A century ago, plentiful elements like iron, lead, and copper fueled our Nation’s transition to an industrial economy. Today, the next generation of natural resources — such as rare earths, indium, and lithium — are just as essential to the industrial cutting-edge, yet many of these materials are not as naturally abundant or easy to access as their predecessors. The rapid expansion of materials-intensive industries like clean energy puts this new cohort of so-called “critical materials” at risk of unpredictable moments of short supply. As both criticality and dependency on materials shifts over time, studying early warning signs and underlying forces of material supply disruption can inform proactive policy development around the emerging critical materials that power economic growth and prosperity.
Four years ago, the Administration chartered a new National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Critical and Strategic Minerals Supply Chains (CSMSC), which has maintained a responsibility for coordinating critical materials policy development and executing different elements of a mitigation strategy across twelve Federal agencies. The group has been responsible for a number of proactive steps since its establishment, including: the formation of the Department of Energy’s $120 million Critical Materials Institute; a successful revision to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, administered by the U.S. International Trade Commission to increase the level of detail of rare earth trade data; and analytic support that contributed to the success of a World Trade Organization case, filed by the U.S. Trade Representative, Japan, and the European Union, addressing critical mineral export restrictions and market manipulation by China.
To build on this momentum, the CSMSC is developing a methodology for identifying critical materials and monitoring changes in criticality, delivering “early warning” to policymakers and other stakeholders. Providing earlier awareness about materials that will be critical to the economy and industry enhances policymakers’ ability to plan for the future and to ensure continued growth. Several weeks ago, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a request for information (RFI) soliciting feedback from industry and other stakeholders to inform the CSMSC’s characterization of anticipated future demand for critical materials. This new RFI gathers information about issues related to mining, demand, supply chain structure, market dynamics and mitigation. Data about which raw materials are of interest to the public are instrumental in safeguarding and preparing the American economy for the future. Today, the deadline for submission has been extended and OSTP will continue to accept responses until September 30, 2014.
Click here to view the full RFI.
Cyrus Wadia is Assistant Director, Clean Energy and Materials Research and Development at OSTP