The US Geological Survey (USGS) has proposed adding nickel and zinc into the redrafted critical minerals list. The list is determined by whether a mineral is critical to the well-being of the US economy and has grown from 35 to 50 since its last iteration in 2018.
The inclusion of nickel and zinc to the list reflects the US’s reliance on foreign imports of the mineral. According to the USGS, the US currently relies on refined nickel imports for around half of its annual consumption. The top three suppliers last year were Canada (42%), Norway (10%), and Finland (9%), all deemed “friendly” countries.
However, there is currently only one domestic operating nickel mine in the US – the Eagle mine in Michigan – which exports concentrates for overseas refining.
This limited domestic nickel production base was also highlighted in the Biden administration’s 100-day review of critical supply chains, which recommended the government should invest in a new nickel refinery as a priority.
The combination of limited, single-point-of-failure domestic supply and the expected demand growth from battery manufacturers makes “a compelling case for inclusion” of nickel in the critical minerals list, the USGS noted.
For zinc, the US’s domestic supply chain is less fragile. The country has 14 operating mines and three smelter facilities. However, the country’s refined zinc import dependency is relatively high. Imports of 710,000 tonnes last year represented 83% of domestic consumption, according to the USGS.
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