Critical Minerals of the United States

US Geological Survey, US Department of Interior

 Critical Minerals of the United States
It would be no exaggeration to say that without minerals, no aspect of our daily lives would be possible.

From the high-tech devices we use to access the information superhighway to the cars and trucks we use to drive the freeways, from the urban jungle to rural farms, every aspect of our lives relies on minerals. Thus, access to sufficient supplies of these minerals is a crucial part of keeping our economy and our security running.

In this new volume, entitled Critical Minerals of the United States, USGS geologists provide the latest and greatest on the geology and resources of 23 mineral commodities deemed critical to the economy and security of the United States. This work is meant to provide decision-makers, researchers, and economists with the tools they need to make informed choices about the mineral mix that fuels our society.

Image shows a chart of the elements used in computer chips over time
The number of elements used in computer chip technology  has changed: 12 in the 1980s, 16 in the 1990s, and more than 60 by the 2000s. (Public domain.)


What is Critical?

USGS tracks the industries of about 88 different mineral commodities, but not all of these are considered critical. So what makes the 23 in this report critical?

Mineral commodities that have important uses and no viable substitutes, yet face potential disruption in supply, are defined as critical to the Nation’s economic and national security. A mineral commodity’s importance and the nature of its supply chain can change with time, such that a mineral commodity that may have been considered critical 25 years ago may not be critical now, and one considered critical now may not be so in the future.

A good example of this is aluminum. Aluminum has always been one of the most common elements in the Earth’s crust, but it has not always been so easily obtained. In fact, the ceilings of the Library of Congress and the crown of the Washington Monument were once covered in aluminum as a symbol of status, because aluminum was worth more than silver. However, once scientists figured out how to extract aluminum from bauxite ore, aluminum suddenly became much easier to produce, and its value plummeted in turn.

As Time Goes By

This report updates another USGS report from 1973, which was published when many of the commodities that are covered in this new volume were only of minor importance. Today, advanced technologies have increased the demand for and production of mineral commodities for nearly all elements in the periodic table.

For instance, in the 1970s, rare-earth elements had few uses outside of some specialty fields, and were produced mostly in the United States. Today, rare-earth elements are integral to nearly all high-end electronics and are produced almost entirely in China.

Since 1973, there has also been a significant increase in knowledge about geologic and environmental issues related to production and use. This report addresses the sustainable development of each mineral commodity in order that the current needs of the Nation can be met without limiting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

For each mineral commodity, the authors address how the commodity is used, the location of identified resources and their distribution nationally and globally, the state of current geologic knowledge, potential for finding additional deposits, and geoenvironmental issues that may be related to the production and uses of these mineral commodities.

Access the report here.

Meet the Minerals

So what are the 23 minerals and why are they critical? Read on:

1. Tantalite
Image shows a sample of tantalite, the primary ore of tantalum. Tantalum can both store and release energy, which allows electronic parts be exceptionally small. Image credit: By Photograph by Andrew Silver – http://libraryphoto.cr.usgs.gov/htmllib/btch571/btch571j/btch571z/byu01075.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7598843

2. A Fluorite-Tellurite Sample
Image shows a sample of fluorite and tellurium in rock. Tellurium’s primary use is for manufacturing films essential to photovoltaic solar cells. Tellurium is one of the least common elements on Earth. Image credit: USGS.

3. Stibnite
A sample of stibnite, the most common ore of antimony. Antimony’s leading use is as a fire retardant in safety equipment and in household goods, such as mattresses. Almost all the world’s antimony either comes from China, or passes through China for smelting. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.

4. Manganese Ore
Image shows a sample of Spiegeleisen, an alloy of manganese. Manganese is essential and irreplaceable in steelmaking. The combination of total import reliance for manganese, its essential nature, and the potential for supply disruptions makes manganese among the most critical minerals for the United States. Image credit: By Andrew Silver – United States Geological Survey, Public Domain.

