"Critical minerals" refers to a select group of elements essential to modern technology. These minerals are crucial in industries' economic development and sustainability worldwide. They are necessary for their environmental impacts, technological advancements, and geopolitical significance.

Understanding Critical Minerals

Critical minerals are crucial for high-tech products like electronics, renewable energy tech, defence systems, and EVs. Their "critical" designation highlights their importance and the risks associated with their supply chains.

Global Initiatives and Challenges

Efforts are underway globally to address challenges related to critical minerals. A notable mention is the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative (CMMI), in 2019, an international collaboration between Geoscience Australia (GA), the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), and the US Geological Survey (USGS). Their objective is to:

• Develop a global database for critical minerals.
• Use critical mineral mapping to identify new sources.
• Evaluate and analyze critical minerals.

Country Initiatives and Regulations
United States The United States government has actively promoted critical minerals' production, research, development, and recycling through legislative acts such as the Energy Act 2020 and America's Strategy to Secure the Supply Chain for a Robust Clean Energy Transition in 2022.
European Union The European Union proposed the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRM Act) in 2023 to ensure access to a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials and lessen the dependency on critical raw materials, enabling Europe to meet its 2030 climate and digital objectives.
Australia Australia created a Critical Mineral Strategy in 2022 to emphasize the importance of having a consistent supply of essential minerals. As one of the leading producers of critical minerals, the country intends to accomplish this by exploring new sources of supply, establishing strong supply chains, and cultivating international relationships to meet emission targets and transition to clean energy.

A Closer Look at Critical Minerals

Critical minerals, such as rare earth elements, lithium, and cobalt, serve as the foundation for a wide range of high-tech devices. Their importance to the advancement of modern society is underscored by their critical role in electric cars, renewable energy systems, and advanced electronics.

Key Players and Their Roles

Rare Earth Elements (REEs): Due to China's dominant position, many countries are now looking for alternative sources to ensure the security of their resources.
Lithium: With a significant increase in demand, there has been a surge in global efforts to strengthen supply chains and diversify lithium sources. These efforts aim to ensure supply chains are fortified and capable of withstanding disruptions.
Cobalt: The growing push for sustainable and responsible sourcing practices is primarily driven by ethical concerns.

Global Efforts Towards Building Resilience

Diversification of Supply Chains: According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), to achieve global net-zero goals by 2050, we will need six times more critical minerals in 2040 than currently available. Building a more resilient and larger mineral supply chain can help mitigate supply chain risks despite its complexity. To achieve this, greater collaboration is necessary, and regulatory policies must be updated to streamline project development, reducing the time and costs required to build new mines and processing facilities.
Technological Innovations: The research aims to develop more eco-friendly and sustainable methods for extracting critical minerals, contributing to the circular economy. The aim is to create cost-efficient technologies that minimize environmental impacts while generating social benefits. Recently, significant advancements have been made in upgrading and beneficiating minerals and materials, including advances in magnetic separation equipment.
International Cooperation: Collaboration is key in meeting the growing demand for critical minerals, as no single country can do it alone. The benefits of collaborative efforts include promoting responsible mining practices and ensuring equitable distribution of resources. It is crucial to strengthen the international collaboration among governments, participants, communities, and international organizations to address these challenges inclusively and effectively.

Environmental and Social Considerations

1. Environmental Impact: Sustainable practices, cleaner technologies, and eco-friendly mining become imperatives.
2. Social Responsibility: Scrutiny on human rights and child labor prompts industry responsibility and community support.

Latest Updates on Critical Minerals

1. EU's Critical Raw Materials Act:

In November 2023, the EU reached a provisional agreement on a European critical raw materials act. The act aims to increase and diversify the EU's vital raw materials supply, strengthen circularity and recycling, and support research and innovation.

1.1 EU’s Critical Minerals List:

1. Aluminium/Bauxite/Alumina
2. Lithium
3. Platinum Group Metals
4. Tungsten
5. Cobalt
6. Copper
7. Nickel
8. Among 34 critical raw materials (17 strategic)

2. US Department of Energy (DOE) Critical Materials Assessment:

The 2023 DOE Critical Materials List evaluates materials critical to global clean energy technology supply chains. The list, including 34 crucial materials, guides strategic planning through 2035.

Conclusion

Critical minerals lie at the intersection of technological progress, economic growth, and ethical responsibility. Collaboration and innovation are crucial as nations navigate the complexities of securing a stable supply chain, promoting sustainability, and addressing geopolitical challenges. Achieving a sustainable future requires a harmonious balance between humanity's ambitions and the planet's well-being.

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