February 16, 2017
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released its 2017 Minerals Commodity Summaries, and the news isn’t good.
The technologies that define innovation today all depend on minerals—from lifesaving medical devices to hybrid cars and advanced energy technologies.
Minerals and metals are essential, irreplaceable components of modern technology. Take just one metal—platinum—as an example. Used in more than 20 percent of all manufactured goods, platinum helps make countless products we use every day possible, including personal computers, flat-screen TVs, hybrid cars and lifesaving medical devices. The list of minerals critical to the manufacture of the technologies we rely on is endless.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturing grew at a rate of 1.3 percent in 2015, producing $2.2 trillion in output and up about 18 percent since 2012. As manufacturing returns to American shores, our industries will require more minerals and metals than are currently available and supply chain challenges will continue to cause anxiety. U.S. manufacturers are now more than 40 percent reliant on imports of many commodity and rare earth metals. This includes zinc, for which the United States is currently 82 percent import-reliant; silver at 72 percent; and potash at 84 percent in 2015. These minerals are essential to America’s manufacturing resurgence and a strong U.S. economy, which is why it’s high time our policy makers revisit our broken minerals mining policies.
Opening the Door to Advanced Energy Technologies
Minerals are the backbone of renewable energy technologies. For instance, copper is utilized in the wiring of solar panels and is a critical component of wind turbines. Furthermore, copper is used in the lithium-ion batteries and wiring that power hybrid vehicles. Another example, manganese, is used in the steel alloy of hybrid cars and in the batteries for storing wind-and-solar power in hybrid and electric vehicles. It is also just one on a long list of minerals used to power both offshore and onshore wind power plants.
Protecting Health, Saving Lives
Without minerals and metals, many of the life-saving medical devices, and even medications, that doctors and patients rely on daily would cease to function. Minerals such as copper, silver and gold mined right here in the United States are crucial materials to operate CAT scan devices. Likewise, lithium is widely utilized in pacemakers, defibrillator machines and other types of portable electronic equipment. And titanium is used in orthopedic surgery for items such as pins, bone plates, wires, rods, expandable rib cages and screws…just to name a few of the minerals that help keep Americans healthy.
Minerals and Rocks: Keeping Americans Safe
Minerals are a key component of our national security establishment. The United States Department of Defense uses 750,000 tons of minerals annually—much of which could be sourced domestically. For example, chromium, nickel and molybdenum are combined in precise amounts to purified scrap metal to produce steel armor plates resulting in special properties that allow steel to withstand explosions and gunshots; while beryllium is used in airborne equipment to detect and destroy improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative explains the important connection between mining and manufacturing.