Critical Mineral Basics

Rare earth elements include 17 elements: Yttrium, Scandium, and the Lanthanide Series. Image Credit: Peggy Greb, Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Rare earth elements include 17 elements: Yttrium, Scandium, and the Lanthanide Series. Image Credit: Peggy Greb, Agricultural Research Service, USDA
  • Rare earth elements include 17 elements: Yttrium, Scandium, and the Lanthanide Series. Image Credit: Peggy Greb, Agricultural Research Service, USDA
  • This image is of solar panels in Colorado.

Critical minerals are mineral resources that are essential to the economy and whose supply may be disrupted. The 'criticality' of a mineral changes with time as supply and society's needs shift. Table salt, for example, was once a critical mineral. Today, many critical minerals are metals that are central to high-tech sectors. They include the rare earth elements and other metals such as lithium, indium, tellurium, gallium, and platinum group elements.

Why do critical minerals matter?

By definition, critical minerals are essential for society. Demand for critical minerals such as rare earth elements has increased in recent years with the spread of high-tech devices for personal and commercial use such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electronics such as smartphones and tablets.

How does geoscience help inform decisions about critical minerals?

Geoscientists study the formation of critical minerals; explore for and locate them; help determine how to mine them economically, safely, and with minimal environmental impact; help protect water and ecological resources around the mines; and help reclaim disturbed land after mining.

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Introductory Resources

Resources for Educators

Frequently Asked Questions

2017-05-18