“Identifying which minerals are ‘critical’ is the easy part. Working out what to do about them is going to be much harder.”
– That’s the conclusion Reuters columnist Andy Home draws in his recent piece on the current Administration’s efforts to develop a strategy to reduce import reliance for metals considered “critical to the economic and national security of the United States.”
Home’s entry point to the issue is a promising mining project in Nebraska aimed at developing Scandium, Niobium and Titanium – all of which have been officially afforded “critical minerals status” in the Department of the Interior’s recently-released list of 35.
“No-one’s mined niobium in the United States since 1959, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The country relies exclusively on imports, mostly from Brazil.
The same is true of scandium, a metal which, according to NioCorp, has been used for several decades in ‘cutting-edge Soviet and Russian military technologies’ but not by the U.S. armed forces due to a lack of supply.”
Thus, he says, it comes as no surprise to find these materials on the list, which features a mix of “supply challenged” tech metals and more conventional materials for which USGS has deemed the entire supply chain “problematic.”
ARPN’s Dan McGroarty has called the list a “great starting point” but also pointed out that it does not include materials like Copper, which “is the gateway to 5 ‘co-product’ metals that are listed as critical, but are not mined in their own right. And the U.S. has a 600,000 MT copper gap each year – the gap between what we consume and what we produce.”
With the list of 35 completed, focus will shift towards the report featuring policy recommendations, which the Commerce Department will have to submit to the President by August 16.
“[I]ncreasing domestic supply across the spectrum of the periodic table is going to be a core recommendation in the report.”
This recommendation, as followers of ARPN know, will hinge largely on the improvement of our nation’s outdated and cumbersome permitting structure for mining projects.
Home also looks at current efforts at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to reduce our over-reliance on foreign mineral imports, which involve keeping our nation’s current “stockpile” of materials current and R&D efforts in the field of recycling and substitution.
The bottom line, however, as Home rightfully argues, is that all of these efforts “can only be part of a broader strategy that will have to be both multidimensional and highly flexible.” In today’s fast-paced high tech world in which the ongoing materials science revolution constantly presents us with new uses for metals and minerals, supply and demand pictures can change dramatically on extremely short notice.
As Home notes, making a critical list is the easy part. For stakeholders the hard part comes next.