The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security
The U.S. aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of its commitment to tackling climate change, but might be lacking the critical minerals needed to achieve its goals.
The American green economy will rely on renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, along with the electrification of transportation. However, local production of the raw materials necessary to produce these technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, is lacking. Understandably, this has raised concerns in Washington.
In this graphic, based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, we list all of the minerals that the government has deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.
What are Critical Minerals?
A critical mineral is defined as a non-fuel material considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, whose supply may be at risk. This can be due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy, or other factors.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a list of 35 critical minerals. The new list, released in February 2022, contains 15 more commodities.
Much of the increase in the new list is the result of splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as “mineral groups.” In addition, the 2022 list of critical minerals adds nickel and zinc to the list while removing helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium.
|Mineral||Example Uses||Net Import Reliance|
|Beryllium||Alloying agent in aerospace, defense industries||11%|
|Aluminum||Power lines, construction, electronics||13%|
|Zirconium||High-temparature ceramics production||25%|
|Germanium||Fiber optics, night vision applications||50%|
|Nickel||Stainless steel, rechargeable batteries||50%|
|Tin||Coatings, alloys for steel||75%|
|Cobalt||Rechargeable batteries, superalloys||76%|
|Antimony||Lead-acid batteries, flame retardants||81%|
|Zinc||Metallurgy to produce galvanized steel||83%|
|Titanium||White pigment, metal alloys||88%|
|Bismuth||Medical, atomic research||94%|
|Tellurium||Solar cells, thermoelectric devices||95%|
|Vanadium||Alloying agent for iron and steel||96%|
|Arsenic||Semi-conductors, lumber preservatives, pesticides||100%|
|Cerium||Catalytic converters, ceramics, glass, metallurgy||100%|
|Dysprosium||Data storage devices, lasers||100%|
|Erbium||Fiber optics, optical amplifiers, lasers||100%|
|Europium||Phosphors, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Fluorspar||Manufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline||100%|
|Gadolinium||Medical imaging, steelmaking||100%|
|Gallium||Integrated circuits, LEDs||100%|
|Holmium||Permanent magnets, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Indium||Liquid crystal display screens||100%|
|Lanthanum||Catalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds||100%|
|Lutetium||Scintillators for medical imaging, cancer therapies||100%|
|Neodymium||Rubber catalysts, medical, industrial lasers||100%|
|Praseodymium||Permanent magnets, batteries, aerospace alloys||100%|
|Rubidium||Research, development in electronics||100%|
|Samarium||Cancer treatment, absorber in nuclear reactors||100%|
|Scandium||Alloys, ceramics, fuel cells||100%|
|Tantalum||Electronic components, superalloys||100%|
|Terbium||Permanent magnets, fiber optics, lasers||100%|
|Thulium||Metal alloys, lasers||100%|
|Ytterbium||Catalysts, scintillometers, lasers, metallurgy||100%|
|Yttrium||Ceramic, catalysts, lasers, metallurgy, phosphors||100%|
|Iridium||Coating of anodes for electrochemical processes||No data available|
|Rhodium||Catalytic converters, electrical components||No data available|
|Ruthenium||Electrical contacts, chip resistors in computers||No data available|
|Hafnium||Nuclear control rods, alloys||Net exporter|
The challenge for the U.S. is that the local production of these raw materials is extremely limited.
For instance, in 2021 there was only one operating nickel mine in the country, the Eagle mine in Michigan. The facility ships its concentrates abroad for refining and is scheduled to close in 2025. Likewise, the country only hosted one lithium mine, the Silver Peak Mine in Nevada.
At the same time, most of the country’s supply of critical minerals depends on countries that have historically competed with America.
China’s Dominance in Minerals
Perhaps unsurprisingly, China is the single largest supply source of mineral commodities for the United States.
Cesium, a critical metal used in a wide range of manufacturing, is one example. There are only three pegmatite mines in the world that can produce cesium, and all were controlled by Chinese companies in 2021.
Furthermore, China refines nearly 90% of the world’s rare earths. Despite the name, these elements are abundant on the Earth’s crust and make up the majority of listed critical minerals. They are essential for a variety of products like EVs, advanced ceramics, computers, smartphones, wind turbines, monitors, and fiber optics.
After China, the next largest source of mineral commodities to the United States has been Canada, which provided the United States with 16 different elements in 2021.
The Rising Demand for Critical Minerals
As the world’s clean energy transitions gather pace, demand for critical minerals is expected to grow quickly.
According to the International Energy Association, the rise of low-carbon power generation is projected to triple mineral demand from this sector by 2040.
The shift to a sustainable economy is important, and consequently, securing the critical minerals necessary for it is just as vital.