5. Selenium in Sandstone
Image shows Selenium hosted in sandstone. In the late 1990’s, the use of selenium (usually with bismuth) as an additive to plumbing brasses to meet no-lead environmental standards became important. Image credit: By James St. John – Selenium in sandstone (Westwater Canyon Member, Morrison Formation, Upper Jurassic; Section 23 Mine, north of Grants, New Mexico, USA) 1, CC BY 2.0.

6. Platinum Nugget
Image shows a nugget of platinum. Platinum group elements are strategic and critical materials for many nations because they are essential for important industrial applications, have no adequate substitutes, and are mined in a limited number of places. Image credit: By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9579015

7. Niobium
Image shows niobium crystals. Niobium alloys are used in the superconducting magnets in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider. Niobium enhances steel’s’ mechanical strength and toughness for use in structural supports. Image credit: By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10489915

8. Indium
Image shows blocks of indium. You can’t have touchscreens without indium. As a zinc byproduct, the supply of indium is dependent on the zinc industry. More than one-half of the world’s total is produced in China. The United States is 100% import reliant for its supply of indium. Image credit: By Nerdtalker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6622482

9. Cobalt Ore
Image shows a sample of cobalt ore. If you’ve flown in a jet plane or used a rechargeable battery, you’ve benefited from cobalt. More than one-half of the world’s cobalt supply is mined in Congo (Kinshasa), a country that has a high risk index for doing business. The United States is 74 percent reliant on imports for its cobalt needs. Image credit: Public Domain.

10. Tin Ore
Image shows a sample of Cassiterite, one of the principal ores of tin. Tin is used in coatings for steel containers, in solders for joining pipes or electrical/electronic circuits, in bearing alloys, in glass-making, and in a wide range of tin chemical applications. Image credit: By Reno Chris at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain.

11. Barite
Image shows a sample of barite crystals. Barite is vital to the oil and gas industry because it is a key constituent of the mud used to drill oil and gas wells. Elemental barium is an additive in optical glass, ceramic glazes, and other products. Within the United States, the majority of barite comes from mines in Nevada. Image credit: Carlesmillan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

12. Bastnaesite (the reddish parts) in Carbonatite
Image shows a sample of bastnaesite, a principal ore of rare earth elements. Global markets for rare-earth consumption are expected to be led by (in descending order by tonnage) permanent magnets, hydrogen alloys, catalysts, polishing compounds, and phosphors. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.
A rare earth element mineral, bastnaesite (pink) in carbonite rock. Rare earth elements are used to make strong magnets for smartphone speakers, microphones, vibration motors; and color phosphors, and optical quality glass, for the screen; many other uses in high-technology applications.

13. Bauxite
A sample of bauxite, one of the main ores of gallium. Look at screens at night? You can thank gallium for the backlighting on your phone, laptop, or TV. The United States currently imports 100% of its primary Gallium. The only domestic production is from recycled and refined gallium. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.

14. Bertrandite
Image shows a sample of bertrandite, an ore of beryllium. Energy efficient alloys of beryllium help create miniature electronics parts. Beryllium is essential to the aerospace, computer, defense, medical, nuclear, and telecommunications industries. The United States imports beryl from Brazil, China, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Portugal. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.
Bertrandite — in carbonate clasts that have been largely replaced by fluorite (purple) that contains submicroscopic bertrandite. Beryllium alloys are used in making connectors, springs, switches, and other components of electronics.

15. Fluorite
A sample of fluorite, the main source of fluorine. Fluorine is vital to steel, aluminum, and glass manufacturing. It is also used to produce uranium fuel and refine gasoline. Yet, the United States has become 100% dependent on just a few countries to supply its needs: Mexico, China, and South Africa. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.

16. Graphite in Pegmatite Rock
A sample of graphite in pegmatite rocks. Graphite isn’t just in your pencil, it’s also in electric car batteries. China provides approximately 67 percent of worldwide output of natural graphite. The United States completely supplies its natural graphite needs with imports. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.
Graphite crystals in pegmatite rock. Contains carbon. Uses: anodes in rechargeable batteries; heat-resistant containers; industrial lubricants; pencils.

