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The 50 Minerals Essential to America’s Security

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The United States is aiming to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as part of its commitment to fight climate change, but could miss the essential minerals needed to meet its goals.

America’s green economy will rely on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as the electrification of transportation. However, local production of the raw materials needed to produce these technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, is lacking. Naturally, this raised concerns in Washington.

In this chart, based on data from the US Geological Survey, we list all of the minerals that the government has deemed essential to the economic and national security of the United States.

What are Critical Minerals?

A critical mineral is defined as a non-combustible material considered vital to the economic well-being of the world’s major emerging economies, the supply of which may be at risk. This may be due to geological rarity, geopolitical issues, trade policy, or other factors.

In 2018, the US Department of the Interior released a list of 35 critical minerals. The new list, published in February 2022, contains 15 more products.

Much of the increase in the new list is the result of splitting rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as “mineral groups”. Additionally, the 2022 list of critical minerals adds nickel and zinc to the list while removing helium, potash, rhenium and strontium.

Mineral Examples of uses Net import dependency
Beryllium Alloying agent in the aerospace and defense industries 11%
Aluminum Power lines, construction, electronics 13%
Zirconium Production of high temperature ceramics 25%
Palladium Catalytic converters 40%
Germanium Fiber optics, night vision applications 50%
Lithium Rechargeable batteries 50%
Magnesium Alloys, electronics 50%
Nickel Stainless steel, rechargeable batteries 50%
Tungsten Wear resistant metals 50%
Barite Hydrocarbon production 75%
Chromium Stainless steel 75%
Tin Coatings, alloys for steel 75%
Cobalt Rechargeable batteries, superalloys 76%
Platinum Catalytic converters 79%
Antimony Lead acid batteries, flame retardants 81%
Zinc Metallurgy to produce galvanized steel 83%
Titanium White pigment, metal alloys 88%
Bismuth Medical, atomic research 94%
Tellurium Solar cells, thermoelectric devices 95%
Vanadium Alloying agent for iron and steel 96%
Arsenic Semiconductors, wood preservatives, pesticides 100%
Cerium Catalytic converters, ceramics, glass, metallurgy 100%
cesium research 100%
Dysprosium Data storage devices, lasers 100%
Erbium Fiber optics, optical amplifiers, lasers 100%
Europium Phosphors, nuclear control rods 100%
Fluorspar Manufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline 100%
Gadolinium Medical imaging, steel industry 100%
Gallium Integrated circuits, LEDs 100%
Graphite Lubricants, batteries 100%
Holmium Permanent magnets, nuclear control rods 100%
Indium LCD screens 100%
Lanthanum Catalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds 100%
Lutetium Scintillators for medical imaging, cancer therapies 100%
Manganese Steel industry, batteries 100%
neodymium Rubber catalysts, medical and industrial lasers 100%
Niobium Steel, superalloys 100%
Praseodymium Permanent magnets, batteries, aerospace alloys 100%
Rubidium Research, development in electronics 100%
Samarium Cancer treatment, absorber in nuclear reactors 100%
scandium Alloys, ceramics, fuel cells 100%
Tantalum Electronic components, superalloys 100%
Terbium Permanent magnets, fiber optics, lasers 100%
Thulium Metallic alloys, lasers 100%
Ytterbium Catalysts, scintillometers, lasers, metallurgy 100%
Yttrium Ceramics, catalysts, lasers, metallurgy, phosphors 100%
Iridium Coating of anodes for electrochemical processes no data available
Rhodium plated Catalytic converters, electrical components no data available
Ruthenium Electrical contacts, chip resistors in computers no data available
Hafnium Nuclear control rods, alloys net exporter

The challenge for the United States is that local production of these raw materials is extremely limited.

For example, in 2021 there was only one operating nickel mine in the country, the Eagle mine in Michigan. The facility ships its concentrates overseas for refining and is expected to close in 2025. Similarly, the country was home to only one lithium mine, the Silver Peak Mine in Nevada.

At the same time, most of the country’s supply of critical minerals depends on countries that have historically competed with America.

China’s dominance in minerals

It is perhaps unsurprising that China is the primary source of mineral commodities for the United States.

An example is cesium, an essential metal used in a wide range of manufacturing. There are only three pegmatite mines in the world that can produce cesium, and all of them were controlled by Chinese companies in 2021.

In addition, China refines nearly 90% of the world’s rare earths. Despite their name, these elements are abundant in the earth’s crust and make up the majority of the critical minerals listed. They are essential for a variety of products such as electric vehicles, advanced ceramics, computers, smartphones, wind turbines, monitors and fiber optics.

After China, the second largest source of mineral raw materials for the United States was Canada, which supplied the United States with 16 different elements in 2021.

Growing demand for critical minerals

As clean energy transitions around the world accelerate, demand for critical minerals is expected to increase rapidly.

According to the International Energy Association, increasing low-carbon electricity generation is expected to triple demand for minerals from this sector by 2040.

The transition to a sustainable economy is important and therefore securing the essential minerals it requires is equally vital.

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