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  • Writer's pictureCMA USA

What is a critical mineral and, what is 'critical' to the U.S.?

Critical minerals form the foundation of the modern world, yet their supply chains are often complex and face risks of disruption.





Critical Minerals


Critical minerals are necessary for the manufacture of high-technology devices, national defense applications, and green growth-related industries.


The Energy Act of 2020 defines a 'critical mineral' as a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic or national security of the U.S. and which has a supply chain vulnerable to disruption.

Critical minerals are also characterized as serving an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the economy or national security.


CMA USA splits critical minerals, metals and materials into three groups:


Critical Minerals

Minerals and metals that are necessary for the industrial objectives of a country or company. Most of these have supply chain vulnerabilities.


Technology Metals

Metals that are necessary to make new technology work. These have limited supply chain vulnerabilities.


Strategic Minerals

Minerals and metals of diplomatic or defense importance.


 

Criticality


'Criticality' in turn can be interpreted more broadly by governments and industries, depending on national ambitions, industrial strategies and diplomatic goals. For example, nations that want to protect their leadership in a certain market, but are reliant on an adversary for the supply of a certain critical mineral, are likely to view that mineral, metal or material as critical.


Criticality can fluctuate rapidly due to ambitions, goals, diplomatic alliances, geopolitical developments, technological progress and supply chain disruptions. Critical minerals supply chains involve complex, often global, ecosystems that rely on one another to operate smoothly. Examples of supply chain disruptions include:

  • Trade disputes, sanctions, embargoes, export restrictions, nationalisation

  • War, conflicts

  • Market manipulations

  • Natural disaster

  • Logistical delays, congestion, mismanagement

  • Pandemics

  • Cyber attacks

  • Economic shocks


 

U.S. Critical Minerals Lists


The U.S. has two critical minerals lists, one published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and another specific to the Department of Energy (DOE). Minerals on the DOE list are eligible for Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) incentives.


USGS list includes: aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cerium, cesium, chromium, cobalt, dysprosium, erbium, europium, fluorspar, gadolinium, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, holmium, indium, iridium, lanthanum, lithium, lutetium, magnesium, manganese, neodymium, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, praseodymium, rhodium, rubidium, ruthenium, samarium, scandium, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thulium, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, ytterbium, yttrium, zinc, and zirconium.


DOE list includes aluminum, cobalt, copper, dysprosium, electrical steel (grain-oriented steel, non-grain-oriented steel, and amorphous steel), fluorine, gallium, iridium, lithium, magnesium, natural graphite, neodymium, nickel, platinum, praseodymium, terbium, silicon, and silicon carbide.


DOE Criticality Assessment


The DOE assessment only considers 12 minerals, metals and materials as 'critical' in its medium term (2023-2035) assessment. However, non-fuel metals, minerals and materials of relative importance and higher supply risk have also been added to the DOE list.





Defense Logistics Agency


The DLE also lists 'materials of interest' many of which are critical minerals.



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