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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Critical Minerals and Metals Defined

Minerals are part of almost all products we use.

NB.  About 80% of all natural elements in the periodic table are metals.

Common examples of metals include copper (Cu) used in electrical wiring and titanium (Ti) used to make airplane frames and paint pigments (TiO2). The Information Age has ushered in a number of new mineral uses in number of products including cell phones e.g., tantalum (Ta) and liquid crystal displays e.g., indium (In). For some minerals, such as the platinum group metals used to make catalytic converters in cars, there is no substitute.

Thus economies, (consumers and industrial sectors) are strongly influenced by factors affecting supplies.

Risks to minerals supplies can include a sudden increase in demand or the possibility that natural ores can be exhausted or become too difficult to extract. Minerals are more vulnerable to supply restrictions if they come from a limited number of mines, mining companies, or nations.

The report referenced in this post NAS Report_Minerals-Critical-Minerals_12034 claims to develop a methodology to identify potentially critical minerals. 

14 Key Findings:
1. All minerals and mineral products could be or could become critical to some degree, depending on their importance and availability.

2. As an indicator of vulnerable supply, import dependence by itself is not a useful indicator of risk.

3. Decision makers in both the public and the private sectors need continuous, unbiased, and thorough mineral information provided through a federally funded system of information collection and dissemination.

4. From the US federal perspective, a critical mineral is one that is both essential in use and subject to the risk of supply restriction.

5. In employing the methodology, it is important to distinguish among three time or adjustment periods: the short term, the medium term, and the long term.

6. In the short and medium terms, significant restrictions of mineral supply may be due to (1) significant increase in demand, (2) thin markets, (3) concentration of production, (4) production predominantly as a by-product, (5) lack of available old scrap for recycling or of the infrastructure required for recycling.

7. More complete information needs to be collected, and more research needs to be conducted, on the full mineral life cycle.

8 Of the 11 minerals or mineral families the committee examined,
[Cu, Ga, In, Li, Mn, Nb, PGMs (ex.Pd,Pt,Rh)  REs (La,Ce...) Ta, Ti, V.]
 those that exhibit the highest degree of criticalness at present are indium,(In) manganese,(Mn) niobium,(Nb) PGMs-Platinum Group Metals-Minerals, and the so called Rare Earth Metals, REs.

9. Over the longer term, the availability of minerals and mineral products is largely a function of investment and the various factors that influence the level of investment and its geographic allocation and success. The long-term availability of minerals and mineral products also requires continued investment in mineral education and research.

10. The committee concludes that US Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Information Team activities are less robust than they might be, in part because it does not have the status or resources to function as a principal statistical agency. 

11. The criticalness matrix methodology is a useful conceptual framework for evaluating a mineral's criticalness in a balanced manner in a variety of circumstances that will be useful for decision makers in the public and private sectors. A more nuanced and quantitative version of the matrix could be established and used as part of the federal program for collection, analysis, and dissemination of data on minerals. 

12. The criticalness of a specific mineral can and likely will change as production technologies evolve and new products are developed. 

13. The effectiveness of a government agency or program is dependent on the agency's or program's autonomy, its level of resources, and its authority to enforce data collection. Federal information gathering for minerals at present does not have sufficient authority and autonomy to appropriately carry out its data collection, dissemination, and analysis. 

14. The greater the difficulty, expense, or time it takes for material substitution to occur, the more critical a mineral is to a specific application or product or analogously, the greater is the impact of a mineral supply restriction. 

Minerals, Critical Minerals, and the U.S. Economy_Brief Report (2007 The National Academy of Sciences)

Minerals, Critical Minerals, and the U.S. Economy _National Academies Press (NAP) (2008)

High Purity Cr sources for Superalloys

Energy for th Future:Phil.Trans.A-Vol. 365, N° 1853 / April 15, 2007, curtesy The Royal Soc. London

Engineered foams and porous materials: Phil Trans A. Vol 364, N° 1838 / 06 curtesy_The R Soc. Lond