Guest post: American Elements releases Endangered Elements List

Posted on November 29, 2012 by Minerals Make Life

Today, American Elements published its second annual Endangered Elements List (EEL12), which features five elements ranked by their scarcity and technological importance. The primary purpose of this annual list is to bring attention to the minerals scarcity crisis and to educate Americans as to which elements are critical, what makes them essential and endangered and what other nations are doing to assure they can obtain and produce minerals.

The constant refrain that the way out of our present fiscal difficulties is for America to get back in the business of making things; however, to manufacture the products flowing from great ideas, we need access to the critical materials on which these discoveries are based. As green technology and other 21st century innovations emerge—including solar panels, electric motors, fuel cells and wind turbines—large amounts of various elements will be required to build these materials. And in order to produce these innovations, it’s essential that we address the strategic gap in the minerals supply chain— either domestically or in our foreign policy towards mineral-rich nations—so that we are able to manufacture the innovations we create.

The five elements that made the list this year are:

(1) Niobium- Niobium is an essential ingredient in structural steel. It increases steel’s strength and toughness. It is also used extensively in the super alloys from which jet engines are produced making it critical to the U.S. military and aerospace industries. Yet at present, a single nation produces virtually all of the world’s niobium. That nation is Brazil, which last year produced 58,000 of the 63,000 total tons produced worldwide. Should Brazil suddenly discontinue niobium exports due to worker strikes, for geopolitical reasons or other events, it would have an immediate dramatic impact on American manufacturers.

(2) Antimony- All car batteries contain antimony to improve their charging ability.  For the U.S. auto industry to compete with other newly emerging national auto industries, America will require a ready access to antimony. Additionally, in the form of antimony oxide, it is an essential ingredient in flame retardants required for fire protection. Yet America produces no antimony and 90 percent of the world’s antimony production comes from China.

(3) Strontium- Strontium in the form of strontium nitrate is the propellant that causes air bags in cars to open. Yet again, the U.S. is 100 percent reliant on foreign producers, with two countries — China and Spain — controlling most of its production.

(4) Platinum- If you look at a periodic table, you might note that all the metals found in a jewelry store are touching each other in a little island in the center. Gold, silver, platinum and palladium form a class of metals we commonly call the “precious metals” because, unlike most other metals, they always remain shiny and lustrous. However, they also share other even more significant properties for industry and science. They constitute the catalysts that run much of our modern industrial world. Look hard enough in the catalytic converter on your family car and you will find platinum. We can make neither food nor energy without these precious metal catalysts. Yet the U.S. produces essentially none of its platinum consumption. Nearly all of the world’s platinum production comes from one country—South Africa—and much of the balance from Russia. The two countries combined account for 86 percent of world production. The heavy future demand for precious metals, particularly platinum, as catalysts in industry and as safe havens of choice for emerging wealth will put significant pressure on their availability in the future.

(5) Yttrium- Yttrium is an essential ingredient in many green technologies. It is also in every auto spark plug and every medical laser. China is currently the only nation in the world producing yttrium.

Read more about the report on The Huffington Post.

Michael Silver is the president and CEO of American Elements.

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