China is Dominating the Mineral Supply Chain Race

Posted on March 08, 2022 by Minerals Make Life

The race is on to secure the supply chains for minerals essential to advanced technologies such as electric vehicles, solar panels and wind energy. As mineral demands around the globe increase, the latest USGS’s Mineral Commodity Summaries report shows the U.S. is far from securing its mineral supply chains. U.S. mineral import reliance has doubled in the past two decades, well before the surge in mineral demand from the energy transition and, particularly, from electric vehicles.

This year’s report shows the United States was 100 percent import dependent for 17 minerals, and over 50 percent reliant for another 30 minerals, an increase from 2020. Among these commodities were 29 “critical minerals” as defined by the U.S. government, the absence of which would have significant consequences to economic and national security.

According to the report, China is the leading supplier for 16 “critical” minerals and 25 other minerals we depend on. In 2021, China controlled the market for antimony, rare earth elements, tellurium and other commodities that are used to produce electric vehicle batteries and emerging technologies. While alarming, these findings reinforce a 20-year trend of net imports that cost our country roughly $90 billion last year alone.

Minerals and metals are fundamental to the U.S. economy, sitting at the forefront of numerous supply chains for every sector of the economy. The mining industry contributes significantly to state economies and our national gross domestic product (GDP). The value of non-fuel minerals produced in the United States in 2021 was an estimated $90.4 billion, with domestically processed mineral materials worth an estimated $820 billion. In turn, these materials were used by downstream industries to contribute roughly $3.32 trillion to the U.S. economy. Across the U.S., production of 14 commodities including copper, gold, zinc, palladium and molybdenum were valued at over a billion dollars each. Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota and Utah each produced more than $2 billion worth of nonfuel minerals.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the demand for some key minerals, such as lithium, to grow more than 40 times in the next two decades as nation’s work to decarbonize their economies. If market projections are correct, anticipated mineral production is inadequate, creating the risk of price hikes and supply shortages on a global scale.

The U.S. needs a comprehensive, all the above mineral supply chain strategy which includes embracing increased domestic mining and addressing mine permitting delays. The speed and the scale at which mineral demand is growing means it’s impossible to meet by working solely through our allies to secure additional minerals or ramping up mineral recycling efforts alone.

In the meantime, the U.S. can no longer rely on importing minerals while ignoring our vast domestic resources. It’s time to support domestic mining operations and invest in more minerals production and processing here at home. The more we focus on building a secure, domestic mineral supply chain, the more economically competitive our country will become.

To learn what the minerals strategy should look like, click here.

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