U.S. Senators. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and 13 of their Senate colleagues introduced S. 1600, the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013 in October. The bill’s stated objectives is: “To facilitate the reestablishment of domestic, critical mineral designation, assessment, production, manufacturing, recycling, analysis, forecasting, workforce, education, research, and international capabilities in the United States.”
There has long been widespread concern that many minerals used by U.S. industry are available only from a single foreign source, even though domestic sources are potentially available. This legislation would be a first step on the way to development of an updated federal minerals policy.
Senator Murkowski introduced similar legislation in 2011. This bill may also fail to pass Congress.
The bill does not delineate a list of minerals but directs the Secretary of the Interior develop the list of minerals critical to the national economy.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has for many years tracked the minerals important to the economy and national defense, and mapped the location of mineral deposits. USGS reports that in 2013 the U.S. was dependent on foreign suppliers for 100 percent of 17 mineral commodities and 50 percent dependent on foreign sources for at least 24 other mineral commodities. Minerals in the 100-percent dependence list include: bauxite (aluminum for cars and beverage cans) and gallium (smartphones).
The USGS data on domestic and global rare earth elements and other critical mineral reserves and resources, production, consumption, and use is published annually in the USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries.
Interest and concern about assuring access to critical minerals in not new. The National Academies published its study, “Minerals, Critical Minerals, and the U.S. Economy”, in 2008. The report defined critical minerals by looking at various minerals in terms of the impact of restriction on the mineral’s supply should it occur and the likelihood of a supply restriction. The report identified as critical: the platinum group metals (platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium, ruthenium), rare earth elements (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium), indium, manganese and niobium.
Niobium crystals are pictured above.