Speaker Interview: Michael Silver, CEO, American Elements 

Michael SilverAhead of his speaking slot at the Ceramics Expo Conference, we spoke to Michael Silver, CEO at American Elements about the challenges of sourcing raw materials. Michael will be talking on the ‘Threats to the Global Advanced Ceramics Supply Chain in the 21st Century – Challenges and Solutions’ session on Track 1, Tuesday April 30 at 10:30am. 

Michael Silver is Chairman & CEO of American Elements, the world's largest company dedicated exclusively to advanced materials & materials science. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles with laboratories & manufacturing in Salt Lake City, Utah;  Monterrey, Mexico; Manchester, England; and Baotou, China and warehousing & sales offices in Japan, Brazil, & Germany. Longstanding customers include Siemens, Corning, Philips, GE, Apple, Fiat, Boeing, Space X and Tesla. He is considered a pioneer in the fields of green technology, nanotechnology & robotics. Mr. Silver has appeared on many television shows & is often quoted in the New York Times, Financial Times & Wall Street Journal. He received his law degree & MBA from USC.

How do you think the availability of raw materials will be affected should diplomatic relationships with major suppliers encounter difficulties?

As a global manufacturer and distributor only 55 per cent of our manufacturing and customer base is actually in America. With that perspective, in the long term the critical issue for our customers is the hoarding of materials by nations with sovereign monopolies for the purposes of driving jobs to their economies. A "sovereign monopoly" occurs when a nation holds a sufficient percentage of the known global deposits of a given critical mineral that the country can maintain monopolistic pricing control. The DRC has a monopoly over cobalt. China does on tungsten. Brazil has one for niobium. We saw the issue first play out in 2010 when China began charging foreign customers more for rare earth oxides (of which they control 96 per cent) than domestic facilities through a complex duty, tariff, and quota system. The strategy forced companies such as GE to move glass and ceramic production to China to obtain cheaper raw materials.

The US, Japan, and EU challenged the strategy at the WTO in 2012 and won. However, nothing stops China from exiting the WTO and President Trump has shown distaste for multilateral trade deals such as the WTO. Should China also move toward more bilateral arrangements, the potential for it to return to charging a price differential is significant. This could cause a domino effect with other nations holding sovereign monopolies, like Brazil with niobium, using the advantage as a sword to generate domestic jobs. Since the US has exhausted its domestic mineral deposits, it would have the greatest to lose as a very large nation heavily reliant on manufacturing to support its GDP.


What are you looking forward to most about attending and taking part at the Ceramics Expo?

Innovation! Innovation! Innovation! The Expo has always been an amazing venue of ideas. I try to make it to as many presentations as possible and the poster session in years past have generated critical new research avenues at American Elements, particularly in the area of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell ceramic compositions.


What are your key objectives for American Elements for the next three-to-five years?

American Elements will remain at the forefront of developing cost-effective new materials so our catalogue continues to be the most comprehensive. Our corporate strategy relies heavily on developing materials that meet the cost constraints of the end product manufacturer – never easy. This requires a partnership with our customers so we fully understand our role and can find ways to continually drive down costs to manufacture our products without sacrificing performance or quality assurance.


What are the obstacles which need to be resolved to further the adoption of ceramics?

None really. Ceramics are the future. They're far more useful and flexible in application than glass or metal and there is virtually no specification that a ceramic can't improve on a glass or metal given the development of transparent ceramics and YSZ compositions that are lighter and stronger than steel.

Don't miss Michael's conference session ‘Threats to the Global Advanced Ceramics Supply Chain in the 21st Century – Challenges and Solutions’ taking place on Track 1, Tuesday April 30 at 10:30am.