[f]rom the analysis, at a global level there is no reason to suggest that remaining tin deposits will be unable to sustain a long term, gradual upward trend in primary tin demand well into the future.” However, “far more efficient exploration and mining technologies” would be required. 

Factor in our supplier nations – not necessarily the best trading partners – and a current WTO case against the world’s largest Tin producer, China, that may or may not affect global supply – and you have all the makings of a geopolitical resource supply challenge. 

Against this background, a recent announcement that a Tin mining operation in Cornwall in the UK is being brought back to life after a two-decade-long closure comes as no surprise. Cornwall was once home to roughly 2,000 tin mines, but as prices fell in light of increased global competition and supply, these mines began shutting down, and have not been reopened until now. 

In the U.S., the picture is similar – domestic Tin mining or smelting was abandoned in 1993 and 1989, respectively, and, when accounting for Tin recycling as a source, we are 75 percent import dependent for the metal.

While the United States’ identified Tin resources may be insignificant when compared with the rest of the world, the bottom line is that we must change the way we approach metals and minerals.  With advances in technology and materials sciences, old paradigms are out the window. 

Copper is no longer just a mainstay metal and conductor of electricity.  Aluminum is more than a building material. And Tin is more than just a food container.  All of these metals have found new important and versatile applications. But beyond that, they are Gateway Metals yielding access to some of the so-called “minor” metals (in Tin’s case Indium and Scandium) that are quickly becoming the quintessential building blocks of our 21st Century high-tech and sustainable energy future and manufacturing renaissance.

It’s time for a new approach to mineral resource policy – an approach that breaks with old patterns and paradigms and unleashes our nation’s vast mineral potential.