17. Vanadinite
Image shows a sample of vanadinite, the primary source of vanadium. Vanadium’s primary use was as a hardening agent in steel, in which it is critical for imparting toughness and wear resistance. Vanadium-titanium alloys have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material yet discovered. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.

18. Rutile
Image shows rutile, an ore of titanium. You’re “hip” with Titanium! At least you’re hip could contain some, if you’ve had hip replacement surgery. Living bone will fuse to titanium metal, making titanium invaluable for human implants. Only about 5% of global titanium goes to make titanium metal-the rest is used for white pigment. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.
Mineral: Rutile. Uses: whiteners, titanium metal.

19. Molybdenite
Molybdenite, where rhenium can occur. Since the late 1980s, rhenium has been critical for superalloys used in turbine blades and in catalysts used to produce lead-free gasoline. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.

20. Alumina-Zirconia Abrasive
A sample of alumina-zirconium abrasive. Globally, the leading end uses for zircon are ceramics, zirconia, zirconium-based chemicals, refractories, and foundry and casting applications. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.

21. Spodumene
A sample of spodumene, an ore for lithium. Lithium earns its spot on lists of critical elements because it is so important to green technologies and batteries. For instance, lithium batteries power electric and hybrid vehicles. Worldwide resources of lithium are estimated to meet projected demand to the year 2100. Image credit: Scott Horvath, USGS.

22. Piece of Hafnium
Image shows pieces of hafnium. The principal uses of hafnium are in high-temperature ceramics, nickelbase superalloys, nozzles for plasma arc metal cutting, and nuclear control rods. Image credit: By Deglr6328 at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6875345

23. Renierite
Image shows a sample of renierite, a source of germanium. Germanium is important to defense and law enforcement because of its use in technologies like infrared night vision and satellite solar cells. Image credit: By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4272283

 

Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply

Professional Paper 1802

Edited by:
Klaus J. Schulz , John H. DeYoung Jr. , Robert R. Seal II , and Dwight C. Bradley ORCID iD

Summary

Mineral commodities are vital for economic growth, improving the quality of life, providing for national defense, and the overall functioning of modern society. Minerals are being used in larger quantities than ever before and in an increasingly diverse range of applications. With the increasing demand for a considerably more diverse suite of mineral commodities has come renewed recognition that competition and conflict over mineral resources can pose significant risks to the manufacturing industries that depend on them. In addition, production of many mineral commodities has become concentrated in relatively few countries (for example, tungsten, rare-earth elements, and antimony in China; niobium in Brazil; and platinum-group elements in South Africa and Russia), thus increasing the risk for supply disruption owing to political, social, or other factors. At the same time, an increasing awareness of and sensitivity to potential environmental and health issues caused by the mining and processing of many mineral commodities may place additional restrictions on mineral supplies. These factors have led a number of Governments, including the Government of the United States, to attempt to identify those mineral commodities that are viewed as most “critical” to the national economy and (or) security if supplies should be curtailed.

This book presents resource and geologic information on the following 23 mineral commodities currently among those viewed as important to the national economy and national security of the United States: antimony (Sb), barite (barium, Ba), beryllium (Be), cobalt (Co), fluorite or fluorspar (fluorine, F), gallium (Ga), germanium (Ge), graphite (carbon, C), hafnium (Hf), indium (In), lithium (Li), manganese (Mn), niobium (Nb), platinum-group elements (PGE), rare-earth elements (REE), rhenium (Re), selenium (Se), tantalum (Ta), tellurium (Te), tin (Sn), titanium (Ti), vanadium (V), and zirconium (Zr). For a number of these commodities—for example, graphite, manganese, niobium, and tantalum—the United States is currently wholly dependent on imports to meet its needs. The first two chapters (A and B) deal with general information pertinent to the study of mineral resources. Chapters C through V describe individual mineral commodities and include an overview of current uses of the commodity, identified resources and their distribution nationally and globally, the state of current geologic knowledge, the potential for finding additional deposits nationally and globally, and geoenvironmental issues that may be related to the production and uses of the commodity. These chapters are updates of the commodity chapters published in 1973 in U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 820, “United States Mineral Resources.”

