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And then there were 50 critical minerals

USGS overhauls list of minerals important to US supply chains Metal Tech News – November 10, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey has unveiled a proposed list of 50 minerals and metals critical to the United States. While this seems to be a major jump over the 35 critical minerals on the original list published in 2018, most of the increase is from a much-needed breakdown of the rare earth elements and platinum group metals.

Listed as a single commodity on the 2018 critical minerals list, rare earths are a group of 15 individual elements, each with their own properties, uses, and markets.

The new draft list of U.S. critical minerals names 14 individual rare earths – cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, praseodymium, samarium, terbium, thulium, and ytterbium – as critical to the U.S.

This list of critical REEs includes all 15 of the lanthanides that make up the second row from the bottom on the periodic table except for promethium, which is an unstable element with a naturally occurring abundance in Earth's crust estimated to be less than 600 grams at any given time.

Scandium and yttrium, which are often considered rare earths due to similar properties and geological affinities to the 15 lanthanides, are listed separately on both the 2018 and draft 2021 critical minerals lists.

Find out more about the uses, markets, and North American sources of rare earths, including yttrium and scandium, at Made in North America rare earths return in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine.

The 2018 USGS critical minerals list also considered the group of six platinum group metals as one commodity.

The new draft list names five – iridium, platinum, palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium – as critical to the U.S.

More information on the uses, markets, and North American sources of PGMs can be read at Platinum metals are catalysts for change in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine.

While breaking up the rare earth elements and platinum group metals account for most of the U.S. critical minerals list expansion, there are two major additions – nickel and zinc.

Due to its importance to lithium-ion batteries, it is no surprise that nickel made the list.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that under a scenario where low-carbon energy generation and electric vehicles are adopted at a pace to meet the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement, nickel demand will rocket from roughly 2.4 million metric tons this year to 4.6 million metric tons by 2030 and continue climbing to 6.3 million metric tons by 2040.

This massive rise in the demand for the nickel needed for lithium-ion batteries grabbed headlines when Tesla CEO Elon Musk implored the mining sector to "please mine more nickel" during the EV manufacturer's 2020 Battery Day event.

Further details on the growing demand for nickel and North American sources of this battery metal can be read at Miners answer Musk call for more nickel in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine.

While not as high-profile as nickel, zinc is an important ingredient to the renewable energy revolution, as well as the Biden administration's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

An oft-overlooked industrial metal, zinc plays a central role in the low-carbon future due to its use in galvanizing renewable energy infrastructure against weathering. Zinc is particularly demanded by wind power generation, which needs about five metric tons of the galvanizing metal for every megawatt of power generating capacity, according to the IEA.

These same galvanizing qualities will be needed for the bridges, culverts, guardrails, light poles, 5G network towers, and other upgrades to be funded by the massive infrastructure bill passed by Congress and waiting to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

In addition to its importance to infrastructure, zinc is arising as an intriguing new lower-cost option for storing the intermittent renewable energy generated by wind and solar.

Electricity flowing into a zinc-air battery splits the oxygen off zinc oxide and is stored in the resultant charged zinc particles. This stored electricity is released back to the grid by reuniting the charged zinc particles with oxygen, regenerating the zinc oxide for reuse.

Zinc-air batteries are up to five times cheaper than lithium-ion counterparts with the same capacity. Industrial-scale installations of this burgeoning battery technology have begun in the U.S. and Australia.

There are also five elements that were on the 2018 U.S. critical minerals list that are omitted from the new version – helium, potash, rhenium, strontium, and uranium.

The removal of uranium is likely to be considered controversial by many who tout nuclear power as an important facet to transitioning to zero-carbon electricity.

The USGS, however, says this omission has more to do with the U.S. definition of critical minerals as to do with uranium's criticality.

Under the Energy Act of 2020, a "critical mineral" is defined as a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic or national security of the U.S., as well as the supply chain, which is vulnerable to disruption. Critical minerals are also characterized as serving an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the economic or national security.

