The problems technology creates are most often solved with other technological innovations. During this process, not only do existing conflicts get resolved, but new market opportunities emerge and entrenched power brokers are sometimes stripped of the fleeting chokehold they have over the industry.
Such a development is happening now in the production of titanium as well as the 3TG (tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold) minerals and other rare earth metals.
For those still unaware, the 3TG minerals — also dubbed “conflict minerals” and used heavily in the production of key electronic equipment — have been much in the news lately. The US Congress wants to curb the production of these minerals in war-torn parts of Africa and has mandated the Securities and Exchange Commission to ask companies for information on their sourcing. The industry is rushing to comply but challenges abound.
A UK company may have an answer to that problem. In a recent report, the Economist said tantalum, titanium, and a bunch of other high-value metals could become “cheap and plentiful” if a new extraction and production methodology being developed by British-based Metalysis becomes widely available and as successful as has been demonstrated in small-scale testing.
will transform conflict minerals issues.
Metalysis in a statement on its website said it is “transforming the way metals, rare earth metals and alloys will be produced in the future.” The company further described the technology and what it believes would be the transformative impact on the industry as follows:
Metalysis owns the global rights to a transformational, innovative, platform technology capable of producing a wide range of metals and alloys with a reduced carbon footprint and lower cost. The Metalysis process works by introducing metal oxides into a molten salt bath where it is electrolysed to form metal powders. The process has numerous economical and environmental advantages over its rivals.
It's a tantalizing prospect. If the supply of these minerals become as plentiful as Metalysis imagines its process technology could make it, this could transform the landscape. In the case of the conflict minerals, the situation in the Congo would become less of a millstone hanging around the industry's collective neck. Manufacturers would need limited amount of the minerals to satisfy current demand and even expanded usage for other industries may still not be as problematic since other less contentious mines are opening up globally.
China could see its influence in the production of rare earth metals become severely curtailed, which would be good news for the entire industry. The country has been restricting supply of the rare earths for a while and has been favoring Chinese manufacturers over foreign companies in the allocation of the minerals. While many new mines are opening up elsewhere for rare earth minerals — Japan is leading the charge — China is by far still the dominant supplier and in addition to dictating supply conditions has also jacked up pricing in recent years.
Metalysis's far more efficient production system could put an end to that situation by reinstating fairer demand and supply metrics on the entire industry.
First, though, the British company must perfect the rollout of the technology behind its processing method and secure the extra financing required to expand production. That's the easy bit; the core technology riddle has been solved already.