Rare Earth elementsThe U.S. Is Worried about Its Critical Minerals Supply Chains – Essential for Electric Vehicles, Wind Power and the Nation’s Defense

By Jordy Lee and Morgan Bazilian

Published 7 April 2021

When U.S. companies build military weapons systems, electric vehicle batteries, satellites and wind turbines, they rely heavily on a few dozen “critical minerals” – many of which are mined and refined almost entirely by other countries. Building a single F-35A fighter jet, for example, requires at least 920 pounds of rare earth elements that come primarily from China. That level of dependence on imports worries the U.S. government.

When U.S. companies build military weapons systems, electric vehicle batteries, satellites and wind turbines, they rely heavily on a few dozen “critical minerals” – many of which are mined and refined almost entirely by other countries. Building a single F-35A fighter jet, for example, requires at least 920 pounds of rare earth elements that come primarily from China.

That level of dependence on imports worries the U.S. government.

Natural disasters, civil unrest, trade disputes and company failures can all disrupt a mineral supply chain and the many products that depend on it – making many critical minerals a national security priority.

The U.S. has increased its strategic planning and investment in reliable supply chains in recent years, particularly as China has moved to increase control over critical mineral exports, but the U.S.‘s own mining and recycling of these minerals is still small. This is due in part to how environmentally destructive and polluting many mining and processing operations can be, but also because policy measures are only recently being explored and funded. The U.S. now has a review underway of critical mineral supply chains, and the Department of Energy recently pledged up to US$30 million, on top of funding included in the December pandemic aid package and a 2020 support package for mining.

The question policy experts like ourselves are exploring is how best to provide sustainable and secure critical mineral supply chains in a way that limits environmental damage and promotes good governance.

The list: 35 critical minerals

Critical minerals earn their name from their vital role in products Americans rely on every day.

Over the last 60 years, the U.S. has doubled the number of these minerals it is 100% reliant on other countries to provide. Of the 35 critical minerals identified by the U.S. in 2018, 28 are at least 50% imported.

The U.S. critical minerals list has changed since it was first created by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1973. Many of the same minerals are there, including rare earth elements and lithium, but their relative importance in 1973 was for petroleum refining and making glass, among other goods.

The list today reflects the essential role that renewable energy, electric vehicles and advanced defense technologies have in the U.S. economy – and the specialized alloys, magnets and catalysts that enable them. These include batteries and electric motors, but also missile guidance systems, communications and even satellites.

Hits: 0

Perspecta Labs wins $8.1 million in 5G contracts Public health, pandemic | Homeland Security Newswire