"Uranium was not evaluated because the Energy Act of 2020 explicitly excluded 'fuel minerals' from the definition of a 'critical mineral,'" the geological survey explained in a FAQ sheet associated with the draft list of critical minerals.

Under the Energy Act of 2020, the Department of Interior, which is over the USGS, is required to review and update the list of critical minerals every three years in order to help shape federal decision-making.

"The USGS's critical minerals list provides vital information for industry, policymakers, economists and scientists on the most important minerals when it comes to U.S. supply chains," said Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science. "The statistics and information are crucial to understanding America's vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals, including data on the worldwide supply and demand for minerals and materials essential to the U.S. economy and national security."

The draft 2021 U.S. critical minerals list with a brief description:

Aluminum, used in almost all sectors of the economy.

Antimony, used in lead-acid batteries and flame retardants.

Arsenic, used in semi-conductors.

Barite, used in hydrocarbon production.

Beryllium, used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries.

Bismuth, used in medical and atomic research.

Cerium, used in catalytic converters, ceramics, glass, metallurgy, and polishing compounds.

Cesium, used in research and development.

Chromium, used primarily in stainless steel and other alloys.

Cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys.

Dysprosium, used in permanent magnets, data storage devices, and lasers.

Erbium, used in fiber optics, optical amplifiers, lasers, and glass colorants.

Europium, used in phosphors and nuclear control rods.

Fluorspar, used in the manufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline, and fluorine chemicals.

Gadolinium, used in medical imaging, permanent magnets, and steelmaking.

Gallium, used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs.

Germanium, used for fiber optics and night vision applications.

Graphite, used for lubricants, batteries, and fuel cells.

Hafnium, used for nuclear control rods, alloys, and high-temperature ceramics.

Holmium, used in permanent magnets, nuclear control rods, and lasers.

Indium, used in liquid crystal display screens.

Iridium, used as coating of anodes for electrochemical processes and as a chemical catalyst.

Lanthanum, used to produce catalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds, metallurgy, and batteries.

Lithium, used for rechargeable batteries.

Lutetium, used in scintillators for medical imaging, electronics, and some cancer therapies.

Magnesium, used as an alloy and for reducing metals.

Manganese, used in steelmaking and batteries.

Neodymium, used in permanent magnets, rubber catalysts, and in medical and industrial lasers.

Nickel, used to make stainless steel, superalloys, and rechargeable batteries.

Niobium, used mostly in steel and superalloys.

Palladium, used in catalytic converters and as a catalyst agent.

Platinum, used in catalytic converters.

Praseodymium, used in permanent magnets, batteries, aerospace alloys, ceramics, and colorants.

Rhodium, used in catalytic converters, electrical components, and as a catalyst.

Rubidium, used for research and development in electronics.

Ruthenium, used as catalysts, as well as electrical contacts and chip resistors in computers.

Samarium, used in permanent magnets, as an absorber in nuclear reactors, and in cancer treatments.

Scandium, used for alloys, ceramics, and fuel cells.

Tantalum, used in electronic components, mostly capacitors and in superalloys.

Tellurium, used in solar cells, thermoelectric devices, and as an alloying additive.

Terbium, used in permanent magnets, fiber optics, lasers, and solid-state devices.

Thulium, used in various metal alloys and in lasers.

Tin, used as protective coatings and alloys for steel.

Titanium, used as a white pigment or metal alloy.

Tungsten, primarily used to make wear-resistant metals.

Vanadium, primarily used as an alloying agent for iron and steel.

Ytterbium, used for catalysts, scintillometers, lasers, and metallurgy.

Yttrium, used for ceramic, catalysts, lasers, metallurgy, and phosphors.

Zinc, primarily used in metallurgy to produce galvanized steel.

Zirconium, used in high-temperature ceramics and corrosion-resistant alloys.

The Department of Interior is accepting public comments for the new draft list of critical minerals until Dec. 9.

UPDATE: On Dec. 9, USGS announced it has extended the public comment period on a draft revised list of critical minerals until Jan. 10, 2022.

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Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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