What are Strategic Minerals

Strategic minerals can be defined by a couple of standards. First, a developed nation needs them for military, industrial  or commercial purposes that are essential to the economy, defense, medicine, and for other reasons.

In the second definition, not enough of the essential minerals are available in the country to meet essential national interests. They must be bought and imported from elsewhere. The US, Europe and Japan are now at the point of having to get their strategic minerals from elsewhere and are in increasing competition for them.

Neither commercial nor security interests are likely to give complete or comprehensive lists of their strategic mineral requirements, to describe their stockpiles or to discuss trade and commerce. This is due to many reasons including national security and proprietary formulas and processes.

There are 93 strategic minerals that are said to be required, about 61 of them were noted by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) in the 1980s. The African continent and Afghanistan are the two primary sources of most of the strategic minerals that are listed, and there is much belief that the instabilities and wars in those regions are really battles for control and access to the minerals.

Commercially, the excitement is about rare earth minerals that are used in batteries, hybrid car batteries, computers and a host of other new technologies that are skyrocketing in popularity and sales. In 2010, China was found to have had a lock on all of the rare earth minerals markets, since most of them were mined there. In the same time frame, Afghanistan was not so “suddenly” found to be a treasure trove of minerals, including some of the most sought after strategic minerals.

Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Promethium, Samarium, Europium, Gadolinium,Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, and Lutetium are the “Rare Earths” in question. They are the Lanthanide group on the periodic table of the elements.

Lanthanum, neodymium and dysprosium and terbium might be the top four commercially strategic minerals due to the bulk required for a hybrid car battery and for other electro magnetic uses.

Afghan minerals list is topped by beryllium and uranium because of their rarity and price. There is also gold, silver and copper to add to the list. 

The African continent produces cobalt, chromium, manganese and platinum, which are classic strategic minerals for a host of military, medical, scientific and commercial uses. The US is said to rely completely on chromium from outside of its borders. Cobalt is no longer mined in the US as the price is not competitive with cobalt from Africa. Manganese is available only in trace amounts in the US.

The most sought after strategic minerals, might then be Lanthanum, neodymium, dysprosium, terbium, beryllium, uranium, cobalt, chromium, manganese and platinum. But then, access to and stockpiles of  zinc, iron, oil, gas and other minerals may ebb and flow as stockpiles dwindle or as local mines are tapped out. New processes and inventions will change the demand for certain minerals and competition from other nations will make rarity and price an even more challenging factor.

 The actual list of all strategic minerals for most developed countries is likely to remain unknown because of national and military security or proprietary rights to formulas and processes.