This week we continue our coverage of the just-released draft revised Critical Minerals List, for which the US Geological Survey (USGS) began soliciting public comment last week — this time via Andy Home’s latest. In a new column for Reuters, Home zeroes in on the “only two new additions” to the draft list. (As ARPN outlined last week, the bulk of the expansion of the list from 35 to 50 minerals and metals is owed to the fact that the Rare Earths and Platinum Group Metals will now be listed individually).
Arguing that the additions of Nickel and Zinc “reflect… an evolution of the methodology used to determine whether a mineral is critical to the well-being of the U.S. economy,” Home provides a window into the drafters’ reasoning for including them.
For Nickel, he writes that while a “relatively benign supply profile kept nickel off” in the past, there are two reasons for including it on the updated List.
Pointing to the only domestic operating Nickel mine in the U.S. and a single producer of Nickel sulphate (which only produces Nickel as a co-product), Home says “the USGS has expanded its criticality criteria to look beyond trade dependency to domestic supply, particularly what it calls ‘single points of failure.’”
The second reason, according to Home, is “nickel’s changing usage profile from alloy in stainless steel production to chemical component in electric vehicle batteries.” The rapid uptake of EVs as a key to the net-zero carbon transition has propelled Nickel onto the Critical List.
While for Zinc, the U.S. domestic supply chain is “less fragile,” according to Home, “the country’s refined zinc import dependency is relatively high,” and “[g]lobal supply trends make this problematic.”
Homes closes by noting that neither of “…these industrial metals feature on the European Union’s critical minerals list. In part that’s a reflection of Europe’s domestic production base both at the mining and smelting level. But in part it may be because the USGS is ahead of its European peers in analysing global supply patterns and the resulting potential threats to critical minerals availability.
Nickel and zinc may not spring to mind when most people think of critical minerals, but as far as the United States is concerned, they both are.”