Snowzilla, snowmageddon, snowpocalypse… call it what you will, we had a fair smattering of the stuff recently (together with some strong cold winds). Indeed, just over the way from us in Central Park here in New York, the weather people recorded the second highest snowfall (26.8”) since early-February 2006. And now it is melting – with a vengeance.
To kick off, I should like to congratulate David Abraham for all the coverage his book “The Elements of Power” has received. And I understand he addressed guests at the Association’s dinner here in NY recently. I am only sorry that I was unable to attend. And I understand from reading the press that we now have a number of new elements. Whether they are “of Power”, I know not. But I understand that they are being looked at in this edition of The Crucible.
It’s always somewhat difficult to keep track of what’s happening here on a policy front that may concern minor metals. However, I always think it is a good idea to look out for what the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources has been up to. And, indeed, back on January 19, the Committee, under the chair of Senator Murkowski of Alaska, held a “Hearing to examine the near-term outlook for energy and commodity markets.”
Needless to say, oil was a major topic of discussion. As were both wind and solar energy. (I think that Members will probably already have noted that, back in December, as part of the same $1.15 trillion federal spending bill that lifted the 40-year ban on oil exports from the U.S., federal subsidies for renewable energy, which includes both solar and wind, were extended.)
For Members of the MMTA, probably the most interesting testimony was that of Daniel McGroarty of Carmot Strategic Group. Mr McGroarty has, over the past several years, appeared before a number of committees on Capitol Hill. Amongst other things, in his words, he consults “to the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), which supports the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the Joint Chiefs’ Joint Staff and the Intelligence Community on issues related to strategic materials and resource security.”
The case he put forward was that, “of critical metals and minerals, the U.S. is deeply dependent – and growing more so” and there is the need to reverse the country’s “resource dependency.” While “[we] used to call them “minor metals” we are in the midst of a materials science revolution – and access to the minor metals is taking on major implications.”
In an energy context (solar PVs and, in addition, TVs), some of the metals he singled out were: indium, selenium and gallium. And, while describing the list of minor metals as being “long”, others he mentioned (in particular in relation to defense) included: rhenium (jet turbines), electrolytic manganese and rare earths.
More could be done, he said, “to encourage recycling of rare metals : reclamation from scrap laptops and cellphones – so-called urban mining – and also from fly ash and mining waste piles of all types, where techniques employed 50 and 100 years ago left behind metals and minerals no one needed then, but which are critical now.”
He made the point that it is all very well to seek substitutes to “rare metals” (and we should continue to do so), but that we should also be aware that the metals we are trying to substitute may themselves be substitutes for “scarce metals from earlier decades” and that we may just be swapping one dependency for another.
Summed up, his message was: “let’s recycle, reclaim and seek substitutes, but let’s also recognize there is no way out of our dependency without added production.”
As for Mr McGroarty’s near-term outlook for commodity markets, he used but a single word “bleak”. But, he said, “pricing will come back.” Thanks, Mr McGroarty!
Seriously, though, it is well worth looking at both his and the other testimonies at the hearing, especially that of Adam Sieminski of the U.S. Energy Information Administration at the U.S. Department of Energy.
And, on that note, from a slushy, sloppy New York, I remain, with very belated best wishes for a 2016 to MMTA Members everywhere.
Tom Butcher, January 28th, 2016