Are there enough strategic metals?

August 10, 2021 8:48 am

In 1973, the U.S. Geological Survey created the first list of strategic metals. Back then, they were used mainly for refining petroleum and glass manufacture. In 2018, a draft list of 35 minerals including semi-metals and metals deemed critical to the U.S. was published, ranging from aluminium and antimony to vanadium and zirconium.

In fact, the 10 countries with the most natural resources as stated by World Atlas are:

  • Australia which has the largest worldwide gold reserves and contributes in excess of 46% of the world’s uranium.
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo with large cobalt, copper, diamond, gold, tantalum, and tin reserves.
  • Venezuela with the world’s second largest gold deposits and exports of iron ore and gold.
  • The U.S. with sizeable deposits of copper and gold.
  • Brazil which mines iron, tin, copper, and gold, and has the biggest global uranium and gold deposits and is the second biggest producer of iron.
  • Russia which is the second largest exporter of rare earth metals.
  • India which has significant reserves of chromite ore and titanium ore, produces 12% of the world’s thorium, and is the leading producer of manganese ore.
  • Canada with vast natural resources including copper, lead, nickel, zinc, gold, platinum, and silver.
  • Saudi Arabia, though usually associated with oil, has other natural resources including lead, tungsten, manganese, copper, zinc, silver, and gold.
  • China, of which 90% of its vast natural resources include rare earth metals and coal.

Billions of years ago, at its formation, elements on the earth’s crust were pulled to the core by gravity. Scientific analysis shows that around 3.9 billion years ago, the earth’s composition changed. During what is known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, asteroids collided with the earth bringing with them an array of precious metals.

Today, the need for strategic metals is shifting from petroleum and glass to satellites, missile guidance systems, and the ever-increasing market for electric and hybrid vehicles – inevitably increasing demand, especially for lithium.

And, as lithium becomes more central to our lives, so does the need to find and produce it. Growth in demand is projected to be around 20% a year for the next 20 years, yet as we continue to use up earth’s resources, we are likely to be left without enough strategic metals on earth for future requirements – so where can we get them?

Advances in space technology make the prospect of unlocking the vast mineral resources of asteroids a tantalising prospect, and there are two types of particular interest.

Firstly, achondrite asteroids which are rich in platinum group metals: iridium, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhodium and ruthenium.

Secondly, chondrite asteroids which are rich in water.