Americans recently woke up to the news that China is threatening to cut off supplies of “rare earth” metals to the United States. It’s a troubling situation. But such alarming headlines could finally motivate Washington to rectify a longstanding problem—America’s growing dependence on imported metals and minerals.
It may all sound a bit obscure. But these resources provide the building blocks for everything from electric motors to medical equipment. And the Commerce Department just warned that the United States has become “heavily dependent” on foreign sources for 31 of the 35 minerals designated as “critical” by the Department of the Interior. And 14 of the minerals considered “critical” by the Department of Defense are only available overseas.
We use many of these minerals every day. The average smartphone contains copper, gold, platinum, silver, graphite and tin oxide. Solar panels require gold and silver. Electric vehicles need cobalt, zinc and lithium. And wind turbines use copper and molybdenum.