Strategic minerals are essential to nearly every aspect of modern life, and elements extracted from these minerals are incorporated in products ranging from cell phones to nuclear reactors. In 2010, the automobile industry alone used 113,000 kg of the strategic element platinum (Loferski, 2011). The developing alternative energy market utilizes many of these elements; large wind turbines each contain over half a ton of the strategic element neodymium (Willis, 2012)(Kidela Capital Group). Currently, our rate of consumption of many strategic minerals is not sustainable (Beauford, 2010), and the competition to obtain these minerals has led to environmental destruction, endangerment of human rights, and political turmoil. This website was written to address the complex dilemmas surrounding strategic minerals with a comprehensive solution. Our solution aims to mitigate the negative environmental and humanitarian impacts of strategic minerals' mining and processing, while ensuring a steady supply for the future, providing alternative options so as to decrease demand, and opening the market so as to balance accessibility to all countries.
What are strategic minerals?
"Strategic minerals" are minerals containing rare elements that can be used in defense, energy or industry. Because there are a limited number of companies and nations that control a majority of the supply, strategic minerals are often subject to unpredictable fluctuations in price and availability ("What are strategic," 2011). Strategic elements can be divided into five categories: platinum-group elements, fission elements, rare earth elements, rare metals, and phosphorus. The criteria for this division is explained on the elements overview page.
Platinum-group elements (PGEs) include platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium, and ruthenium. PGEs are highly valued for their uses in industrial machinery, catalytic converters, and fuel cells ("What are strategic," 2011). Strategic fission elements are primarily uranium and thorium, as well as plutonium, which occurs as a byproduct of fission reactions ("Fact sheet on," 2011). Fission elements are most commonly used in the fuel and energy industries. Rare earth elements (REEs) consist of the lanthanide series of the periodic table, as well as scandium and yttrium. Although vital for the manufacture of electronics, chemical catalysts, lasers, and many other high-demand products, these minerals are often difficult to locate, mine, and purify ("Rare earth elements," 2011). The final strategic element, phosphorus, is very unique in that it is biologically essential. It is ubiquitous in fertilizers and necessary for all life.
Supply and Demand
A large part of the strategic element crisis stems from the disparity between supply and demand: global demand for strategic elements is rising rapidly and supply is not growing quickly enough to match the increasing demand. Many nations, particularly those with developing economies, do not have reliable access to strategic elements. In addition, inefficiencies in the supply chain, from mining and refinement to distribution and usage, make the availability of strategic minerals unpredictable.
The unequal geographic distribution of strategic mineral deposits has led to individual nations dominating certain industries. China possesses a near-monopoly on the majority of REEs and has recently decided to decrease their export quotas in an attempt to regulate their industry and conserve their supplies (Lele, 2012). Morocco holds 70 percent of the world's phosphorus reserves ("Mineral commodity summaries," 2012). South Africa and Russia control nearly all of the world's platinum reserves ("Platinum mining in," 2011). 64 percent of the world's coltan, plus 40% of its cobalt, is buried under the Democratic Republic of the Congo ("The democratic republic," 2008). Given the defensive and industrial advantages afforded by strategic minerals, such drastic inequality of these resources has caused much economic and political tension, a conflict that will surely escalate as these materials become scarcer.
Human Rights & Developing Countries
Valuable mineral deposits in developing countries can create nearly as many problems as they solve. Artisanal or small-scale mining (ASM) accounts for nearly a quarter of all non-fuel minerals mined worldwide, generally in developing countries where regulations are lax. These operations are largely run by individuals unaffiliated with any government or regulatory body. Working conditions in these small-scale mines are typically unsafe and environmentally unsound. Additionally, large multi-national corporations operating in underdeveloped countries may take advantage of relaxed regulations to the detriment of local communities (Chen, 2012). As demand for strategic resources rises and supplies become more valuable, mines will become more common. Unfortunately, the citizens of these developing countries may be forced bear the negative effects of this mining (Logan).
This website was written to address the complex dilemmas surrounding strategic minerals with a comprehensive solution. Our solution aims to correct or mitigate the negative environmental and humanitarian impacts of strategic minerals' mining and processing, while ensuring a steady supply for the future, providing alternative options so as to decrease demand, and opening the market so as to balance accessibility to all countries.
**Reference in this site to any specific commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by MIT.**
Beauford, R. (2010, December 9). Rare earth elements, 2010 summary. Retrieved from http://rareearthelements.us/
Chen, L. (2012, April 23). What canadian mining companies are getting away with. Retrieved from http://urbantimes.co/2012/04/what-canadian-mining-companies-are-getting-away-with/
Fact sheet on plutonium. (2011, February 4). Retrieved from http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/plutonium.html
Kidela Capital Group. (n.d.). Rare earth element shortages threaten global wind power development. Retrieved from http://www.altenergystocks.com/archives/2010/12/rare_earth_element_shortages_threaten_global_wind_power
Lele, A. (2012, July 19). Idsa comment challenging china's rare earth monopoly. Retrieved from http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments
Loferski, P. J. US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey. (2011). 2010 minerals yearbook: Platinum-group metals. Retrieved from website: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/platinum/myb1-2010-plati.pdf
Logan, M. (n.d.). Making mining work: Bringing poverty-stricken, small-scale miners into the formal private sector. Retrieved from http://www.idrc.ca/EN/Resources/Publications/Pages/ArticleDetails.aspx?PublicationID=694
Platinum mining in south africa. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.projectsiq.co.za/platinum-mining-in-south-africa.htm
Rare earth elements (rees). (2011, August 28). Retrieved from http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/Issues/MetalsMining/RareEarths.html
US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey. (2012). Mineral commodity summaries. Retrieved from website: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/phosphate_rock/mcs-2012-phosp.pdf
What are strategic metals?. (2011). Retrieved from http://strategicmetalsinvestingnews.com/
Willis, P. (2012, April 20). Rare metal supply endangers clean energy future?. Retrieved from http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/04/rare-metal-supply-endangers-clean-energy-future/
. The democratic republic of the congo major challenges impede efforts to achieve u.s. policy objectives; systematic assessment of progress is needed. (2008). Testimony Before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Statement of david gootnick, director international affairs and trade. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08562t.pdf