You may have noticed more and more chatter about critical minerals and how they’ll lead us to a clean energy future. What are critical minerals? What are they used for? We’re glad you asked!
What are critical minerals?
According to Geoscience Australia, a department of the Australian Government, critical minerals are “metals and non-metals that are considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, yet whose supply may be at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy or other factors. Among these important minerals are metals and semi-metals used in the manufacture of mobile phones, flat screen monitors, wind turbines, electric cars, solar panels, and many other high-tech applications.”1
In 2018, the Federal Register2 published a list of critical minerals, which included the following: Aluminum (bauxite), antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite (natural), hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, platinum group metals, potash, the rare earth elements group, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zirconium.
Why do we need critical minerals?
The world is shifting away from fossil fuels and moving toward clean energy such as solar power, wind power, hydropower, electric vehicles, and more. In order to manufacture components for solar panels, wind turbines, and the like; we require critical minerals. Minerals such as lithium are used in rechargeable batteries, and other rare earth elements used in powerful magnets are required by wind turbines and electric vehicles. The production of these minerals has grown significantly over the past decade, and will only continue to grow as clean energy grows in popularity.3
How are critical minerals used?
These minerals are used in a variety of ways in clean energy. For example, Lithium, cobalt and nickel give batteries greater charging performance and higher energy density. Copper is essential for the increasing use of electricity throughout energy systems thanks to its unmatched ability to conduct electric currents. And some rare earth elements such as neodymium make powerful magnets that are vital for wind turbines and electric vehicles.4
For the production of electric vehicles (EVs), they require substantially larger quantities of minerals than internal combustion engine vehicles. Without these minerals, vehicle bodies and critical components such as engine magnets and batteries cannot be built. The needed minerals range from the widely recognizable aluminum, copper and silver, to the more esoteric cobalt, lithium and graphite.5
Example of critical mineral use: Electric Ford F150
An example of critical minerals being used today is the newly announced all-electric F-150. Ford recently announced earlier this month that the new F-150 truck will be released in 2022, and it will be fully electric. The electric F-150 is primed to change the game when it comes to uptime. Electric vehicles almost universally require less maintenance than combustion vehicles. With nearly 100 times fewer moving parts in the powertrain, they are more reliable and deliver savings over the long haul. No oil changes, no air filters, no transmission rebuilds, and the like. On top of that, electric vehicles can charge up at a fleet depot overnight, saving fleet managers valuable runtime since employees won’t have to spend the first or last part of the day refueling the truck.6
Critical minerals are an essential part in transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy future. It is critical, as they say, that we are able to sustainably mine these minerals and manufacture the necessary parts and products to push the world toward clean energy. That is a whole other story – stay tuned for the sustainable mining practices of critical minerals – coming soon.
1Geoscience Australia. (2020). Critical Minerals. Retrieved from the Government of Australia: https://www.ga.gov.au/about/projects/resources/critical-minerals
2Office of the Secretary, Interior. (2018). Final List of Critical Minerals 2018. Retrieved from the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/05/18/2018-10667/final-list-of-critical-minerals-2018#:~:text=The%20draft%20list%20consisted%20of,%2C%20helium%2C%20indium%2C%20lithium%2C
3Strangmann, Focke. (February 16, 2020). Critical minerals are vital for renewable energy. We must learn to mine them responsibly. Retrieved from TheConversation.com: https://theconversation.com/critical-minerals-are-vital-for-renewable-energy-we-must-learn-to-mine-them-responsibly-131547
4IEA (2020), Clean energy progress after the Covid-19 crisis will need reliable supplies of critical minerals, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/articles/clean-energy-progress-after-the-covid-19-crisis-will-need-reliable-supplies-of-critical-minerals
5Chanis, Jonathan; & Nelson, Brad. (March 29, 2018). Electric Vehicle Production and Critical Minerals Supply. Retrieved from: http://energyfuse.org/electric-vehicle-production-critical-minerals-supply/
6Field, Kyle. (September 17, 2020). Electric Ford F-150 Will Offer Fleets Game-Changing 40% Lower Cost of Operation. Retrieved from: https://cleantechnica.com/2020/09/17/electric-ford-f150-is-a-game-changer-for-fleets-with-a-40-lower-cost-of-ownership/