February 13, 2024
The United States faces deep, ongoing vulnerabilities in its mine...
Lithium. Copper. Nickel. What do you think of when you hear those minerals? Most people hear “lithium” and immediately think of electric vehicles – in particular, the batteries that power them. However well-known minerals often have uses beyond what most people expect. For example, did you know the American military is also utilizing lithium to build automatic weapons?
Graphite is another example. This mineral is used in electric vehicle production and is also used in weapons, batteries and other electronics in defense applications. Unfortunately for the U.S., 100 percent of the graphite we utilized in 2022 was imported, a third of which was imported from China. To make matters worse, China recently imposed export permits on graphite. China also recently imposed export restrictions on gallium and germanium, two minerals essential to the development of semiconductors that have numerous uses in communications equipment, navigation systems, propulsion systems and much more. This poses a great threat to American mineral, national and economic security as it leaves us with limited access to minerals that are key to our country’s defense.
To protect America from being subject to China’s mineral dominance, the Department of Defense (DoD) is working to secure supply chain independence in several ways. Back in July, the DoD entered into a $37.5 million agreement with Graphite One to begin to build a sustainable source of domestic graphite to be used in the production of large-capacity batteries. The DoD also established a $20.6 million agreement with Talon Nickel to increase the production of domestic nickel. And recently, the DoD awarded Perpetua Resources more than $15 million to develop a fully independent antimony trisulphide supply chain.
Why is this important? American security depends heavily on our domestic access to minerals. Nearly 750,000 tons of minerals are used every year to build American defense technologies. Titanium’s heat resistance makes it ideal for building aircraft engines. Lanthanum’s high refractive index and low dispersion allow it to be used in night-vision goggles. Beryllium is strong, hard and resistant to corrosion, making it the perfect metal for developing fighter jets.
Without secure domestic sources for these metals, American military technologies are subject to China’s whim. As it currently stands, the U.S. military would run out of resources at an embarrassingly quick rate if China decided to withhold minerals in the event of a geopolitical disagreement. To ensure our national security, and to continue supporting the national security of Ukraine as we have been, the U.S. must move forward with more domestic mining projects.
Swift policy changes are needed to expedite American-mined mineral production by updating the antiquated, duplicative permitting process that governs U.S. mining projects. Without changes, American mines will continue to take years – sometimes decades – to produce minerals. Given recent geopolitical events such as Russia’s attack on Ukraine and China’s threatened attack on Taiwan, the U.S. must prioritize permitting reform to rebuild our mineral dominance.