In 2017, the Trump administration issued Executive Order 13817, which states “The United States is heavily reliant on imports of certain mineral commodities that are vital to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity. This dependency of the United States on foreign sources creates a strategic vulnerability…” Of the 35 critical minerals designated in a 2018 Department of Interior (DOI) report, the United States is 75-100% reliant on 24 of them. Many of these are essential inputs to clean energy technologies such as lithium-ion batteries, solar modules, and wind turbines.
We can expect that the tremendous growth and innovation in resource-dependent clean energy technologies will continue, and so will the increasing demand for the critical minerals which form the building blocks of these technologies. This has important implications for geopolitical dynamics, industrial growth, innovation in high-tech sectors, and responsible consumption and production. The United States’ approach to addressing these issues should focus on issues across the supply chains, as well as building a thriving domestic industry with robust regulations and environmental practices.
As each of the individual minerals have their own set of supply chain conditions, they will require a suite of thoughtful policy prescriptions. Steps have already been taken towards managing this “strategic vulnerability,” including the introduction of The American Mineral and Security Act (S.1317), requiring the DOI to develop and maintain a list of critical elements and to improve their domestic production.
However, as outlined in a strategy publication from the Department of Commerce, more work remains to be done. The publication describes six “calls to action” ranging from an improved workforce, to speeding up permitting, to acknowledging the importance of supply chains, and better understanding the domestic resource base.
If the future of the critical minerals market is not addressed with effective policy and innovation it could negatively impact the economic and national security of the United States.