Suggested Citation

Schulz, K.J., DeYoung, J.H., Jr., Seal, R.R., II, and Bradley, D.C., eds., 2017, Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1802, 797 p., http://doi.org/10.3133/pp1802.

ISSN: 2330-7102 (online)

ISSN: 1044-9612 (print)

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Chapter A. Critical Mineral Resources of the United States—An Introduction
    By Klaus J. Schulz, John H. DeYoung, Jr., Dwight C. Bradley, and Robert R. Seal II
  • Chapter B. Environmental Considerations Related to Mining of Nonfuel Minerals
    By Robert R. Seal II, Nadine M. Piatak, Bryn E. Kimball, and Jane M. Hammarstrom
  • Chapter C. Antimony
    By Robert R. Seal II, Klaus J. Schulz, and John H. DeYoung, Jr.
    With contributions from David M. Sutphin, Lawrence J. Drew, James F. Carlin, Jr., and Byron R. Berger
  • Chapter D. Barite (Barium)
    By Craig A. Johnson, Nadine M. Piatak, and M. Michael Miller
  • Chapter E. Beryllium
    By Nora K. Foley, Brian W. Jaskula, Nadine M. Piatak, and Ruth F. Schulte
  • Chapter F. Cobalt
    By John F. Slack, Bryn E. Kimball, and Kim B. Shedd
  • Chapter G. Fluorine
    By Timothy S. Hayes, M. Michael Miller, Greta J. Orris, and Nadine M. Piatak
  • Chapter H. Gallium
    By Nora K. Foley, Brian W. Jaskula, Bryn E. Kimball, and Ruth F. Schulte
  • Chapter I. Germanium and Indium
    By W.C. Pat Shanks III, Bryn E. Kimball, Amy C. Tolcin, and David E. Guberman
  • Chapter J. Graphite
    By Gilpin R. Robinson, Jr., Jane M. Hammarstrom, and Donald W. Olson
  • Chapter K. Lithium
    By Dwight C. Bradley, Lisa L. Stillings, Brian W. Jaskula, LeeAnn Munk, and Andrew D. McCauley
  • Chapter L. Manganese
    By William F. Cannon, Bryn E. Kimball, and Lisa A. Corathers
  • Chapter M. Niobium and Tantalum
    By Klaus J. Schulz, Nadine M. Piatak, and John F. Papp
  • Chapter N. Platinum-Group Elements
    By Michael L. Zientek, Patricia J. Loferski, Heather L. Parks, Ruth F. Schulte, and Robert R. Seal II
  • Chapter O. Rare-Earth Elements
    By Bradley S. Van Gosen, Philip L. Verplanck, Robert R. Seal II, Keith R. Long, and Joseph Gambogi
  • Chapter P. Rhenium
    David A. John, Robert R. Seal II, and Désirée E. Polyak
  • Chapter Q. Selenium
    By Lisa L. Stillings
  • Chapter R. Tellurium
    By Richard J. Goldfarb, Byron R. Berger, Micheal W. George, and Robert R. Seal II
  • Chapter S. Tin
    By Robert J. Kamilli, Bryn E. Kimball, and James F. Carlin, Jr.
  • Chapter T. Titanium
    By Laurel G. Woodruff, George M. Bedinger, and Nadine M. Piatak
  • Chapter U. Vanadium
    By Karen D. Kelley, Clinton T. Scott, Désirée E. Polyak, and Bryn E. Kimball
  • Chapter V. Zirconium and Hafnium
    By James V. Jones III, Nadine M. Piatak, and George M. Bedinger

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
1802
ISBN:
978-1-4113-3991-0
DOI:
10.3133/pp1802
Year Published:
2017
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
Description:
Report: 862 p.; Data Release
Online Only (Y/N):
N
Additional Online Files (Y/N):
N
Status:
Published
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