News from the North

10th November 2021



The USA has added nickel and zinc to its list of critical minerals for the first time.  The inclusion of nickel will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with its role in the booming battery technology sector, but base metal zinc may be more unexpected.  In this newsletter, I’ll take a look at why these metals have been added and the methodology that drove their inclusion, as well as the dropping of helium, potash, rhenium, strontium and uranium.  For the full critical minerals list, you can click here and scroll down.

Firstly, a brief overview of the process.  The first list of critical minerals in the US was published in 2018, surprisingly late for such an advanced and import-dependant economy.  The US Geological Survey (USGS) is tasked with working with the Department of the Interior and other agencies to update not just the list, but the methodology used to determine it every three years.  For the updated methodology and full report, you can look here.  The current list is open for public comment until the 9th of December, after which it will be finalised, so if you have any thoughts on this matter you can find information on how to share them with the USGS here.  But for the purposes of this newsletter, we’ll consider the current draft list to be fairly set in stone.

Nickel ore is now a higher priority for the US
Image via Reuters

The methodology used by the USGS in creating the list used a quantitative analysis of four metrics for each mineral:

  • Is global production concentrated in countries that may become unable or unwilling to supply to the US?
  • Is US consumption dependent on foreign supplies?
  • Does US consumption represent a large expenditure for low-profit but economically important industries?
  • Does any domestic supply rely on a single producer, thus producing a single point of failure in the supply chain?

The first three factors in combination were used to produce a weighted score from 0 to 1, where 0 was no supply risk and 1 was the highest possible risk, with 0.40 being the cut-off for inclusion on the list.  Metric 4 would trigger an automatic inclusion on its own.

The single point of failure criterion (#4) drove nickel’s debut on the list.  The metal had been kept off the previous iteration because, while the US imported almost all its nickel, it did so from countries considered very friendly (mainly Canada, with 42% of supply, Norway with 10% and Finland with 9%).  But the US has just one operating nickel mine: the Eagle Mine in Michigan, owned by Lundin Mining (TSX:LUN), which ships concentrates for processing overseas and which is due for closure in 2025.  There is also a nickel sulphate producer in Montana, but this is a by-product of PGE production. In June this year, the Biden administration’s 100-day review of critical supply chains produced a nickel refinery as the major wish-list item for the battery supply chain in the country, although whether such a thing will come to fruition remains doubtful, especially with Indonesia ramping up its refining capabilities in response to government policies.

Zinc made it on to this year’s list for somewhat different reasons.  The US produces much more zinc domestically, with 14 operating mines and two smelters.  However, the country is still heavily dependent on imports, with 83% of refined zinc consumption supplied from overseas in 2020.  This economic vulnerability plus increasing supply chain risks due to recent increases in production being heavily concentrated in China, drove it over the 0.40 score threshold for inclusion on the list.

Zinc is the other debutant on the US's list of critical minerals.
Stock image

So why the exclusions of five minerals this year?  The first, uranium, is easy to explain – it has been reclassified as a “mineral fuel” and shunted from the list for definitional reasons.  Helium is also a simple case: the US is the world’s largest producer and a net exporter of the gas, so the report considered that there was essentially no risk of the country’s supplies being disrupted. The other three – potash, strontium and rhenium – have been moved off the list because, while the US is highly import-reliant for all three, the production of these minerals is either not concentrated in a single country (potash), and supply chain risks are therefore considered to be mitigated by the existence of numerous sources, or the main producers that supply to the US (Mexico for strontium and Chile for rhenium) are considered very friendly to the US and therefore unlikely to meddle with supply.  However, all the excluded minerals retain risk scores just below the cut-off of 0.40, so future revisions to the list could see their re-inclusion.

I certainly hope that the publication of the critical minerals list in the US leads to a careful evaluation of the importance of domestic mining and processing facilities by the government, as a bulwark against the rampant anti-mining sentiment that seems to be settled like a cloud over Washington D.C. right now.

Around the Traps

Great news for Mountain Boy Resources (TSXv:MTB), whose drilling on their flagship American Creek silver-gold project has confirmed the existence of a 2 km mineralised system that is open at both ends, as well as returning results up to 704 g/t Ag.  They also have new grab samples with truly eye-popping numbers of up to 15,640 g/t silver, 2.17 g/t gold, 0.73% copper, 3.23% lead and 13.75% zinc.

Mountain Boy are closely inspecting their American Creek project
Image via Mountain Boy Minerals

Conquest Resources (TSXv:CQR) has great leadership at the helm with President and CEO Tom Obradovich.  He sat down with Investing News recently to talk about his history, Conquest’s current success and future plans, and the copper and uranium markets.  Check it out below!

Resource World has a really good write-up on the history and current status of exploration in British Columbia’s famous Golden Triangle region available now.  If you’re looking for an overview of this booming area, check it out.  For a nice visual representation, have a look at this Visual Capitalist infographic, which contains information on the geology, history and current investment of the zone.

Do you, like almost everyone, love gold?  Are you in the market for a spectacular display piece?  Then start scrounging for change in the couch, and if you come up with at least $1 million you might be able to buy this spectacular gold nugget, which is being offered for sale at auction.  The Alaska Centennial nugget, found by a gold miner driving a bulldozer 23 years ago, is the largest ever found in Alaska and weighs in at 20 lbs. or 9 kg.  There’s a great story behind it too!

The gold nugget that could be yours.
Image via Heritage Auctions

Palladium One (TSXv:PDM, FRA:7N11, OTCQB:NKORF) has a really interesting project update out for its copper-nickel Tyko project in Ontario.  They’ve hit up to 10.01% NiEq over 3.8 m in one of their recent holes!

Global Energy Metals (TSXv:GEMC, OTCQB:GBLEF, FSE:5GE1) have announced their application to the TSXv exchange for an early warrant exercise incentive programme to raise funds for exploration on their battery metals projects in the USA.

Scottie Resources (TSXv:SCOT, FRA:SR8) has announced both a lovely intercept of 12.0 g/t Au over 6.05 m and a 100 m extension of the Blueberry Zone on its Scottie Gold Mine project in British Columbia.  The Blueberry Zone lies just 2 km from the past-producing high-grade Scottie Gold Mine, and you can see a schematic of this very interesting body below.

The orebody that Scottie is looking at.
Image via Scottie Resources

Sun Summit Minerals has a new Board member in Purni Parikh, who brings over 25 years of public mining company experience with her.  Good luck to the new Board!

That's the News from the North for this month, stay safe everyone!

  • Jane Lockwood

Jane Lockwood

View posts by Jane Lockwood
Jane Lockwood is an Australian geoscientist living and working in Germany. She holds a Master's of Earth Science (Advanced) from the Australian National University and has spent several years reporting on the junior mining industry for Spotlight Mining, as well as conducting social media management for junior mining companies.