35 Minerals Absolutely Critical to U.S. National Security
Draft list released by feds on Feb 16th, 2018
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What do cobalt, uranium, helium, titanium, and fluorspar have in common?
According to the U.S. government, these are all minerals that are deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the country.
The draft list of 35 critical minerals was released on February 16, 2018 as the result of President Trump’s Executive Order 13817, which asked the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Secretary of Defense to publish a list of mineral commodities that are vital to U.S. interests.
Under the Executive Order, a critical mineral is defined as:
A non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the United States, the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption…
The list includes minerals that are important for defense, economic, and industrial purposes – and it keys in especially on minerals that are not produced in substantial quantities domestically.
Why These Critical Minerals?
We sorted the list based on some of the key uses of these minerals.
Of course, some of these minerals could belong in multiple categories: for example, vanadium is used as a steel and titanium alloy strengthener, but also in rechargeable vanadium flow batteries.
That said, the important commonality to note for all of these minerals is their crucial link to the U.S. economy and national security.
Preparing for the Worst-Case Scenario
Imagine the hypothetical impact of a lack of uranium for nuclear plants, a hampered ability to create high-strength steel and superalloys for the U.S. military, or if U.S. auto manufacturers had limited access to aluminum, steel, PGMs, and battery metals.
The challenge, as U.S. federal authorities realize, is that many of these raw materials are produced in limited amounts domestically. In fact, according to the USGS, the country sources at least 31 of the aforementioned materials chiefly through imports.
While it is unlikely that these supply chains would ever be disrupted, it’s never a bad idea to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. National Security
Ten materials, including cobalt, lithium, graphite, and rare earths, are deemed critical by all three.
The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. Security
Governments formulate lists of critical minerals according to their industrial requirements and strategic evaluations of supply risks.
Over the last decade, minerals like nickel, copper, and lithium have been on these lists and deemed essential for clean technologies like EV batteries and solar and wind power.
What are Critical Minerals?
There is no universally accepted definition of critical minerals. Countries and regions maintain lists that mirror current technology requirements and supply and demand dynamics, among other factors.
These lists are also constantly changing. For example, the EU’s first critical minerals list in 2011 featured only 14 raw materials. In contrast, the 2023 version identified 34 raw materials as critical.
One thing countries share, however, is the concern that a lack of minerals could slow down the energy transition.
With most countries committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the total mineral demand from clean energy technologies is expected to double by 2040.
U.S. and EU Seek to Reduce Import Reliance on Critical Minerals
Ten materials feature on critical material lists of both the U.S., the EU, and China, including cobalt, lithium, graphite, and rare earths.
|Mineral / Considered Critical||🇺🇸 U.S.||🇪🇺 EU||🇨🇳 China|
Despite having most of the same materials found in the U.S. or China’s list, the European list is the only one to include phosphate rock. The region has limited phosphate resources (only produced in Finland) and largely depends on imports of the material essential for manufacturing fertilizers.
Coking coal is also only on the EU list. The material is used in the manufacture of pig iron and steel. Production is currently dominated by China (58%), followed by Australia (17%), Russia (7%), and the U.S. (7%).
The U.S. has also sought to reduce its reliance on imports. Today, the country is 100% import-dependent on manganese and graphite and 76% on cobalt.
After decades of sourcing materials from other countries, the U.S. local production of raw materials has become extremely limited. For instance, there is only one operating nickel mine (primary) in the country, the Eagle Mine in Michigan. Likewise, the country only hosts one lithium source in Nevada, the Silver Peak Mine.
Despite being the world’s biggest carbon polluter, China is the largest producer of most of the world’s critical minerals for the green revolution.
China produces 60% of all rare earth elements used as components in high-technology devices, including smartphones and computers. The country also has a 13% share of the lithium production market. In addition, it refines around 35% of the world’s nickel, 58% of lithium, and 70% of cobalt.
Among some of the unique materials on China’s list is gold. Although gold is used on a smaller scale in technology, China has sought gold for economic and geopolitical factors, mainly to diversify its foreign exchange reserves, which rely heavily on the U.S. dollar.
Analysts estimate China has bought a record 400 tonnes of gold in recent years.
China has also slated uranium as a critical mineral. The Chinese government has stated it intends to become self-sufficient in nuclear power plant capacity and fuel production for those plants.
According to the World Nuclear Association, China aims to produce one-third of its uranium domestically.
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