Not home to high-grade manganese deposits, the U.S. has always relied on foreign sources of supply of the metal, the strategic importance of which was known in the U.S. as early as 1941, when Time Magazine dubbed it “Strategic Metal #1.” At the time, however, the U.S. produced roughly 10% of its annual need domestically, and had hoarded two years’ worth of manganese in the National Defense Stockpile, keeping war time steel production going when foreign supplies dried up.
Today, there is zero domestic production of manganese in the U.S., while the National Defense Stockpile sits empty. China is dominating the manganese market – holding similar challenges as the ones associated with China’s near-total rare earths monopoly. Here’s where domestic extraction of the metals from the ore could be a “game changer for companies vying to fulfill domestic demand,” argues Zhang, pointing out that American Manganese is already working on a new process to extract lower-grade manganese into the sought-after high-purity metal.
While opportunities to free ourselves from our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources are available, much of our success will depend on whether policy makers realize the importance of making it a priority.