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 aerospace and defense industries||11%|
|Aluminum||Power lines, construction, electronics||13%|
|Zirconium||Production of high temperature ceramics||25%|
|Germanium||Fiber optics, night vision applications||50%|
|Nickel||Stainless steel, rechargeable batteries||50%|
|Tungsten||Wear resistant metals||50%|
|Tin||Coatings, alloys for steel||75%|
|Cobalt||Rechargeable batteries, superalloys||76%|
|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%|
|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%|
|Holmium||Permanent magnets, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Lanthanum||Catalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds||100%|
|Lutetium||Scintillators for medical imaging, cancer therapy||100%|
|Manganese||Steel industry, batteries||100%|
|neodymium||Rubber catalysts, medical and industrial lasers||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.