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Beyond the Rare Earths and Battery Criticals – U.S. Armed Services Committee Seeks to Address Supply Chain Challenges for Antimony

Underscoring the growing awareness that our nation’s overreliance on foreign supplies of critical minerals underpinning 21st century technology stretches beyond the much-discussed Rare Earths and battery criticals lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and manganese, the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services has released draft legislation to address China’s stranglehold on the supply chain for antimony.

Used in munitions for national defense as well as civilian applications ranging from flame retardants over wind and hydro turbines and solar panels to large storage batteries, spaceships and semiconductors, to name but a few of its uses, antimony has not only made the United States’ Critical Minerals List, but has also been designated “critical” by Canada, Australia, and the European Union.

While there is potential to re-establish domestic antimony production, currently, there is no current mining of antimony in the United States. China is the lead global antimony producer accounting for 55% of global mine production, followed by Russia at 23%, according to USGS figures.  Already, as USGS notes, “[t]he supply of antimony raw materials and downstream production of antimony products was constrained in 2021 as a result of environmental audits in China and various temporary mine shutdowns to mitigate the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic.”  The Russian invasion of Ukraine and resulting geopolitical tension has further sparked concerns among members of the Armed Services Committee that recent developments could “accelerate supply chain disruptions.” 

Therefore, a report accompanying the draft legislation would require the National Defense Stockpile Manager “to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services not later than September 30, 2022, on the stockpile status of antimony. The briefing shall include not only the status of the current stockpile, but also a 5-year outlook of these minerals and current and future supply chain vulnerabilities.”

It is encouraging to see policy stakeholders are beginning to see our nation’s critical minerals challenge in a broader context stretching beyond the rare earths and battery criticals.  However, as followers of ARPN well know, draft legislation is just the very first stop in a long journey.

Even if legislation is enacted, it unfortunately is not always effectively implemented, as recent correspondence by U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a senior member of the committee, in a series of joint letters to key members of the Biden Administration lamenting the delayed implementation of several critical minerals provisions enacted in 2020 and 2021, shows.

In 2019, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty told U.S. Senators in a hearing on critical mineral supply chain issues, that we “can’t admire the problem anymore. We don’t have the luxury of time.”

That was almost three years ago, and before a global pandemic sent supply chains into turmoil and before Russia decided to invade Ukraine.   The stakes are too high to not act swiftly and comprehensively, in the context of an “all-of-the-above” approach across the entire value chain, from mine to manufacturing.