Metal Tech News - September 21, 2022
Geopolitical tensions with China and Russia's war with Ukraine has the Pentagon concerned about securing domestic supplies of antimony, a metal-like element that is critical to military hardware and emerging renewable energy storage technologies.
To investigate the potential of securing this supply from an Idaho antimony mine that was attributed to saving 1 million American soldiers during World War II, the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Perpetua Resources Corp. with two grants to study the domestic production of military-grade antimony trisulfide, an essential component in ammunition and dozens of other defense materials.
"Antimony from the Stibnite Gold Project site served our national defense needs during World War II and Perpetua is confident we can be part of the solution again," said Perpetua Resources President and CEO Laurel Sayer.
Being administered through DOD's Defense Logistics Agency, the two $100,000 grants will provide Perpetua with funding to evaluate whether antimony from Stibnite can meet military specifications to help secure America's defense and commercial ammunition supply chain, as well as evaluate alternate methods for purifying antimony trisulfide.
"We are grateful for this opportunity to work with the Department of Defense to demonstrate that our Project can develop reliable and domestically sourced antimony trisulfide for defense and commercial ammunition," Sayer added.
Antimony is a metalloid – which means it falls between metals such as zinc and solid nonmetals like sulfur – with some interesting properties that make it a strategic material for America's military.
This semimetal is credited with saving countless American troops during World War II due to antimony-based fireproofing compounds applied to tents and vehicle covers.
Over the eight decades since the end of World War II, antimony continues to save innumerable lives – from soldiers in the field to babies in the nursery – by lending its flame-resistant properties to clothing, mattresses, toys, electronic devices, aircraft, and automobile seat covers.
Antimony is also used in night vision goggles, laser sighting equipment and a wide range of other military applications. Pentagon's biggest need for this metalloid, however, is in alloys used to make small and medium caliber munitions, mortars, artillery, mines, flares, grenades, and missiles.
In addition to its military uses, antimony is increasingly being used as a primary ingredient in liquid-metal batteries that can store electricity at the grid scale, a key enabler to the transition to intermittent renewable energy sources.
Antimony and its military, industry, and clean energy applications are covered in greater detail at Antimony at top of strategic concerns in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine published by Metal Tech News on September 12, 2022.
Despite its strategic value to the Pentagon and critical applications in the private sector, no marketable antimony is being mined in the U.S. Instead, America depends on oft adversarial countries for more than 80% of its needs, with the rest coming from recycling.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, China, Russia, and Tajikistan accounted for roughly 90% of the antimony produced globally during 2021.
In a June 8 National Defense Authorization Act report, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee said it "is concerned about recent geopolitical dynamics with Russia and China and how that could accelerate supply chain disruptions, particularly with antimony."
Due to this concern, the committee has directed the manager of the National Defense Stockpile at the Defense Logistics Agency to provide a briefing on the status of the antimony stockpile and provide a five-year outlook on current and future supply chain vulnerabilities.
The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee also included $10 million in its bill for the Army to study domestic sourcing and production of military-grade antimony trisulfide for tank and medium caliber ammunition.
Further details of U.S. efforts to secure strategic domestic supplies of antimony can be read at Russia's war heightens antimony concerns in the June 22, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.
As a company already advancing a mine project in Idaho to supply the antimony needed for liquid-metal batteries – a new form of large-scale energy storage that is a safer and less expensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries for storing solar and wind-generated electricity – Perpetua Resources applied for two $100,000 antimony grants offered by Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency.
The first program will test existing samples of antimony trisulfide ore from Perpetua's Stibnite Gold project for development into military specification quality antimony trisulfide. The second program will study alternative processing technologies for producing this military-grade antimony trisulfide from high-purity antimony metal.
After the completion of this initial phase of testing, a second phase of funding could be made available next year for more advanced stage pilot-scale testing
Together, the two phases of these programs aim to confirm Stibnite's ability to provide the domestic antimony source needed to meet the defense procurement demand and support commercial markets.
"It would be a great honor to support the independence of our country's defense supply chains and the brave men and women who serve our country," Sayer said.
Perpetua entered into the permitting process for the Stibnite project in 2016 and is currently on track to get final regulatory approvals under the federal National Environmental Policy Act to begin mine construction around the end of next year.