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%
Palladium Catalytic converters 40%
Germanium Fiber optics, night vision applications 50%
Lithium Rechargeable batteries 50%
Magnesium Alloys, electronics 50%
Nickel Stainless steel, rechargeable batteries 50%
Tungsten Wear-resistant metals 50%
Barite Hydrocarbon production 75%
Chromium Stainless steel 75%
Tin Coatings, alloys for steel 75%
Cobalt Rechargeable batteries, superalloys 76%
Platinum Catalytic converters 79%
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%
Cesium Research, development 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%
Graphite Lubricants, batteries 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%
Manganese Steelmaking, batteries 100%
Neodymium Rubber catalysts, medical, industrial lasers 100%
Niobium Steel, superalloys 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.