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Critical Minerals and Materials

By: Richard Mills | Thursday, July 14, 2011

As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information

In this article I am going to take a look at three reports covering what the US and Europe consider critical or strategic minerals and materials.

In its first Critical Materials Strategy, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) focused on materials used in four clean energy technologies:

The DOE says they selected these particular components for two reasons:

In its report the DOE provided data for nine rare earth elements: yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, samarium, europium, terbium and dysprosium as well as indium, gallium, tellurium, cobalt and lithium.

Five of the rare earth metals - dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium - as well as indium, were assessed as most critical in the short term. The DOE defines "criticality" as a measure that combines importance to the clean energy economy and risk of supply disruption.


Securing Materials for Emerging Technologies

A Report by the APS Panel on Public Affairs and the Materials Research Society coined the term "energy-critical element" (ECE) to describe a class of chemical elements that currently appear critical to one or more new, energy related technologies.

"Energy-related systems are typically materials intensive. As new technologies are widely deployed, significant quantities of the elements required to manufacture them will be needed. However, many of these unfamiliar elements are not presently mined, refined, or traded in large quantities, and, as a result, their availability might be constrained by many complex factors. A shortage of these energy-critical elements (ECEs) could significantly inhibit the adoption of otherwise game-changing energy technologies. This, in turn, would limit the competitiveness of U.S. industries and the domestic scientific enterprise and, eventually, diminish the quality of life in the United States."

According to the APS and MRS report several factors can contribute to limiting the domestic availability of an ECE:

This report was limited to elements that have the potential for major impact on energy systems and for which a significantly increased demand might strain supply, causing price increases or unavailability, thereby discouraging the use of some new technologies.

The focus of the report was on energy technologies with the potential for large-scale deployment so the elements they listed are energy critical:

The third report I looked at, "Critical Raw Materials for the EU" listed 14 raw materials which are deemed critical to the European Union (EU): antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, niobium, platinum group metals, rare earths, tantalum and tungsten.

"Raw materials are an essential part of both high tech products and every-day consumer products, such as mobile phones, thin layer photovoltaics, Lithium-ion batteries, fibre optic cable, synthetic fuels, among others. But their availability is increasingly under pressure according to a report published today by an expert group chaired by the European Commission. In this first ever overview on the state of access to raw materials in the EU, the experts label a selection of 14 raw materials as "critical" out of 41 minerals and metals analyzed. The growing demand for raw materials is driven by the growth of developing economies and new emerging technologies."

For the critical raw materials, their high supply risk is mainly due to the fact that a high share of the worldwide production mainly comes from a handful of countries, for example:

Taking all the metals, from all three lists, gives us:

Antimony Helium Rhenium
beryllium Indium Samarium (LREE)
Cerium (LREE Lanthanum (LREE) Selenium
Cobalt Lithium Silver
Dysprosium (HREE) Magnesium Tantalum
Europium (HREE) Neodymium (LREE) Tellurium
fluorspar Niobium Terbium (HREE)
Gadolinium (HREE) Palladium (PGE) tungsten
Gallium Platinum (PGE) Yttrium (REE)
Germanium Praseodymium  
Graphite (LREE)  

 

All four of the following critical materials appear on each list:

The key issues in regards to critical metals are:

Certainly the rare earth elements, the platinum group of elements and lithium are going to continue receiving investor attention - they are absolutely vital to the continuance of our modern lifestyle. But there are two metals increasingly on my radar screen, one is on all three above critical metals lists and the other soon will be when/if production increases, and in this authors opinion, that's very possible.


Cobalt

A critical or strategic material is a commodity whose lack of availability during a national emergency would seriously affect the economic, industrial, and defensive capability of a country.

The French Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières rates high tech metals as critical, or not, based on three criteria:

The US is the world's largest consumer of cobalt and the US also considers cobalt a strategic metal. The US has no domestic production - the United States is 100% dependent on imports for its supply of primary cobalt - currently about 15% of U.S. cobalt consumption is from recycled scrap, resulting in a net import reliance of 85%.

Although cobalt is one of the 30 most abundant elements within the earth's crust it's low concentration (.002%) means it's usually produced as a by-product - cobalt is mainly obtained as a by-product of copper and nickel mining activities.


Scandium

Scandium is a soft, light metal that might have applications in the aerospace industry. With a cost approaching $300 per gram scandium is too expensive for widespread use. Scandium is a byproduct from the extraction of other elements - uranium mining, nickel and cobalt laterite mines - and is sold as scandium oxide.

The absence of reliable, secure, stable and long term production has limited commercial applications of scandium in most countries. This is despite a comprehensive body of research and a large number of patents which identify significant benefits for the use of scandium over other elements.

Particularly promising are the properties of :


Conclusion

The REEs, PGEs, Lithium and Cobalt are all truly critical to the functioning of our modern society. It's easy to see why they are classified as critical or strategic. Scandium will increasingly find its way into our everyday lives and undoubtedly take its place on the various critical metal lists.

Access to raw materials at competitive prices has become essential to the functioning of all industrialized economies. Cobalt is one of those raw materials, so too will be Scandium.

Are these two critical metals on your radar screen?

If not, maybe they should be.

 


Richard Mills does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this report.

 

Author: Richard Mills

Richard (Rick) Mills
www.aheadoftheherd.com

Richard Mills

Richard lives with his family on a 160 acre ranch in northern British Columbia. He invests in the resource and biotechnology/pharmaceutical sectors and is the owner of Aheadoftheherd.com. His articles have been published on over 400 websites, including: SafeHaven.com, WallStreetJournal, USAToday, NationalPost, Lewrockwell, MontrealGazette, VancouverSun, CBSnews, HuffingtonPost, Beforeitsnews, Londonthenews, Wealthwire, CalgaryHerald, Forbes, Dallasnews, SGTreport, Vantagewire, Indiatimes, Ninemsn, Ibtimes, Businessweek, HongKongHerald, Moneytalks, SeekingAlpha, BusinessInsider, Investing.com and the Association of Mining Analysts.

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