Minerals can be considered critical for consumer uses as well as military applications such as this long-distance laser rangefinder. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

A method of tracking critical minerals has grown from an American defence program to include commodities necessary to the country’s economy. Developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the “early warning screening tool” guides the Defense Logistics Agency in monitoring supply threats, the USGS reported on April 3.

Described as “mathematically rigorous and elegant,” the system started with the DLA’s watch list of about 160 minerals crucial to national security. In 2015 the USGS expanded the tool to consider economic security as well.

“The system accounts for several variables in identifying critical minerals, including how vulnerable the supply chain is to disruption, how much production growth is expected for the material, and market dynamics,” the USGS stated. Further analysis allows the DLA “to define a cutoff point for analysing potentially critical materials for shortfalls.”

Different minerals can be labelled critical “as technology changes and geopolitical unrest shifts,” the USGS added.

In a report released last January, the USGS listed 20 minerals on which the U.S. imports its entire supply. Included were several critical commodities. A Congressional bill introduced in March calls on the federal government to encourage domestic sources and supply chains for rare minerals.

Read about the West’s dependence on non-allied countries for critical minerals here and here.


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