Earlier this week, USGS released its latest iteration of the annual Mineral Commodity Summaries, a much-cited report that every year gives us a data-driven glimpse into our nation’s mineral resource dependencies.
It’s fitting that ARPN reviews the report on Groundhog Day, February 2nd, because just like in the Bill Murray classic movie, in which the clock jumps back to the same day all over again every morning, the Critical Mineral movie appears to bring us back to a situation of ongoing deep dependency on foreign sourced metals and minerals every year – at least in recent memory.
While there are some changes from last year’s report, the number of metals and minerals for which we are 100% import dependent dropped by two from 17 to 15, the only significant change here is a drop for Vanadium, with recalculations made for overall import reliance suggesting that its inclusion in the 100% segment has been overstated for several years. (The drop for nepheline syenite from 100% to greater than 95% is less significant, with the numerical drop small and material not featuring on the critical minerals list.)
And for all the talk about reducing the United States’ resource dependence in recent years, a deeper look at the chart depicting U.S. Net Import Reliance — or the “Blue Wall of Dependency,” as we have dubbed it based on the many blue bars showing our significant degree of import dependence, reveals that the number of metals and minerals for which we are 50% or more import-dependent has even gone up over last year — with the new report pegging it at 51 versus 47 in 2022.
When cross-referencing the U.S. Net Import Reliance chart with the 2022 Final list of Critical Minerals, the United States was 100% net import reliant for 12, and an additional 31 critical mineral commodities (including 14 lanthanides, which are listed under rare earths) had a net import reliance greater than 50% of apparent consumption.
Once more, we can’t help but observe that this represents a stark contrast to our import reliance for metals and minerals in 1984, when we were 100% import reliant for just 11 mineral commodities.
A few changes for individual metals and minerals included in the report are notable and significant, particularly in the context of the accelerating global green energy transition:
For the Rare Earths, a key group of tech metals underpinning 21st Century technology and the accelerating green energy transition, our import reliance had dropped from 100% in the 2021 report to “greater than 90%” in the 2022 report. It is now back up to “greater than 95%”, and the rare earth concentrate being extracted in the U.S. currently sent to China for separation. Once again, a single link lacking in a supply chain continues U.S. dependency.
For Lithium, perhaps the most frequently cited battery tech mineral, and Cobalt, another one of Lithium’s “battery critical” peers, U.S. import reliance stayed the same at “greater than 25%” for lithium, and Cobalt at 76% respectively.
For Graphite and Manganese, both battery criticals – the USGS report shows both still pegged at an unchanged 100% import reliance.
For Nickel, the final battery critical and a new element on the 2022 Critical Mineral List, import-reliance jumped from 48% last year to 56% in this year’s report.
In upcoming posts, ARPN will focus on each of these battery criticals, and the U.S.-based projects working to urgently needed new supply into production.
As in previous iterations of the report, China continues to be the elephant in the data room. And against all pledges in recent years for the United States to reduce import reliance on supplies from China, the 2022 Mineral Commodity Summaries lists still China an unchanged 25 times as one of the major import sources of metals and minerals for which our net import reliance is 50% or greater – and recent developments in China show that the country has no intention of loosening its grip on the critical minerals supply chain [see our recent posts on Chinese resource policy here].
Owing to the growing focus on critical minerals on the part of U.S. policy stakeholders, this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries report features an expanded chapter on developments in the critical minerals realm, identifying trend lines, and supply chain security and U.S. government critical minerals initiatives as well as critical mineral investments.
While the urgency of the need to secure critical mineral supply chains has registered with stakeholders over the past few years, USGS’s findings underscore once more that supply chains in the 21st Century are extremely complex and meaningful change takes time – and the developments of 2022 ranging from increased resource nationalism in the Southern hemisphere over war in Ukraine to rising geopolitical tensions have not made untangling supply chains any easier.
In Bill Murray’s movie, it took the protagonist several years to realize how to change behavior to break the cycle. We know by now that to break our cycle of resource dependence, it will take a comprehensive “all of the above” approach to critical mineral resource policy – and stakeholders have come to realize this and have increasingly embraced the concept. We continue to stand by what ARPN’s Dan McGroarty stated during a congressional hearing in 2019 – “we can’t admire the problem anymore. We don’t have the luxury of time.”
If we act swiftly and comprehensively, there may just be a chance that we will wake up twelve months from now not to another Groundhog Day, but to a 2024 Mineral Commodity Summaries that paints a picture of reduced resource dependence.