China’s Growing Trade Dominance in Latin America
Over the last two decades, trade between China and Latin America has grown significantly, which has threatened U.S. dominance in the region.
China’s Growing Trade Dominance in Latin America
Over the past 20 years, China’s economic presence around the world has grown significantly, including in Latin America.
Now, China is one of Latin America’s largest trade partners, which is threatening U.S. dominance in the region. This graphic by Latinometrics uses IMF data to show trade flows between China and Latin America since the 1980s.
Two Decades of Trade Growth
Four decades ago, the United States had a much stronger trade relationship with Latin America than China did. In 1981, Cuba was the only Latin American country trading more with China than the United States.
Here’s a look at total trade flows between Latin America and the two countries since 1980. Latinometrics calculated trade flows as total exports plus imports.
|Trade Flows by Year||U.S. & Latin America||China & Latin America|
Things stayed relatively stagnant until the early 2000s. Then suddenly, at the start of the new millennium, trade between China and Latin America started to ramp up.
This uptick was driven largely by Chinese demand for things like copper, oil, and other raw materials that the country needed to help fuel its industrial revolution.
Momentum has continued for two decades, and now China is the top trading partner in nine different Latin American countries. In fact, in 2021, imports and exports between China and Latin America (excluding Mexico) reached $247 billion—that’s $73 billion more than trade flows with the United States that same year.
Trade between China and Latin America is expected to keep growing, at least for the time being. By 2035, trade flows between the two regions are projected to more than double, according to World Economic Forum.
China’s Global Economic Presence
China’s trade takeover of Latin America speaks to a wider trend that’s happening on a global scale—over the last two decades, China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest trading partner.
While China is likely to remain the world’s leading trade partner for the foreseeable future, growth is likely to slow in the short-term, given ongoing supply chain issues and geopolitical tensions that have disrupted the global economy.
Visualized: The Value of U.S. Imports of Goods by State
U.S. goods imports were worth $2.8T in 2021. From east coast to west, this visualization breaks down imports on a state-by-state basis
Visualized: The Value of U.S. Imports of Goods by State 2021
For nearly 50 years and counting, U.S. imports have exceeded exports—and 2021 was no exception. Imports of goods to the U.S. equaled $2.8 trillion, relative to $1.8 trillion for exports, putting the 2021 goods trade deficit at its highest level on record.
Using the most recent data on global trade from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, we take a closer look at the value of American goods imports and visualize them state by state.
The Top 10 Importing States, by Total Goods Value
The top 10 states by import value account for 64.5% of all U.S. imports, or $1.8 trillion.
|Rank||State||Import Value ($B)||Share (%)|
|Top 10 States||$1,838.6||64.5%|
Overall, the goods trade deficit—the amount by which a country’s imports exceed its exports—was more than $1 trillion in 2021, increasing over 18% from the previous year. Goods imports specifically increased by nearly $502 billion, a 21% increase year-over-year.
California, the U.S.’s top importer, saw over $470 billion worth of goods come in last year. Some of its big ticket items fell in line with the state’s tech sector’s needs, like automatic data processing machines and accessories and parts for said machinery. California’s own deficit is quite high—the state’s goods exports were only valued at approximately $175 billion. The state’s busy ports are a key entry point for goods arriving from Asia, which helps explain this deficit.
In contrast, the country’s top export state is Texas at $375 billion, outweighing its imports and shipping out goods like coal and petroleum. All but three of the country’s top importers—Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Georgia—were also among the country’s top 10 exporters.
Where are Imports Coming From?
Here’s a look at the country’s top trade partners for goods imports and the value of their imports in 2022 as of April.
|Rank||Country||Import Value ($B) as of April '22||Share of Total|
|#7||🇰🇷 South Korea||$36.5||3.5%|
Over half of the top import partners for the United States are located in Asia. China is by far America’s top source of goods, making up 17% of the country’s imports.
Meanwhile, Canada and Mexico each account for roughly 14% of America’s goods imports due to the close proximity, strong economic ties, and trade agreements.
What’s Being Imported?
Imports of goods increased to a value of $2.8 trillion in 2021, the highest on record. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, industrial supplies and materials and crude oil saw some of the most notable increases.
Consumer goods like cell phones, household goods, toys, games, and sporting equipment increased in import value as well, reflecting a trend that the pandemic’s online shopping and delivery demand started.
Additionally, imports of foods, feeds, and beverages were the highest on record in 2021. It is also notable that in April of 2022, exports of goods hit the highest number on record at nearly $175 billion, with exports of feeds, food, and beverage also reaching the highest number of exports recorded. This is likely attributed to food shortages worldwide caused by the war in Ukraine.