The New Energy Era: The Impact of Critical Minerals on National Security
In 1954, the United States was only fully reliant on foreign sources for eight mineral commodities.
Fast forward 60+ years, and the country now depends on foreign sources for 20 such materials, including ones essential for military and battery technologies.
This puts the U.S. in a precarious position, depending largely on China and other foreign nations for the crucial materials such as lithium, cobalt, and rare earth metals that can help build and secure a more sustainable future.
America’s Energy Dependence
Today’s visualization comes from Standard Lithium, and it outlines China’s dominance of the critical minerals needed for the new energy era.
Which imported minerals create the most risk for U.S. supply chains and national security?
Natural Resources and Development
Gaining access to natural resources can influence a nation’s ability to grow and defend itself. China’s growth strategy took this into account, and the country sourced massive amounts of raw materials to position the country as the number one producer and consumer of commodities.
By the end of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, China’s mining industry was largely in ruins. After the war, vast amounts of raw materials were required to rebuild the country.
In the late 1970s, the industry was boosted by China’s “reform and opening” policies, and since then, China’s mining outputs have increased enormously. China’s mining and material industries fueled the rapid growth of China from the 1980s onwards.
Supply Chain Dominance
A large number of Chinese mining companies also invest in overseas mining projects. China’s “going out” strategy encourages companies to move into overseas markets.
They have several reasons to mine beyond its shores: to secure mineral resources that are scarce in China, to gain access to global markets and mineral supply chains, and to minimize domestic overproduction of some mineral commodities.
This has led to China to become the leading producer of many of the world’s most important metals while also securing a commanding position in key supply chains.
As an example of this, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of rare earth materials. The country produces approximately 94% of the rare earth oxides and around 100% of the rare earth metals consumed globally, with 50% going to domestic consumption.
U.S.-China Trade Tensions
The U.S. drafted a list of 35 critical minerals in 2018 that are vital to national security, and according to the USGS, the country sources at least 31 of the materials chiefly through imports.
China is the third largest supplier of natural resources to the U.S. behind Canada and Mexico.
|Rank||Country||U.S. Minerals Imports By Country ($US, 2018)|
This dependence on China poses a risk. In 2010, a territorial dispute between China and Japan threatened to disrupt the supply of the rare earth elements. Today, a similar threat still looms over trade tensions between the U.S. and China.
China’s scale of influence over critical minerals means that it could artificially limit supply and move prices in the global clean energy trade, in the same way that OPEC does with oil. This would leave nations that import their mineral needs in an expensive and potentially limiting spot.
Moon Shot: Building Domestic Supply and Production
Every supply chain starts with raw materials. The U.S. had the world’s largest lithium industry until the 1990s—but this is no longer the case, even though the resources are still there.
The U.S. holds 12% of the world’s identified lithium resources, but only produces 2% of global production from a single mine in Nevada.
There are a handful of companies looking to develop the U.S. lithium reserves, but there is potential for so much more. Less than 18% of the U.S. land mass is geologically mapped at a scale suited to identifying new mineral deposits.
The United States has the resources, it is just a question of motivation. Developing domestic resources can reduce its foreign dependence, and enable it to secure the new energy era.
In the clean energy economy of the future, critical minerals will be just as essential—and geopolitical—as oil is today.
Mapped: Renewable Energy and Battery Installations in the U.S. in 2023
This graphic describes new U.S. renewable energy installations by state along with nameplate capacity, planned to come online in 2023.
Renewable and Battery Installations in the U.S. in 2023
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Renewable energy, in particular solar power, is set to shine in 2023. This year, the U.S. plans to get over 80% of its new energy installations from sources like battery, solar, and wind.
The above map uses data from EIA to highlight planned U.S. renewable energy and battery storage installations by state for 2023.
Texas and California Leading in Renewable Energy
Nearly every state in the U.S. has plans to produce new clean energy in 2023, but it’s not a surprise to see the two most populous states in the lead of the pack.
Even though the majority of its power comes from natural gas, Texas currently leads the U.S. in planned renewable energy installations. The state also has plans to power nearly 900,000 homes using new wind energy.
California is second, which could be partially attributable to the passing of Title 24, an energy code that makes it compulsory for new buildings to have the equipment necessary to allow the easy installation of solar panels, battery storage, and EV charging.
New solar power in the U.S. isn’t just coming from places like Texas and California. In 2023, Ohio will add 1,917 MW of new nameplate solar capacity, with Nevada and Colorado not far behind.
|Top 10 States||Battery (MW)||Solar (MW)||Wind (MW)||Total (MW)|
The state of New York is also looking to become one of the nation’s leading renewable energy providers. The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) is making real strides towards this objective with 11% of the nation’s new wind power projects expected to come online in 2023.
According to the data, New Hampshire is the only state in the U.S. that has no new utility-scale renewable energy installations planned for 2023. However, the state does have plans for a massive hydroelectric plant that should come online in 2024.
Renewable energy is considered essential to reduce global warming and CO2 emissions.
In line with the efforts by each state to build new renewable installations, the Biden administration has set a goal of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.
The EIA forecasts the share of U.S. electricity generation from renewable sources rising from 22% in 2022 to 23% in 2023 and to 26% in 2024.
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