June 20, 2022

Why Are “Critical Minerals” Critical?

Mineral commodities are an essential part of our daily life and the overall functionality of our county. We need minerals in all industries including consumer electronics, agriculture, transportation, defense, food, construction and so on. Since the production of most of minerals are limited to specific nations, the security and risk of the supply change is affected by the political and social factors of the countries which are the producers. Moreover, the environmental and health and safety standards also influence the supply of these minerals. Therefore, many governments including the US have started enforcing policies and regulations to ensure a sustainable supply chain and delivery system for the group of minerals that are vital to the security and economy of the country.

Based on the Energy Act of 2020, critical minerals are those non-fuel mineral materials that:

  • are vital to the national and economic security of the US and
  • have a supply chain vulnerable to disruption and
  • are essential for manufacturing of products that are critical to the nation’s security and economic prosperity.
Image Credit and Copyright: US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Currently, the US is heavily dependent on importing these commodities from other countries specifically China and Russia. Since most of these commodities have applications in defense, high-tech industry and space sectors, the US national security is in a vulnerable position. In addition, these materials have significant applications in the renewable energy and infrastructure sectors which are crucial to the greatness of the country.

In 2018, the Department of the Interior drafted a preliminary list of 35 minerals and metals that looked critical and vital. This list has been updated since then and as of 2022, there are 50 minerals and metals that are added to the list which includes:

  • Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cerium, cesium, chromium, cobalt, dysprosium, erbium, europium, fluorspar, gadolinium, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, holmium, indium, iridium, lanthanum, lithium, lutetium, magnesium, manganese, neodymium, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, praseodymium, rhodium, rubidium, ruthenium, samarium, scandium, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thulium, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, ytterbium, yttrium, zinc, and zirconium.

Most of the critical minerals are in fact chemical elements from the periodic table of elements which are highlighted in Figure below.

Image Credit and Copyright: The Virginia Department of Energy

Therefore, it will be very critical for the US to develop domestic resources of these minerals to establish a sustainable and reliable supply chain. In addition, exploring the potential off-shore resources would also be beneficial. Currently, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is evaluating the potential economic resources of critical minerals in the oceans and seas within the US Government control.

Image Credit and Copyright: US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

What are your thoughts on the importance of Critical minerals? Do you agree that the US needs to invest on the domestic resources? Please leave your comments.

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