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DoD-led “100-Day” Supply Chain Assessment Concludes We Need “All of The Above” Approach to Critical Mineral Resource Security

Last week, the Biden Administration released the findings of its 100-day supply chain review initiated by Executive Order 14017 – “America’s Supply Chains.”

From a Critical Minerals perspective, there is a lot to unpack in the 250-page report, and we’ll be digging into the various chapters and issues over the next few days and weeks.

First up: a closer look at the Review of Critical Minerals and Materials,” an “interagency assessment for which the Department of Defense served as the lead” — not least because we were pleased to find ARPN’s call for an “all of the above approach” to mineral resource security echoed in the chapter. Rather than attempting a comprehensive full-chapter summary, we’ll highlight some key findings of interest to followers of ARPN:

The Department of Defense defines strategic and critical minerals as “those that support military and essential civilian industry; and are not found or produced in the United States in quantities to meet our needs.”

The agency notes that in the three decades since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the subsequent reorientation of global supply chains has fundamentally changed the landscape for strategic and critical minerals. With the rise of China, and availability of supplies that were previously locked behind the Iron Curtain, “[t]rade liberalization and global, just-in-time supply chains became the order of the day,” and the prioritization of economic efficiency over “diversity and sustainability of supply” contributed to a slow “erosion of manufacturing capabilities.”

While supply chains became more complex, DoD laments that with the the impetus for national mobilization programs falling by the wayside “core capabilities at non-defense agencies to study, characterize and mitigate risk in the strategic and critical materials sector atrophied.”

DoD finds that today’s concentration of global supply chains for strategic and critical materials in China — a reality the American public has increasingly become aware of in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, “creates risk of disruption and of politicized trade practices, including the use of forced labor.”

In its assessment of mitigation strategies, DoD looks at various sources of supply and concludes that

“[t]hough increasing recycling rates for strategic and critical materials is advantageous, recycling alone is typically inadequate to supply the volumes of material required for domestic consumption. Even if 100 percent recycling rates were achieved for a particular supply chain, increasing demand necessitates primary production.”

The agency notes that “complex extraction, chemical, and refining operations, establishing strategic and critical material production is an extremely lengthy process. Independent of permitting activities, a reasonable industry benchmark for the development of a mineral-based strategic and critical materials project is not less than ten years.”

In its risk assessment, aside from looking at “concentration of supply,” “skills and human capital development gaps” and “conflict minerals,” as well as trade and market dynamics, DoD also highlights the importance of “byproduct and coproduct dependency,” an issue complex of which followers of ARPN are well-aware.

To alleviate risk, DoD suggests the following:

“Reliable, secure, and resilient supplies of key strategic and critical materials are essential to the U.S. economy and national defense. The United States needs an ‘all of the above’ comprehensive strategy to increase the resilience of strategic and critical material supply chains that both expands sustainable production and processing capacity and works with allies and partners to ensure secure global supply.”

Specifically, the agency recommends a strategy focused on the following:

  • Developing and Fostering New Sustainability Standards for Strategic and Critical Material- Intensive Industries
  • Expanding Sustainable Domestic Production and Processing Capacity, Including Recovery from Secondary and Unconventional Sources and Recycling
  • Deploying the DPA — specifically Title III — and Other Programs
  • Convene Industry Stakeholders to Expand Production
  • Promote Interagency Research & Development to Support Sustainable Production and a Technically-Skilled Workforce
  • Strengthen U.S. Stockpiles
  • Work with Allies and Partners and Strengthen Global Supply Chain Transparency

DoD’s conclusion:

“Today, at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, a new industrial era of low-carbon and increasingly energy efficient products is converging with autonomous and Internet-of-Things devices, which may lead to massive gains in productivity and economic growth. If the United States wants to capture the full benefits of this new era, we must also look to the sustainability of our strategic and critical materials supply chains. The Department of Defense can play an important role, but the Department cannot carry-out this task alone. This is a task for the Nation.

The U.S. Government, collectively, has examined the risk in strategic and critical materials supply chains for decades. Now is the time for decisive, comprehensive action by the Biden-Harris Administration, by the Congress, and by stakeholders from industry and non-governmental organizations to support sustainable production and conservation of strategic and critical materials.”

In the wake of several media reports that the Biden Administration would pursue a more selective strategy focused primarily on domestic processing rather than also supporting increased domestic production, it is encouraging to see DoD — and the Biden Administration as a whole — endorse a broad-based “all of the above” approach to mineral resource security. With the strategy now in place, ARPN will look for signs that the U.S. Government with transform those recommendations into reality, via policy, programs and projects that address the deep shortfalls in Critical Mineral supply.