The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security
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The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security
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The U.S. aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of its commitment to tackling climate change, but might be lacking the critical minerals needed to achieve its goals.
The American green economy will rely on renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, along with the electrification of transportation. However, local production of the raw materials necessary to produce these technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, is lacking. Understandably, this has raised concerns in Washington.
In this graphic, based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey , we list all of the minerals that the government has deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.
What are Critical Minerals?
A critical mineral is defined as a non-fuel material considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, whose supply may be at risk. This can be due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy, or other factors.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a list of 35 critical minerals . The new list, released in February 2022, contains 15 more commodities.
Much of the increase in the new list is the result of splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as “mineral groups.” In addition, the 2022 list of critical minerals adds nickel and zinc to the list while removing helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium.
|Mineral||Example Uses||Net Import Reliance|
|Beryllium||Alloying agent in aerospace, defense industries||11%|
|Aluminum||Power lines, construction, electronics||13%|
|Zirconium||High-temparature ceramics production||25%|
|Germanium||Fiber optics, night vision applications||50%|
|Nickel||Stainless steel, rechargeable batteries||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||Semi-conductors, lumber 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, steelmaking||100%|
|Gallium||Integrated circuits, LEDs||100%|
|Holmium||Permanent magnets, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Indium||Liquid crystal display screens||100%|
|Lanthanum||Catalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds||100%|
|Lutetium||Scintillators for medical imaging, cancer therapies||100%|
|Neodymium||Rubber catalysts, medical, 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||Metal alloys, lasers||100%|
|Ytterbium||Catalysts, scintillometers, lasers, metallurgy||100%|
|Yttrium||Ceramic, catalysts, lasers, metallurgy, phosphors||100%|
|Iridium||Coating of anodes for electrochemical processes||No data available|
|Rhodium||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 U.S. is that the local production of these raw materials is extremely limited.
For instance, in 2021 there was only one operating nickel mine in the country, the Eagle mine in Michigan. The facility ships its concentrates abroad for refining and is scheduled to close in 2025. Likewise, the country only hosted 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
Perhaps unsurprisingly, China is the single largest supply source of mineral commodities for the United States.
Cesium, a critical metal used in a wide range of manufacturing, is one example. There are only three pegmatite mines in the world that can produce cesium, and all were controlled by Chinese companies in 2021.
Furthermore, China refines nearly 90% of the world’s rare earths . Despite the name, these elements are abundant on the Earth’s crust and make up the majority of listed critical minerals. They are essential for a variety of products like EVs, advanced ceramics, computers, smartphones, wind turbines, monitors, and fiber optics.
After China, the next largest source of mineral commodities to the United States has been Canada, which provided the United States with 16 different elements in 2021.
The Rising Demand for Critical Minerals
As the world’s clean energy transitions gather pace, demand for critical minerals is expected to grow quickly.
According to the International Energy Association, the rise of low-carbon power generation is projected to triple mineral demand from this sector by 2040.
The shift to a sustainable economy is important, and consequently, securing the critical minerals necessary for it is just as vital.
Visualizing Asia’s Dominance in the Titanium Supply Chain
The global titanium supply chain is heavily dependent on Asian countries, including China. See where titanium comes from in this infographic.
Asia’s Dominance in the Titanium Supply Chain
Titanium is a unique metal with important applications in defense, aerospace, automotives, and medicine.
But before making it into all its end uses, titanium goes through a complex supply chain that involves both geopolitical and environmental challenges.
This infographic sponsored by IperionX explores the titanium supply chain and highlights the countries that dominate it.
The Stages of Titanium Production
Titanium’s end-to-end production process typically involves five steps:
The minerals ilmenite and rutile are the primary feedstocks for titanium production. These minerals are partly composed of titanium dioxide, which is later refined into titanium metal.
Sponge metal production
Ilmenite and rutile are refined into titanium sponge using the Kroll refining process.
Ingots and melted products
Titanium sponge is melted into ingots and other melted products.
Finished products like bars, sheets, and tubes are manufactured from ingots. This process typically generates large amounts of machining scrap.
Scrap or waste accounts for large material losses in the supply chain. The current scrap recirculation rate is less than 70%.
The Kroll process of refining titanium minerals to produce sponge metal is an 80-year-old method that involves high energy use and carbon emissions. It’s also heavily dependent on a few countries, primarily in Asia.
The Titanium Supply Chain
The mineral ilmenite accounts for 90% of all titanium mineral consumption. The other feedstock, rutile, is only mined on a small scale.
Here’s a look at the 10 largest ilmenite and rutile producers in 2021:
2021 titanium minerals production
(tonnes of titanium dioxide content)
|% of Total|
|South Africa 🇿🇦||995,000||10%|
China takes up the lion’s share of titanium mineral production at 36% . It produces three times as much of the minerals as Mozambique, the second-largest producer. Meanwhile, the U.S. is grouped with other countries with just 100,000 tonnes in annual production.
Besides titanium mineral extraction, China also dominates the next stage of the supply chain with 57% of global titanium sponge production:
|Country||Titanium sponge production (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦||3,700||2%|
*Represents production capacity for high purity specialty sponge, not available for commercial applications.
Between 2011 and 2021, China expanded its titanium sponge production capacity by 55% . Over the same period, U.S. production capacity almost declined completely, down 98% .
As a result of the lack of domestic production, the U.S. is now heavily reliant on foreign sources of titanium.
Short Supply: Titanium in the U.S.
Around 90% of U.S. titanium consumption is met by net imports, with most of it coming from Japan.
The U.S. uses titanium metal in various sectors, including defense , aerospace, electronics, and transport. With the demand for titanium projected to grow, a domestic titanium supply chain can help the U.S. become independent of imports.
IperionX is a U.S. metals technology company focused on developing the world’s first 100% recycled, low-cost, low-carbon titanium supply chain.
>>>Interested in learning more about IperionX’s titanium production technology? Click here to learn more now.
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