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The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. National Security

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The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. National Security

The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. Security

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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.

This graphic uses IRENA and the U.S. Department of Energy data to identify which minerals are essential to China, the United States, and the European Union.

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.

The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. Security

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
Aluminum/ bauxiteYesYesYes
AntimonyYesYesYes
CobaltYesYesYes
Copper YesYesYes
FluorsparYesYesYes
GraphiteYesYesYes
LithiumYesYesYes
NickelYesYesYes
Rare earths YesYesYes
TungstenYesYesYes
ArsenicYesYesNo
BariteYesYesNo
BerylliumYesYesNo
BismuthYesYesNo
GermaniumYesYesNo
HafniumYesYesNo
MagnesiumYesYesNo
ManganeseYesYesNo
NiobiumYesYesNo
PlatinumYesYesNo
TantalumYesYesNo
TitaniumYesYesNo
VanadiumYesYesNo
TinYesNoYes
ZirconiumYesNoYes
Phosphorus NoYesYes
CesiumYesNoNo
ChromiumYesNoNo
IndiumYesNoNo
RubidiumYesNoNo
SamariumYesNoNo
TelluriumYesNoNo
ZincYesNoNo
BoronNoYesNo
Coking CoalNoYesNo
FeldsparNoYesNo
GalliumNoYesNo
HeliumNoYesNo
Phosphate Rock NoYesNo
ScandiumNoYesNo
SiliconNoYesNo
StrontiumNoYesNo
Gold NoNoYes
Iron ore NoNoYes
MolybdenumNoNoYes
Potash NoNoYes
UraniumNoNoYes

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.

China’s Dominance

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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Mining

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

China produces more than half the world’s steel.

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Voronoi graphic showing top raw steel producers in 2023.

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Steel is essential for the economy due to its crucial role in infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

This graphic breaks down the estimated global production of raw steel in 2023. The data was sourced from the U.S. Geological Survey as of January 2024.

China Produces More Than Half the World’s Steel

One major issue facing the steel industry is overcapacity in top producer China.

Steel production in China has surpassed demand in recent years, leading to downward pressure on the profit margins of steel mills worldwide.

Historically, China’s troubled real estate sector has accounted for over one-third of the country’s steel consumption. To address this issue, the Chinese government has mandated steel production cuts since 2021.

Far behind China, India is the second-biggest producer of steel, followed by Japan.

CountryRegion2023 Production (million tonnes)
🇨🇳 ChinaAsia1,000
🇮🇳 IndiaAsia140
🇯🇵 JapanAsia87
🇺🇸 U.S.North America80
🇷🇺 RussiaEurope75
🇰🇷 S. KoreaAsia68
🌍 Rest of World420
Total1,870

Infinite Recyclability

Steel is an alloy primarily composed of iron ore containing less than 2% carbon, 1% manganese, and other trace elements. It is 1,000 times stronger than iron and can be recycled over and over without sacrificing quality.

Steel is widely used in various industries. It is a fundamental material in construction, providing support through beams, internal structures, and roofing.

Moreover, steel’s corrosion-resistant properties make it ideal for water infrastructure. Stainless steel pipes are the preferred choice for underground water systems, ensuring longevity and purity in water transportation.

Additionally, most canned foods are stored in steel containers for preservation, as steel does not rust.

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