Strategic Metals: Where To Dig For Information Sources & Resources

February 29, 2012

 

However, and it is often a big “however,” sometimes the data used in these reports can be either out of date, or just inaccurate. In the EC documents, for example, some of the most up-to-date figures date back as far as 2008. And a number of data in the latest DoE strategy document are based on extensive revisions of the previous year’s figures.

In other instances, figures and illustrations can be confusing. A state of affairs that, unfortunately, can be compounded as they are copied from one “research” document to another, on the basis of a prior document’s “authority.”

For example, those interested specifically in gallium might have turned to page 114 in the European Commission Joint Research Centre Institute for Energy and Transport’s “Critical Metals in Strategic Energy Technologies” published last October. There they would have seen a nice little pie chart showing the metal’s “Economic Importance” (with, however, no date for the data) taken from the aforementioned Annex V (page 75).

Anybody with a wee bit of prior knowledge of the metal may have been a little confused by it, not least by the fact that R&D accounted for some 14 percent of consumption! Only after a little more digging, however, would you have found that its source is a report by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute that, itself, used figures relating to domestic consumption of the metal in the form of gallium arsenide in the U.S. There is nothing accompanying the chart to indicate whether this is “global” importance, or importance only to the U.S., although one is rather led to believe that it is global.

(Since, however, in 2008 alone (see the DoE’s 2010 Critical Materials Strategy, page 39), U.S. domestic consumption of gallium was estimated to account only for some 25 percent of global consumption — Japan was at the time (and remains) a considerably larger consumer of the metal than the U.S.

Even though clarification may, perhaps, have been useful if this chart were going to be used going forward, this did not, however, prevent the very same illustration being used (without comment or gloss), and the confusion being compounded further.

Unfortunately for policymakers and those interested in the metal (including investors), as the chart stands in both documents, it provides a somewhat misleading picture of how things actually are (it is now very out of date) — unless you are prepared to go back through the chain of sources used to produce it. Something very few of us are prepared actually to do.

So, even if something appears in an official publication, continue to treat what you read with a degree of tempered skepticism, and, should you have the time, backtrack on any of the sources that may be quoted.

 

Afterword

Of course, in addition to all the “official,” and “semiofficial” sources and resources mentioned above, there are degrees of magnitude more of such out there that could in no way be described as “official.” Some are excellent, and some are, frankly, dreadful. All, however, whether official or unofficial, will, to a greater or lesser degree, have an agenda. Just try to remain aware of this.

It is easy to become bamboozled by myriad figures and dicta, and equally easy to let pass statements that might, perhaps, require a bit more attention.

Consider carefully, for example, just this single simple statement taken from the latest DoE Critical Materials Strategy document: “Since the release of the 2010 Critical Materials Strategy, silicon prices have dropped sharply, making traditional crystalline silicon PV cells much more cost competitive with thin-film cells” (page 140). When were thin-film cells ever cost competitive?!

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