The Critical Metals That are Changing Everything

Shifting to a low-carbon world is quite likely mankind's most urgent challenge. But we can't do it without literally dozens of metals critical for the technologies that will get us there.

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently published a list of 35 metals considered vital to U.S. interests. The European Commission published a similar list.

The U.S. defines a critical mineral as “A non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the United States, the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption.”

The list includes minerals considered important for defense, economic, and industrial purposes, especially minerals not produced in substantial quantities domestically. Here they are:

Aluminum, (bauxite), used in almost all sectors of the economy

Antimony, used in batteries and flame retardants

Arsenic, used in lumber preservatives, pesticides, and semi-conductors

Barite, used in cement and petroleum industries

Beryllium, used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries

Bismuth, used in medical and atomic research

Cesium, used in research and development

Chromium, used primarily in stainless steel and other alloys

Cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys

Fluorspar, used in the manufacture of aluminum, gasoline, and uranium fuel

Gallium, used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs

Germanium, used for fiber optics and night vision applications

Graphite, (natural), used for lubricants, batteries, and fuel cells

Hafnium, used for nuclear control rods, alloys, and high-temperature ceramics

Helium, used for MRIs, lifting agent, and research

Indium, mostly used in LCD screens

Lithium, used primarily for batteries

Magnesium, used in furnace linings for manufacturing steel and ceramics

Manganese, used in steelmaking

Niobium, used mostly in steel alloys

Platinum group metals, used for catalytic agents

Potash, primarily used as a fertilizer

Rare earth elements group, primarily used in batteries and electronics

Rhenium, used for lead-free gasoline and superalloys

Rubidium, used for research and development in electronics

Scandium, used for alloys and fuel cells

Strontium, used for pyrotechnics and ceramic magnets

Tantalum, used in electronic components, mostly capacitors

Tellurium, used in steelmaking and solar cells

Tin, used as protective coatings and alloys for steel

Titanium, overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or metal alloys

Tungsten, primarily used to make wear-resistant metals

Uranium, mostly used for nuclear fuel

Vanadium, primarily used for titanium alloys

Zirconium, used in the high-temperature ceramics industries

There are unlimited stories and issues around the exploration for, and extraction of, these metals. If we can't get along without them (and we can't), then let's make sure we obtain them responsibly and sustainably.

That's what concerns this blog.