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Nickel and Zinc Added to List of Critical Minerals by the United States

Citing a single point of failure and increasing demand, the USGS adds Nickel and Zinc to Critical Minerals List.
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Eagle Nickel Mine

Critical Minerals Update

The US Geological Survey (USGS) adds Nickel and Zinc to Critical Minerals List.

Minerals were included on the 2021 draft list of critical minerals based on three evaluations: (1) A quantitative evaluation wherever sufficient data were available, (2) a semi-quantitative evaluation of whether the supply chain had a single point of failure, and (3) a qualitative evaluation when other evaluations were not possible.

Increasing demand for nickel as a component for producing cathodes for lithium-ion batteries, and the limited mining, smelting, and refinery capacity in the United States make a compelling case for inclusion.

Zinc, which was not on the 2018 list of critical minerals, was above the quantitative threshold for inclusion on the 2021 draft list of critical minerals due to the increasing concentration of mine and smelter capacities globally and the continued refinement and development of the quantitative evaluation criteria.

Technical Input for the Critical Minerals List  

Here's the Technical Input for the 2021 Review and Revision of the U.S. Critical Minerals List 

Overall, of the commodities evaluated, two commodities not on the initial CML are recommended for inclusion on the updated draft CML (nickel and zinc) and four on the initial CML (helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium) did not meet either the quantitative assessment or the SPOF criteria.  

Single Point of Failure (SPOF)

Of the commodities assessed that do not meet the quantitative threshold criteria, three have a domestic SPOF: beryllium, nickel, and zirconium. For beryllium, a single company is both the sole domestic ore producer and processor. Because of its importance to defense applications, beryllium has been designated as a strategic material by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Although the recommendation for including nickel and zinc on the CML is based on methodological changes, there are changes in their supply and demand that are noteworthy. For example, demand for nickel for use in lithium-ion batteries is currently only a small percentage of its total demand, but that demand is expected to grow markedly as demand for electric vehicles increases in the coming years. For zinc, global mine and smelter production concentration has increased notably during the past few decades. This change has been driven mainly by increased production in China (Nassar and others, 2020a).  

The rapid market penetration of electric vehicles may, for example, increase demand for lithium-ion battery materials, such as cobalt, flake graphite, lithium, nickel, and manganese, as well as rare earths for permanent magnets, faster than producers are able to increase supplies.  

Nickel is deemed to have a SPOF because it only has a single US supplier, the Eagle Mine in Michigan. 

Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

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Smartphone Critical metal

The Visual Capitalist has a nice infographic on Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

  • Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).
  • Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.
  • Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes. [Nickel is a common ingredient in Lithium batteries].

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